The eighth week of the Legislative Session ends today, and bills are moving through the Florida House and Senate. Gunster’s Government Affairs team is working hard, closely tracking legislation and meeting with legislators to monitor and lobby on behalf of our clients.
Below is a weekly update from Gunster’s Government Affairs Consultants with a summary of the week’s issues and how they may impact your business, a recap of bills moving through the Legislature, and a close look at this week’s happenings around the capital city.
ENERGY & UTILITIES
HB 125 – Utility System Rate Base Values: provides an alternative valuation method for certain PSC-regulated water and wastewater utilities that acquire an existing water or wastewater system. If approved by the Governor, the enacted legislation would encourage private investment in water and wastewater utility systems in Florida. These transactions may lead to needed infrastructure improvements, cost efficiencies, and improvements in service quality and regulatory compliance for small or troubled utility systems in the State.
HB 125 was approved by the full House and Senate this week and is now ready to head to Governor Ron DeSantis.
HB 1259/SB 1328 – Education Funding: These bills would require public schools to share a portion of their districts’ local sales tax revenues to cover charter school building costs. The shift in the funding model for school facilities would happen over five years, and the funds would be split between charter schools and traditional public schools based on the number of students. The House proposal allows colleges and universities to use state money, including increasing the maximum wage for state university employees. It would also allow higher education institutions to carry over funds from one year to the next for other purposes within the university. That provision was once law, but lawmakers changed it five years ago. The Senate companion does not include any language relating to funding for universities.
HB 1259 was passed by the full House on Wednesday and still must be heard by the Senate before heading to Governor Ron DeSantis.
HB 1013 / SB 252 – Protection from Discrimination Based on Health Care Choices: SB 252 by Senator Colleen Burton passed the full Senate on Thursday and now heads to the House. A similar House companion is ready to be heard by the full House.
The bill prohibits educational institutions, business entities, and governmental entities from requiring proof of vaccination with one of the specified types of vaccinations, postinfection recovery from COVID-19, or a VOCID-19 test to gain access to, entry upon, or service from the entity or institution. The bill also prohibits business and governmental entities from certain employment practices based on an employee’s, or a potential employee’s, vaccination or postinfection status or the refusal to take a COVID-19 test. The bill provides exceptions to these prohibitions for health care providers and practitioners, as long as the provider or practitioner meets specific requirements established by the bill, and for when a mask or facial covering is required safety equipment. Business entities and governmental entities that violate these provisions are subject to discipline by the Department of Legal Affairs (DLA), while educational institutions are subject to discipline by the Department of Health (DOH). Such discipline may include fines of up to $5,000 for each violation.
HB 1521 / SB 1674 – Facility Requirements Based on Sex: SB 1674 by Senator Erin Grall passed its final committee of reference on Tuesday by a 14-6 partisan vote. A comparable House companion passed the House last week. HB 1521 is ready to be heard by the full Senate.
This legislation would mandate people to use school and other public restrooms that align with their gender at birth or face potential misdemeanor charges if they refuse to leave when asked. The bill also requires public places like stores and schools to have bathrooms for men and women or unisex restrooms. If someone suspects a person’s gender doesn’t match that designation, they could ask them to leave and call the police if they don’t under the bill.
SB 1550 / HB 1509- Prescription Drugs: HB 1509 by Representative Linda Chaney passed its final committee of reference on Monday. A similar Senate companion passed the Senate. SB 1550 is ready to be heard by the full House.
This legislation was filed to restrict Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBM) and create transparency. PBMs are also known as “middlemen” due to “spread pricing.” Spread pricing describes the practice of charging an insurer one price for a drug and paying the pharmacy a lower cost while pocketing the difference. Studies have shown that PBMs have increased the out-of-pocket costs of prescriptions by being the intermediaries between drug manufacturers and health insurers. Legislation related to PBMs has been filed in the previous years with changes to better regulate the practice of PBMs.
HB 7063/SB 7062 – Taxation: The Senate Appropriations advanced the Senate’s annual tax package on Tuesday. The proposed tax package is worth $973 million in tax savings.
The full House passed their tax package worth $1.3 billion on Thursday. It includes the following:
- 1% cut to the business rent tax.
- Several sales tax holidays, including an expansion of the Annual Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday held at the beginning of the fall semester and at the beginning of the spring semester. Another tax holiday included in the plan is “Freedom Summer,” which runs from Memorial Day to September 4 and is estimated to save residents $224 million on concert tickets, sporting equipment, and camping supplies.
- Tax exemption on pet food and medication during the state’s Annual Disaster Preparedness Tax Holiday, which would run from May 27 to June 9.
- “Tool-Time” Sales Tax Holiday from September 2 through September 8 for tools and other home improvement items.
- Sales tax exemption on gas stoves, which will save buyers an estimated $6.8 million.
- Permanent exemption for machinery and equipment to produce renewable natural gas
Differences between the House and Senate tax package bills still must be worked out.
HB 1617/ SB 1718 – Immigration: HB 1617 by Representative Berny Jacques passed its only committee of reference on Tuesday. A similar Senate companion passed the Senate on Friday. It will now head to the House for consideration.
The bill, in part:
- Beginning July 1, 2023, requires private employers with 25 or more employees to use E-Verify for new employees.
- Expands violations and penalties related to human smuggling when smuggling a minor, more than five people, or when a defendant has a prior conviction for human smuggling and allows prosecution of human smuggling under the Florida Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act.
- Prohibits a county or municipality from providing funds to issue community ID cards for individuals that are not lawfully in the country.
- Invalidates driver’s licenses that are exclusively issued by another state to undocumented immigrants and requires the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) to issue citations and maintain a list of out-of-state classes of driver licenses that are invalid.
- Removes the authority for unauthorized immigrants to be admitted to the Florida Bar, effective November 1, 2028.
- Requires persons who are in the custody of a law enforcement agency and subject to an immigration detainer to submit DNA to the statewide DNA database.
- Requires hospitals that accept Medicaid to collect immigration status data related to admissions and emergency room visits and report to the Agency of Health Care Administration (AHCA).
- For the 2023-2024 fiscal year, provides a $12 million nonrecurring appropriation to the Division of Emergency Management for the Unauthorized Alien Transport Program.
SB 7050 – Elections: a bill that would make a series of changes to election laws, particularly rules that affect voter registrations. Some of the changes made by the bill include requirements for first-time voters in the state, new rules for third-party voter registration organizations, and a new crime for harassing election workers. In addition, the bill would require voters to request a mail ballot at least 12 days before an election and would ban local Supervisors of Elections from mailing out a ballot within ten days before an election. It would also reduce reporting requirements for political committees from monthly to quarterly.
The bill was passed by the full Senate on Wednesday with an amendment adding new language that allows an elected official in Florida to run for president or vice president without resigning from their current office.
HB 7049/SB 7054 – Central Bank Digital Currency: SB 7054 by the Senate Committee on Banking and Insurance passed the full Senate on Wednesday. The comparable bill in the House is eligible to be considered by the full House.
The bill defines CBDC in the Florida UCC, in summary, as a digital currency that is issued by the U.S. Federal Reserve, foreign reserve system, or other specified entity or that is processed or validated directly by them. The bill excludes CBDC from the definition of “money” in s. 671.201, F.S.
SB 1250 – Department of Transportation: a general transportation proposal that would allow the Florida Department of Transportation to cover the cost of certain projects in rural areas and would allow law enforcement agencies to install automated license plate readers on state highways, as well as address some local transportation issues.
An amendment was adopted in committee on Tuesday that would give the Department of Transportation oversight of the monorail and other fixed-guideway transportation systems “located within an independent special district created by local act which have boundaries within two contiguous counties.” This amendment is part of the planned legislation Governor Ron DeSantis mentioned in his press conference last week. The Governor said that Disney will now be subject to state inspections of its buildings, monorail systems, and rides if someone is injured.
The new budget needs to be finished on May 2 if lawmakers hope to end the legislative session as scheduled on May 5. That is because of a required 72-hour “cooling off” period before lawmakers can vote on the spending plan.
The following are some of the issues that are being bumped to Senate and House Appropriation Chairs for final decision:
- House is seeking $400 million for sea-level measures, while the Senate proposal stood at $179 million.
- Senate was seeking $400 million or conservation easements to limit development on agricultural lands and $100 million for land acquisition, while the House proposed $100 million for easements and $200 million for land acquisition.
One issue that was resolved on Friday relating to the budget differences was VISIT Florida. Governor Ron DeSantis asked for $100M, the Senate offered $80M, and the House was at $0. However, the House recommended $80M today in budget conference but not with recurring dollars, so the clash over this issue will return next session.
LABOR & EMPLOYMENT LAW
SB 256 – Employee Organizations Representing Public Employees: A proposal that enacts several new requirements of the organizations representing public employees in collective bargaining. The proposal exempts unions representing police and firefighters. Specifically, the bill would do the following:
Requires employees who wish to join certain employee organizations to sign a membership authorization form that is prescribed by the Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC), which must contain specific information.
- Requires specific employee organizations to allow a member to revoke their membership at any time and without any reason.
- Allows the PERC to inspect specific employee organizations’ membership authorization forms and membership revocation forms.
- Prohibits certain employee organizations from receiving their members’ dues and assessments via salary deduction from the members’ public employer.
- Expands the information required in an employee organization’s annual registration renewal with the PERC. This newly required information includes information that relates to the number and percentage of dues-paying members in each bargaining unit. In addition, the employee organization’s current annual financial report must be audited by an independent certified public accountant.
- Authorizes the public employer or an employee who is eligible for representation in the bargaining unit to challenge the application for registration renewal. The PERC must investigate to confirm the information submitted.
- Requires the employee organization to be recertified as the bargaining agent if the number of employees paying dues to the organization during the last registration period is less than 60 percent of the number of employees eligible for representation in the bargaining unit.
- Requires the certified bargaining agent to provide certain information to its members, including the annual costs of membership.
- Expands the prohibited activities by certain employee organizations and their representatives.
SB 256 was approved by the full House on Wednesday and now heads to Governor Ron DeSantis.
*For more information, click here to read previous Weekly Legislative Updates.
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This publication is for general information only. It is not legal advice, and legal counsel should be contacted before any action is taken that might be influenced by this publication.
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