The fifth week of the Legislative Session ends today, and bills are moving through the Florida House and Senate. This week marks the half-way point of the 60 day/9 week legislative session which is scheduled to end on March 8th. 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 top issues and how they may impact your business and a close look at this week’s happenings around the capital city.
ISSUES TO WATCH IN 2024 SESSION
The Florida House and Senate have approved budget proposals for the 2024-2025 fiscal year and are now ready to negotiate a spending plan. The House proposal is around $115.5 billion, while the Senate proposal is approximately $115.9 billion. Negotiators will need to bridge the overall difference and work out the details in the extensive plans. The exact start date for formal negotiations is unclear, but the legislative session is scheduled to end on March 8, and the new budget will take effect on July 1. House and Senate leaders anticipate some belt-tightening due to decrease in federal funding dolars and a concerted effort to show fiscal conservatism. They aim to pay off debt early, balance the budget, and provide tax relief in a responsible manner. The House and Senate approved their plans with minimal debate, and there were concerns raised about the inclusion of projects sought by members of the legislative Black caucus. However, House Speaker Paul Renner stated that Black lawmakers and Democrats are not receiving any less than in previous years, and the budget is being restrained while still ensuring fiscal conservatism and responsibility.
HB 1549/SB 7016 – Health Care
A bill that is part of a comprehensive plan aimed at increasing the number of physicians in the state and improving access to healthcare is moving through the process. On Tuesday the bill was unanimously approved with revisions to include changes to the funding allocated to various programs, with a total cost of $714 million. Another revision included increased funding for medical-residency programs, which supporters believe will encourage more physicians to stay in Florida.
The Senate version has already passed the full Senate which shares similarities with the House version, such as expanding residency programs, facilitating the practice of doctors from other countries in Florida, and allowing the creation of advanced birth centers.
However, the bills are still being deliberated, and additional changes will be made as the House and Senate negotiate the final version.
SB 644/HB 309 – Rural Hospitals
Legislation that would establish “rural emergency hospitals” in the state. These hospitals would focus on providing emergency services, observation care, and outpatient services with an average length of stay not exceeding 24 hours. The bills would exempt these hospitals from requirements regarding inpatient care and surgical services. The creation of rural emergency hospitals was made possible by a federal law passed in December 2020. The bills aim to address the need for healthcare access in rural areas, as several rural hospitals in Florida have closed in recent years.
The House version of the bill passed out of its final committee this week and will now go to the full House, while the Senate bill needs to clear one more committee before reaching the full Senate.
SB 7050/HB 1269 – Marijuana
A bill that would impose limits on the amount of THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana, in pot products if a proposed constitutional amendment allowing recreational marijuana is passed by voters. The bill would cap the THC content in smokable marijuana at 30%, set caps of 60% on other products like vape cartridges, and limit edibles to 15 milligrams of THC per serving, with a total cap of 200 mg. The proposed restrictions would only apply to recreational use, not medical marijuana.
Senate House Policy passed the bill with a 7-3 vote. The House version of the bill was scheduled to be heard in its final committee stop Thursday, House Health & Human Services Committee, but was temporarily postponed.
ENVIRONMENT & AGRICULTURAL
HB 1557/SB 1386 – Department of Environment Protection
The Department of Environmental Protection’s agency bills (SB 1386/HB 1557) are moving through both chambers this week. The House bill was heard in its last committee and the Senate bill was temporarily postponed but is slated to be heard in its second committee stop next week. These bills amend provisions relating to aquatic preserves, resilience, onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems (OSTDSs, otherwise known as septic systems), and wastewater treatment facilities.
HB 1073/SB 1532 – Mitigation
A bill to expand the water quality enhancement credit program to allow private entities to purchase credits is headed to its final committee stops in both the House and Senate. Currently, only governmental entities may purchase water quality enhancement credits under the program. Specifically, the bill provides that water quality enhancement credits may be sold to governmental entities seeking to meet an assigned basin management action plan allocation or reasonable assurance plan or to applicants for the for the purpose of achieving net improvement performance standards after reasonable assurances have been provided for the design and construction of all onsite stormwater management. Regarding mitigation banking, the bill allows limited use of local government land for private mitigation banks, provided that the private mitigation banks are located in credit-deficient basins and would produce certain habitat type credits that are unavailable or insufficient in such basins.
HB 723/SB 1364 – Everglades Protection Area
The Senate Agriculture Committee voted favorably for legislation requiring any proposed comprehensive plan or plan amendment by a county as defined in s. 125.011(1), F.S., or any municipality located therein, applying to land within, or within 2 miles of, the Everglades Protection Area such as lands within Miami-Dade, Broward, or Monroe County to be reviewed pursuant to the State Coordinated Review Process. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is tasked with determining whether the plan or plan amendment will adversely impact the Everglades Protection Area or the Everglades restoration and protection objectives in state law. It has 30 days after receipt of the plan or plan amendment to issue a written determination identifying any adverse impacts. Before adoption, DEP must coordinate with the Department of Commerce, the local government, to identify any planning strategies or measures that the local government could include in the proposed plan or plan amendment to eliminate or mitigate any adverse impacts. If any portion of the proposed plan or plan amendment will result in adverse impacts, then the local government must either include planning strategies or measures to eliminate or mitigate the adverse impacts, or not adopt that portion of the proposed plan or plan amendment.
HB 7053/SB 7040 – Ratification of the Department of Environmental Protection’s Rules Relating to Stormwater
The Senate advanced the ratification of DEP’s stormwater rules through its second committee this week. As required by the Clean Waterways Act (SB 712; 2020), the DEP and the water management districts, initiated rulemaking to update the stormwater design and operation regulations for environmental resource permitting, including updates to the Environmental Resource Permit Applicant’s Handbook. The proposed rules were developed to increase the removal of nutrients from stormwater to protect the state’s waterways. There have been some amendments to the rule that DEP submitting, including clarifying provisions related to grandfathered projects, allowing alternative treatment standards for redevelopment projects in areas with impaired waters, and providing that entities implementing stormwater best management practices also regulated under different provisions of law are not subject to duplicate inspections for the same practices. Both the House and Senate bill have one committee of reference left.
HB 1195/SB1322 – Millage Rates
Legislation that could make it more difficult for local governments to raise property taxes. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Sam Garrison, would require a two-thirds votes from city, county, and special district governing boards to approve increases in millage rates. This means that a higher threshold would be needed to raise property taxes. Garrison argued that the bill is consistent with a 2018 constitutional amendment that requires two-thirds support from the Legislature to raise taxes. However, opponents of the bill expressed concerns about its impact on local governments, arguing that a one-size-fits-all approach may not be appropriate for the entire state.
The House State Affairs voted 13-4 to approve the House version on Wednesday. The Senate version was heard on Thursday and passed with a vote of 4-2.
HB 1365/SB 1530 – Unauthorized Public Camping and Public Sleeping
Legislation aimed at preventing local communities from allowing homeless individuals to camp on most public property without permits. The bill would require local governments to designate specific areas for homeless camps, where individuals could stay for up to a year. However, certain requirements would need to be met, including prohibiting drugs and alcohol, providing restrooms, and running water, and offering mental health services. The bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Sam Garrison, was amended to exclude these requirements in fiscally constrained counties. It does not provide state funding for local governments to set up or staff the camps.
The House bill passed with a 16-6 vote, with some Democrats in opposition. The bill will now be moved to its final committee assignment.
A similar Senate measure also progresses, with one more committee stop remaining. Governor Ron DeSantis has expressed support for barring homelessness in public spaces and may consider providing financial support for alternative solutions, such as the camps proposed in the legislation.
INSURANCE & BANKING
HB 1347 – Consumer Finance Loans
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Robbie Brackett, aims to attract more consumer-finance lenders to the state. Supporters argue that increasing the maximum interest rates on loans is necessary because many consumers are resorting to online lenders who charge higher rates. The bill would allow lenders to charge annual interest rates up to 36 percent on the first $10,000 of principal amounts, 30 percent on amounts between $10,000 and $20,000, and 24 percent on amounts between $20,000 and $25,000. Currently, lenders can charge lower rates. However, opponents of the bill are concerned about the impact on borrowers, particularly those who struggle to secure bank loans. They question why interest rates should be increased, especially during a time of economic inflation.
The bill has successfully passed its second committee stop and is now set to be heard in House Commerce Committee, which is its final committee stop before it goes to the full House for consideration.
A similar Senate bill was approved by the Senate Agriculture, Environment, and General Government Appropriations Committee and will move to its next committee. It’s worth noting that Governor Ron DeSantis vetoed a similar bill last year, citing concerns about increased indebtedness and the impact of inflation.
SB 7028/HB 1263 – My Safe Florida Home Program
SB 7028 provides a $100 million matching grant fund to assist homeowners in making windstorm mitigation upgrades. These upgrades include measures such as roof, window, and door hardening to reduce storm damage. The grant program will be incorporated into the existing My Safe Florida Home program. The bill also includes provisions for hurricane mitigation inspections for eligible single-family homes. Additionally, low-income homeowners may be eligible to receive grants without providing a matching amount.
The bill was passed unanimously by the full Senate on Wednesday and will now move to be heard by the full House. Its House companion is waiting to be heard in its second committee stop.
SB 1788 – Online Access to Materials Harmful to Minors/ HB 1 Social Media Use for Minors
The bill aims to address concerns about the harmful effects of social media on children’s mental health. However, there are ongoing debates about the constitutionality of the proposal, with critics arguing that it would violate First Amendment rights. The bill focuses on features of social media platforms that are addictive to minors, rather than the content itself. Supporters argue that it is necessary to protect children from the negative impacts of excessive social media use. Critics, including the ACLU of Florida, view the bill as government censorship that infringes on freedom of expression. The proposal would prohibit minors under 16 from creating social media accounts and require platforms to terminate existing accounts held by minors. It would also mandate age verification processes and allow parents to request the termination of their child’s account.
The bill has successfully passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and is now set to be heard in the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee, which is its final committee stop before it goes to the full Senate for consideration. The House bill, which is a priority of House Speaker Paul Renner, has already passed its own version of the bill, and ongoing discussions are taking place to address concerns regarding the constitutionality of the bill.
SB 328/HB 1239 – Affordable Housing
A bill to the affordable housing law last year known as the Live Local Act, received unanimous support on the Senate floor. Sponsored by Miami Republican Sen. Alexis Calatayud, the new measure includes various changes to the law. These changes include prohibiting local governments from setting a development’s floor area ratio below 150% of the highest allowed under current zoning, allowing local governments to restrict the height of a proposed development based on adjacent structures, clarifying exemptions for developments near military installations or certain airport areas, and requiring counties to maintain online lists of policy procedures for Live Local Act projects. The bill also mandates reductions in parking requirements for developments near transportation hubs and clarifies that only designated units in qualifying developments must be rentals. It adjusts the number of units required for affordable housing in Florida Keys developments seeking tax exemptions and allocates an additional $100 million for the Hometown Heroes Program, which assists income-qualified homebuyers. Additionally, an amendment was made to prevent tax breaks for properties used as short-term vacation rentals.
The House companion bill also had movement this week, passing out of its first committee stop with a vote of 18-1.
Ronna McDaniel, the current chair of the Republican National Committee, is expected to step down soon. As her replacement, Florida state Senator Joe Gruters, an early supporter of former President Donald Trump, is being considered. According to sources close to Trump, he has mentioned Gruters as a potential candidate, although there is another candidate who is Trump’s favorite. Gruters expressed his gratitude for being considered and stated that he supports the president’s efforts to build a winning team for the upcoming elections.
Governor’s Activity 2024
Governor DeSantis was presented with 6 bills Thursday. He has until Thursday, February 15, 2024 to act on these bills.
|Date Acted Upon
YES! PLEASE SIGN ME UP TO RECEIVE EMAIL ALERTS FROM OTHER GUNSTER PRACTICE AREAS.
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.
Gunster, Florida’s law firm for business, provides full-service legal counsel to leading organizations and individuals from its 13 offices statewide. Established in 1925, the firm has expanded, diversified and evolved, but always with a singular focus: Florida and its clients’ stake in it. A magnet for business-savvy attorneys who embrace collaboration for the greatest advantage of clients, Gunster’s growth has not been at the expense of personalized service but because of it. The firm serves clients from its offices in Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Miami, Naples, Orlando, Palm Beach, Stuart, Tallahassee, Tampa Bayshore, Tampa Downtown, Vero Beach, and its headquarters in West Palm Beach. With more than 290 attorneys and consultants, and over 290 committed support staff, Gunster is ranked among the National Law Journal’s list of the 500 largest law firms and has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Diverse Law Firms by Law360. More information about its practice areas, offices and insider’s view newsletters is available at www.gunster.com