Bills that Passed:
TAX BREAKS A $180 million tax relief bill will soon be on the Governor’s desk. Provisions include: exemption of sales tax on feminine hygiene products and diapers; a three-day back-to-school tax holiday from August 4th to 6th; a disaster preparedness tax holiday from June 2nd to 4th; a tax exemption on health products for livestock, poultry and aquaculture; a tax exemption on fingerprint services used for a concealed weapons permit application; and a reduction on commercial property rent from 6 to 5.8 percent. A proposed disabled veteran tax holiday did not make it into the final bill.
EDUCATION On the final day of session, the Legislature approved a massive 278-page education bill that includes: expanding and revising the Best and Brightest teacher bonus program; removing all restrictions for virtual education; creating a 3-year Early Childhood Music Education Incentive Pilot Program; setting aside funding for “Schools of Hope” which incentivizes high performing charter schools to open in struggling public school districts; requiring school districts to share some construction dollars with charter schools; allowing students to use sunscreen without a prescription; mandating recess for elementary students, but not charter schools; and making changes to Florida’s testing system, including eliminating the end of course exam for Algebra 2, returning to paper and pencil English Language Arts (ELA) exams for grades 3-6 and pushing back testing dates. The bill narrowly passed the Senate with a 20-18 vote, the House on a 73-36 vote and it now heads to the Governor. Several organizations have come out strongly against the bill and are pressuring Governor Scott to veto the bill. With the vote so close in the Senate, any potential veto would unlikely be overturned by the Legislature.
Other education bills are on the way to the Governor. They include revising the review process for instructional materials to make it easier for parents and county residents to challenge a school district’s instructional materials; expanding eligibility for the Gardiner Scholarship and corporate tax credit scholarships; clarifying students’ right to express their religious beliefs in public schools, and school employees’ rights to participate in student-led religious activities; authorizing a study of middle school best practices; and clarifying that private school students may participate in extracurricular activities at any public school.
STATE EMPLOYEE PAY RAISE State workers will see a pay boost this year, a priority of Appropriations Chair Senator Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater). The across-the-board increase means a $1,400 raise for those making less than $40,000, and a $1,000 raise for those making over $40,000. New state workers will now default into the 401K-style investment retirement plans instead of the pension plan if they do not make a choice within the first nine months of employment.
TRIUMPH GULF COAST A plan for distributing the BP oil-spill settlement money is headed to the Governor. The bill allows Triumph Gulf Coast to team with VISIT Florida on tourism spending and shares the settlement funds with the eight Northwest Florida counties (Bay, Escambia, Franklin, Gulf, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Wakulla and Walton) most impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.
STAND YOUR GROUND Florida was the first in the nation to pass a “stand your ground law” in 2005. This year the law was modified, shifting the burden of proof of the claim to the state from the defendant. The Senate approved a watered down House version which creates a lower standard of proof. It will be based on “clear and convincing evidence” rather than the higher “beyond a reasonable doubt”. The change was made after the House accepted more far reaching language in school religious expression.
HOMESTEAD ASSESSMENT The Legislature passed a resolution that will place the option to increase the homestead exemption for Florida’s homeowners on the November, 2018 ballot. The amendment, if passed by the voters, would exempt the value of a home between $100,000 and $125,000 from property taxes, other than school district levies. The League of Cities and most local governments strongly opposed this measure as the Revenue Estimating Conference projected $795 million annually in lost revenue.
CRAFT DISTILLERIES Craft distilleries or wineries who produce their own alcohol or wine on their licensed premises can sell their product in their sales area. The bill repeals the limitation on the number of individual containers of distilled spirits that a craft distillery may sell to consumers. They can also conduct tastings and sales at Florida fairs, trade shows, expositions and festivals under certain circumstances.
LIQUOR WALL This hard fought battle to allow big-box stores like Walmart and Target to sell liquor passed by a close vote of 58-57 on the House floor near the end of session. The Senate had passed it weeks earlier. The bill was presented to the Governor on May 9th and he vetoed the bill on May 24th.