Two weeks have already gone by in Florida’s 2021 Legislative Session, leaving a mere six weeks left to figure out how to spend Florida’s $93 billion in state revenue. Lobbyists are frustrated with pandemic restrictions preventing them from looking lawmakers in the eye to get a better read on where they stand issues that are critical to their clients.
Lawmakers, meanwhile, miss the less festive atmosphere, but have more freedom to operate without the crush of advocates clamoring for attention.
The upshot is that a number of bills, some good, some bad, and some downright ugly, are now poised to pass in the coming week or two. We take a look at a handful of them.
COVID-19 Lawsuit Liability Protection – Making good progress in both the House and the Senate, COVID-19 liability protections for small businesses, health care providers and elder care facilities could soon be on their way to to the Governor’s desk for signature, but a number of wrinkles still need to be ironed out.
Right now, trial lawyers are licking their chops, salivating over the prospect of launching salvo after salvo of COVID-19 related lawsuits. Lawmakers want to reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits while leaving the door open so that bad actors – those businesses that new the dangers and took no precautions to protect people they interact with – can be held accountable.
That’s the right approach, one that gets Florida’s economy back on its feet while allowing justice to prevail when it’s absolutely called for.
Pole Attachment bill(s) – SB 1944/HB 1567 – The easiest way to understand why the pole attachment bill is good for Floridians is to picture an aging, wooden telephone pole snapped in half from a hurricane. Attached to the top of the pole could be anything from high-voltage power lines, to telephone wires, to the latest 5G cellular equipment. An entire neighborhood now sits without power, phone service or cellular connectivity.
Why? Because the Florida Public Service Commission, which regulates utility poles owned by energy utilities, has no authority to regulate telephone poles owned by phone companies, or to ensure those poles can withstand hurricane strength winds. Under Florida law, that responsibility falls to the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C.
Legislation is now making its way through the Florida House and Senate to clear up this jurisdictional mess and put all utility pole regulation under Florida’s Public Service Commission. Because of the constant threat of storms and hurricanes, Florida’s utility companies have invested billions of dollars to upgrade power poles to better withstand hurricanes and keep electricity flowing to storm-stricken communities.
Florida communities will be better off with storm-hardened poles and a streamlined regulatory environment governing them.
Corporate Combined Income Tax Bill (HR 999) – In theory, House Bill 999 would increase the number of corporations required to file a Florida income tax return. Some lawmakers, mostly Democrats, believe that would, in turn, increase the state’s corporate tax revenue. The bill essentially requires corporations based in Florida to file a single tax return rather than separate out income from subsidiary companies that do business exclusively in other states.
The problem is immediately obvious: bills like this arbitrarily assign income to a state (in this case, Florida) even when no business activity took place in that state. As two attorneys for Dean Mead Law put it:
The bill’s assumption that all corporations in an affiliated unitary group have the same level of profitability is neither consistent with economic theory nor real-world business experience.
The ultimate conclusion is that the net result will be fewer jobs. Want proof? Look no further than 1983, when Florida tried this same failed experiment and promptly lost a $50 million corporate expansion in Boca Raton by IBM Corporation.
Data Privacy Bill (HB 969) – While Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and conservative allies in the House and Senate are right to be concerned about Big Tech censorship, the current bill making its way through the legislature will do more harm to Florida businesses than it will to the so called “Titans of Tech” in Silicon Valley.
That’s because the bill will impose significant costs on small businesses who rely on targeted digital advertising to make their ends meet. The bill, in its current form, will require strict adherence to data retention policies that border on the downright Draconian.
Here’s just one example of how this proposal has not been thought through: the bill as currently envisioned would require restaurants and other small businesses to delete all customer information with whom they have not interacted for over one year. Few restaurants and small businesses have the staff on hand to constantly stay on top of such pervasive database management requirements in normal times. But now, a full year after the pandemic, not only do restaurants and small businesses struggling just to maintain their existing operations, but now they have to purge their databases of customers they haven’t seen since the beginning of the pandemic?
Why would this be necessary? It’s simply not.
The bill has many other ill-conceived provisions with far-reaching implications.