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Social media crackdown, online sales tax on this week’s legislative agenda

by | Apr 5, 2021


Two controversial issues, both having to do with internet governance, are scheduled for consideration by Florida lawmakers this week, one that would enforce a $1 billion sales tax on Florida consumers, and one that would impose significant restrictions on how social media companies treat users and political candidates in Florida.

The Florida Senate’s Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee will  take up Senate Bill 7072 that proposes stripping social-media companies from removing political candidates from their online platforms. The bill also proposes fines of $100,000 a day for “deplatforming” statewide candidates and $10,000 a day deplatforming other candidates. The bill mandates published standards from social-media companies to better explain their standards for blocking any users, not just candidates, and apply those standards consistently.

The Florida House is moving a similar bill, HB 7013, which is scheduled for a stop in the Judiciary Committee Tuesday before it is expected to be taken up by the full House.

Governor Ron DeSantis and other Republican leaders have spotlighted inconsistencies from social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, after those companies were accused of “putting a finger on the scale” to suppress conservative candidates and users while promoting progressive candidates and their ideas.

The companies deny they have engaged in such activity.

The full Florida House will debate HB 15 on Wednesday this week, a bill that would require out-of-state retailers to collect sales tax, meaning Florida consumers would be socked with a nearly $1 billion tax hike by the Republican-controlled legislature. Supporters of the proposal argue that the tax is “already in place,” meaning that it’s not technically a tax hike. But under current law, retailers aren’t required to collect the tax, the burden is on consumers to voluntarily inform the state how much sales tax they owe and pay the state themselves.

Under an agreement reached by House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, and Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, the additional sales-tax revenue initially would be used to replenish the state’s unemployment compensation trust fund, which became depleted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Legislative leaders have also agreed that if the bill passes, future revenues from the tax would be used to offset a cut in the state’s commercial rent tax, but only after the unemployment fund is replenished.

Detractors say that agreement is absurd, and point out that the new tax will force consumers to fork over money to the state to pay a tax that was never previously enforced. Campaign consultants have been warning GOP lawmakers that voting to support the bill is likely to come back to haunt them in future campaigns. The bill could easily be cast as a $1 billion tax hike on Florida families to fund a giveaway to corporations.

The debate is expected to produce fireworks on the House floor this week.

 

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