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The Wrap: Data privacy disaster; DeSantis’s sales tax dilemma; Florida herd immunity?

by | Apr 11, 2021



Every weekend, we take a look at the news stories shaping the conversations in Florida’s business, policy and political worlds. Here’s this weekend’s Capitolist wrap-up, which we call “The Wrap.”

Data privacy bill improved last week, but it’s still terrible 

Last week, Florida state Senate leaders dialed back some of the more onerous provisions in a consumer data privacy proposal, carving out some breathing room for smaller businesses who rely on consumer data to attract and retain customers. Fortunately, Republican Senator Jennifer Bradley also eliminated a provision that would have let private individuals file lawsuits for violations of the proposed state law, which would have opened the floodgates to lawsuits for alleged data breaches. Now, thanks to the fix by Bradley, the authority to enforce the law and deal with violations will be handled through the Florida Attorney General’s office.

But despite these fixes, the bill is still a nightmare for larger businesses who maintain data of more than 100,000 customers or derive more than 50 percent of their income from the sale of such data. In such cases, those businesses are required to delete all records of customers who have not interacted with the business in more than one year. That’s an absurd provision that, if it took effect immediately, would prohibit a large number of companies like, say, Disney World from emailing customers who visited their website before the pandemic, and who might be thinking about coming this summer.

It’s one thing to give consumers more control over the data that gets collected, but government shouldn’t try to micromanage the way businesses legally collect and use consumer data. Whenever Florida is copying California, it’s probably not a good thing.

DeSantis flirts with disaster on online sales tax bill

We’ve flagged this issue a couple of times before, but it’s worth revisiting in the wake of DeSantis’s big speech at Mar-a-Lago last night, and yesterday’s New York Times headline wondering aloud if he could be “Trump’s GOP heir.”

Last week, Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature passed a bill that will effectively impose a $1 billion tax hike on Florida consumers. That bill will now head to DeSantis’s desk and he’ll have to decide if he plans to sign it.

Lawmakers worked hard to provide cover to themselves and the governor so they can’t be accused of raising taxes. Their argument goes something like this: (1) the tax already existed since Florida consumers were required to report and pay any online sales tax they owed, and (2) the proceeds from any revenue collected from this tax will be used to offset the increased costs of unemployment insurance for Florida businesses. Then, as an added measure of insurance against being accused of a tax hike, lawmakers included a provision to use any additional revenue to slash the business rent tax.

Those measures even earned the seal of approval from Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist, who has traditionally played the role of fiscal conservatism’s high priest of taxes. Without his blessing on tax policy, Republicans know they’ll pay a price come the next election.

Here’s the problem: a lot of regular people buy a lot of things online these days, which means that even with Norquist’s blessing, lawmakers who voted in favor of the bill are vulnerable to accusations that they “raised taxes on Florida families by $1 billion while giving their corporate cronies massive tax breaks.” There’s no rule that says Republican primary challengers can’t attack both their incumbent opponents and Norquist himself, the former as a typical tax-and-spend politician, and the latter as an out-of-touch Washington insider whose opinion no longer carries any weight at the kitchen tables of rank-and-file Republicans.

That goes double for DeSantis when he signs the bill into law. Given his lofty place among 2024 hopefuls at the moment, he could cement his place in the hearts of many Republicans by vetoing the bill, but to do so, he’d have to throw his GOP allies in the Florida legislature under the bus, and if that’s the case, he owed them a warning before they passed the bill.

In about 28 months, PACs controlled by friends of Mike Pence, Rick Scott, and a handful of other likely presidential hopefuls may be airing television ads in Iowa about this very issue.

With only 4.3 million fully vaccinated, Florida is still a long way from “herd immunity”

There are two ways to reach “herd immunity” in the Sunshine State: get the virus or get the vaccine. Fortunately, more than twice the number of people have been vaccinated (4,392,045) than have actually tested positive for COVID-19 (2,078,784). And some of those who’ve received the shot were also infected with the virus, meaning fewer than 6 million of Florida’s 22 million residents, or about 27 percent of the population, is protected from the virus. To reach “herd immunity,” experts say the number of needs to be closer to 75 percent.

The state’s COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalization data appears to be holding steady for the time being. The 7-day average number of COVID-19 infections is about 5,827 cases and 55 deaths per day. The state currently has just over 3,000 people hospitalized with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19. Given that we’re now four months into a large scale vaccine administration program, many people hoped we’d be a bit closer than we are to seeing the pandemic fade into the background of 2021.

We’ve clearly got a bit more work to do on that.

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