Business Monday

The tax on your business lease is dropping. But housing could get pricier.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, right, addresses a joint session of the Florida Legislature on March 5, the first day of the 60-day session in Tallahassee. This year, 175 bills out of the 1,861 bills filed were passed by the time the session ended.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, right, addresses a joint session of the Florida Legislature on March 5, the first day of the 60-day session in Tallahassee. This year, 175 bills out of the 1,861 bills filed were passed by the time the session ended. TNS

In Florida, the legislative session is an annual rite of spring. This year, 1,861 bills were filed. When the session ended earlier this month, 175 had passed. Here’s a guide to bills that passed — and some that didn’t — of special interest to business, courtesy of staff of The Miami Herald, Miami Herald / Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee Bureau, and News Service of Florida.

TOURISM

▪ Legislative budget chiefs agreed to fund the beleaguered Visit Florida through June 30, 2020.

The Florida House has long been critical of Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency. But House and Senate negotiators reached agreement to fund the agency through June 30, 2020, keeping the agency in business beyond an Oct. 1 date when it otherwise would have been eliminated.

House leaders had maintained a hard-line stance against the agency, pointing to questionable contracts from several years ago and questions about the effectiveness of the tourism-marketing efforts.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has supported the agency.

▪ Florida officially banned “sanctuary cities,” making the federal law enforcement request to detain a person believed to be an illegal immigrant mandatory. What does that have to do with tourism? The American Civil Liberties Union has warned that people who travel to Florida, including U.S. citizens, could experience racial profiling, unjust detention, and deportation. The organization describes Miami International Airport and PortMiami as high risk areas for undocumented immigrants. The governor has not yet signed the measure.

DEVELOPMENT

The Community Development and Housing bill allows city and county governments to adopt inclusionary zoning laws, which would require developers to allocate a certain percentage of their housing units to affordable or workforce housing for low-income residents.

But there’s a caveat: The measure also requires any associated costs to the developer to be fully offset via bonuses, waived fees or other incentives. (An earlier, rejected version of the bill did away with inclusionary zoning altogether.)

The measure also requires counties and municipalities to review building permits or development applications and address any deficiencies or problems within a strict 30-day time window. It also reduces the time those departments have to review a permit application from 30 days to 20. Developers have complained that the approval process can stretch on for months due to bureaucracy and overextended government officials. Those time delays add up to costs that developers are then forced to pay.

COUNTY TOLLS

The Florida Legislature disbanded the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, replacing with a new oversight agency and setting up a court fight. The legislation aims for toll relief but doesn’t mandate it. Provisions call for a 10-year freeze on tolls but allows the board of the new Greater Miami Expressway Agency to overrule that with super-majority votes. The legislation also requests a more generous rebate program than what the MDX offers current toll payers, but it allows the new board to determine the refund amount based on a required financial analysis. Following passage, Standard & Poor’s downgraded its credit rating, making it more expensive for the expressway system to borrow funds.

DRIVING

▪ Forget managing your staff from the freeway. Starting Jan. 1, 2020, motorists could be stopped and ticketed for texting while driving. Florida would join 43 other states that allow drivers to be pulled over for texting.

Texting while driving is currently illegal, but police can’t stop motorists for it. Under the new legislation, drivers would be prohibited from typing on their phone while driving, except for narrow circumstances, like using it to call police. And drivers would be prohibited from tapping on their phones at all in school zones and construction work zones. Motorists are still, however, allowed to talk into their phones.

The law would go into effect Oct. 1, but police could only stop drivers and issue a warning. On Jan. 1, police could stop drivers and issue tickets.

▪ In a bid to keep Florida on the cutting edge of autonomous vehicle technology, the legislature legalized all autonomous vehicles, including those that use driving assist to fully autonomous vehicles that would allow you to watch a movie in the back. The move is designed to make Florida top of mind for Uber and Lyft as they transition their fleets to AVs.

GAMBLING

With the gambling compact between the Seminole Tribe and the State of Florida set to expire on May 31, the governor called a late-April meeting with the Tribe, parimutuel owners, legislators and other interested parties to review a proposed agreement. DeSantis emphasized the complexity and importance of the proposed 31-year deal; ultimately, the session closed without a deal.

But that doesn’t preclude ongoing negotiations or a special session down the road. The plan would open the door for sports betting at the Seminoles’ casinos as well as at Florida racetracks and jai-alai frontons, with the Tribe acting as a “hub.” Although details are secret, allowing in-play sports betting, known as “proposition” or “prop” bets, at professional sports arenas is said to be in the mix — a practice that the governor has called “a moral hazard.”

One of the other key sticking points remains controversial “designated player” card games offered at many of the pari-mutuel card rooms. Those games have been at the heart of a legal dispute between the state and the Tribe.

The Tribe is continuing to pay about $350 million a year to the state.

PROPERTY INSURANCE

The insurance practice known as assignment of benefits underwent a sweeping overhaul.

Assignment of benefits is a decades-old practice that has become controversial in recent years, at least in part because of an increase in residential water-damage claims. In assignment of benefits, property owners in need of repairs sign over benefits to contractors, who ultimately pursue payments from insurance companies.

Under the new law, insurers can offer policies that do not allow or restrict assignment of benefits. The concept is that such policies could be offered at lower prices to homeowners.

It also effectively limits attorney fees in AOB lawsuits filed by contractors against insurers. The fee changes, which involve a formula, would not apply to lawsuits filed by policyholders.

HEALTHCARE

State lawmakers approved sweeping healthcare changes that will overturn long-standing regulations on building or expanding hospitals and allow the state to pursue importing foreign drugs. Gone are regulations that required healthcare facilities to obtain approval from the state before adding buildings or services, including hospitals, nursing homes and hospices. The requirement evaporates for many facilities in July; for specialty hospitals such as pediatric hospitals, the regulations sunset as of 2021.

TAXES

Lawmakers reduced the sales tax on commercial leases from 5.7 percent to 5.5 percent. They also passed a back-to-school sales tax exemption on some clothing and school supplies from Aug. 2-6, and a sales tax exemption on hurricane preparation supplies from May 31-June 6. A move to require most online retailers to collect Florida sales tax failed.

WORKFORCE READINESS

▪ Lawmakers expanded the state’s apprenticeship programs, creating a new pathway to high school graduation focused on technical and vocational training. The measure allocates more money for apprenticeship programs in public schools as well as state colleges and universities.

Under the legislation, all school districts would be required to give students the option to partially fulfill high-school diploma requirements by completing two credits in work-based learning programs and two credits in career and technical education. Starting in the 2019-2020 school year, students would be able to graduate using that option with a 2.0 grade point average.

▪ The law also requires middle school students to take a course in career education planning and requires high schools to offer a financial literacy elective course.

UTILITIES

With memories of massive outages after Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Michael and other storms, state lawmakers approved a bill that could lead to an expansion of underground power lines.

But the key could also lead to higher utility bills for customers by allowing utilities to bypass the normal Florida Public Service Commission’s rate-setting process to seek to collect money from customers for storm-protection projects.

HEMP FARMING

Growing hemp will soon be legal in Florida. The plant — which is the base crop of marijuana — is also used in 25,000 other recorded uses ranging from clothing to construction. Congress removed legal prohibitions against hemp farming last year.

Under the Florida legislation, the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services will have to submit a plan to the United States Department of Agriculture and apply for primary regulatory authority over the production of hemp. The plan must include testing procedures, certification methods, inspection plans and corrective actions for farmers who may be in violation.

According to congressional research reports, hemp sales in the U.S. were worth nearly $700 million annually in 2016. Possession of hemp will still be illegal in Florida until July 1.

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Tax-free week is coming soon for hurricane season, so time to stock up on supplies

Hurricane season in Florida, generally defined as the six months from June 1 through Nov. 30, might easily be considered the most turbulent time of the year.

When lawmakers approved a $121 million tax breaks package at the end of the legislative season, they also approved a tax “holiday” that overlaps with the start of the stormy season, in which several hurricane preparedness supplies won’t be subject to a sales tax.

For those who need to stock up on disaster supplies like a generator, batteries or tarps, the 2019 tax “holiday” extends from May 31 to midnight June 6.

The weeklong exemption on sales taxes on hurricane supplies includes:

▪ Portable self-powered light sources, like flashlights, selling for $20 or less

▪ Portable self-powered radios, including two-way radios or weather-band radios, selling for $50 or less

▪ Tarps, other waterproof sheets, ground anchors or ties, also for $50 or less

▪ Gas or diesel fuel tanks that are sold for $25 or less

▪ AA, AAA, C, D, 6-volt or 9-volt batteries sold for $30 or less (car and boat batteries are excluded)

▪ Non-electric coolers up to $30

▪ Portable generators sold for $750 or less

▪ Reusable ice sold for $10 or less

Lawmakers also approved a back-to-school sales tax “holiday” in early August that exempts purchases of clothes, shoes, computers and various school supplies from sales taxes as well.

ELIZABETH KOH

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Here’s what you can buy for back-to-school tax-free holiday

If you’re shopping for back-to-school supplies this year, mark your calendar for the first weekend of August.

That’s about when a tax “holiday” approved by state lawmakers will apply to clothes, backpacks and various school supplies, meaning such items will be exempt from sales taxes when purchased.

The tax-exempt period runs from Aug. 2 to midnight Aug. 6 and is part of a $121 million package that legislators approved in May. Here’s what’s included in the exemption:

▪ Clothing, shoes, wallets, or bags, including handbags and backpacks (but not briefcases or suitcases) that are $60 or less

▪ School supplies sold for $15 or less, including pens, pencils, erasers, crayons, notebooks, paper, tape, scissors and calculators

▪ Personal computers or personal computer-related accessories sold for $1,000 or less, including electronic book readers, laptops, desktops, handhelds, tablets, or tower computers (but excluding cellphones)

Lawmakers also approved a weeklong hurricane sales tax “holiday” from late May to early June. That sales tax exemption includes batteries, generators and other disaster preparedness supplies. (See Page 12.)

ELIZABETH KOH

Here’s what you can buy for back-to-school tax-free holiday

If you’re shopping for back-to-school supplies this year, mark your calendar for the first weekend of August.

That’s about when a tax “holiday” approved by state lawmakers will apply to clothes, backpacks and various school supplies, meaning such items will be exempt from sales taxes when purchased.

The tax-exempt period runs from Aug. 2 to midnight Aug. 6 and is part of a $121 million package that legislators approved in May. Here’s what’s included in the exemption:

▪ Clothing, shoes, wallets, or bags, including handbags and backpacks (but not briefcases or suitcases) that are $60 or less

▪ School supplies sold for $15 or less, including pens, pencils, erasers, crayons, notebooks, paper, tape, scissors and calculators

▪ Personal computers or personal computer-related accessories sold for $1,000 or less, including electronic book readers, laptops, desktops, handhelds, tablets, or tower computers (but excluding cellphones)

Lawmakers also approved a weeklong hurricane sales tax “holiday” from late May to early June. That sales tax exemption includes batteries, generators and other disaster preparedness supplies. (See Page 12.)

ELIZABETH KOH

Tax-free week is coming soon for hurricane season, so time to stock up on supplies

Hurricane season in Florida, generally defined as the six months from June 1 through Nov. 30, might easily be considered the most turbulent time of the year.

When lawmakers approved a $121 million tax breaks package at the end of the legislative season, they also approved a tax “holiday” that overlaps with the start of the stormy season, in which several hurricane preparedness supplies won’t be subject to a sales tax.

For those who need to stock up on disaster supplies like a generator, batteries or tarps, the 2019 tax “holiday” extends from May 31 to midnight June 6.

The weeklong exemption on sales taxes on hurricane supplies includes:

▪ Portable self-powered light sources, like flashlights, selling for $20 or less

▪ Portable self-powered radios, including two-way radios or weather-band radios, selling for $50 or less

▪ Tarps, other waterproof sheets, ground anchors or ties, also for $50 or less

▪ Gas or diesel fuel tanks that are sold for $25 or less

▪ AA, AAA, C, D, 6-volt or 9-volt batteries sold for $30 or less (car and boat batteries are excluded)

▪ Non-electric coolers up to $30

▪ Portable generators sold for $750 or less

▪ Reusable ice sold for $10 or less

Lawmakers also approved a back-to-school sales tax “holiday” in early August that exempts purchases of clothes, shoes, computers and various school supplies from sales taxes as well.

ELIZABETH KOH

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