Film Incentives, Uber Bill, Water Policy Among Session Casualties

April 29, 2015

New water policies, a revival of a tax-incentive program to attract film and television production to Florida and rules for app-based transportation services like Uber and Lyft were among the bills that likely died Tuesday when the House called an early end to the regular legislative session.

Also buried Tuesday was a proposed $690 million House tax-cut package that included reducing taxes on cable-television and cell-phone bills and providing the annual back-to-school sales-tax holiday. While tax cuts could be considered during a special session on the budget, the issue — a priority of Gov. Rick Scott — remains murky.

“I realize we just killed a tax bill that gave $690 million back to Florida’s families and businesses,” House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island said as he addressed the media Tuesday. “But at the end of the day, we did what we felt was right from the standpoint of just walking away and looking to go balance a budget with our Senate partners later on in the next couple months.”

Some lawmakers said they were unsure what the House’s move Tuesday means for their bills.

“We’re in unchartered waters,” said Rep. Ray Rodrigues, an Estero Republican whose measure (HB 1205) on a controversial drilling process known as “fracking” would require Senate approval without any changes.

The Senate postponed a discussion on the bill Tuesday. While the House went home Tuesday, the Senate will meet again Wednesday.

The Senate intends to vote Wednesday on a water-policy bill (SB 918), which includes work that lawmakers have pursued for two years to improve the state’s natural springs. However, Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, acknowledged the measure isn’t going anywhere.

“Tomorrow we’re going to send that bill to the House. Sadly that water bill is not going to make it,” Gardiner said.

Sen. Alan Hays, one of the architects of the water policy effort, said he was disappointed in the action by the House.

“It left us high and dry, unfortunately,” Hays said.

But not everyone is sad that the business-backed water changes have died.

“It is no great loss if the current versions are not passed,” Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper, said in an email after the House adjourned Tuesday. “Everything good the bills do can be done under current law.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, 187 of the 1,751 bills filed for the 2015 session in the House and Senate had been sent to governor.

Even before the decision by the House to adjourn three days early, many bills were long shots for passage. As an example, a controversial proposal that would have allowed people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns on college campuses had stalled in a Senate committee.

And not everyone is bemoaning the death of hundreds of other bills.

The conservative group Americans for Prosperity-Florida, which has portrayed the film and TV incentives as a giveaway of “taxpayers’ hard-earned money to Hollywood executives,” applauded Crisafulli’s session-ending decision.

“The House rejected Medicaid expansion, put an end to crony handouts to the film and sports industries, increased pension reform flexibility and expanded access to school choice,” the advocacy group said in a news release.

Rep. Mike Miller, a Winter Park Republican who carried the House bill (HB 1046) to revamp the state’s approach to attracting film and television production, said “it’s dead.” But Miller then added he will continue to push for the measure.

“If I have a shot in the budget talks I’ll go right to it,” Miller said. “It’s an important industry in Florida, and I’ll do what I can within reason during budget talks; when and if they ever get started.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said his efforts to pass a bill dealing with regulation of app-based rideshare companies could also be included in the topics for a special session.

“I don’t know that we’ve determined what will be included or not included in that call of a special session,” Gaetz said.

But the House decision to adjourn early drew cheers from the Florida Limousine Association, which has opposed Gaetz’s bill and wants businesses such as Uber and Lyft to follow the same rules as limousine companies.

“Florida legislators properly have placed consumer protection above any other priority in rejecting a bad bill that could have become a dangerous law,” said Rick Versace, president of the Florida Limousine Association.

Meanwhile, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, expressed disappointment that the House failed to address insurance measures for the rideshare companies.

“Senate Bill 1298 would have helped to clarify the questions about insurance coverage and provide protections for rideshare drivers, passengers and the public from the time the rideshare app is turned on until the app is turned off,” said PCI spokesman Logan McFaddin in a release.

A big issue that remains alive is a bill aimed at reforming the state’s utility regulating body, the Public Service Commission.

The bill in part would limit future Public Service Commission members to three consecutive four-year terms and require commissioners to undergo annual ethics training. The bill also would require utilities to notify customers of the best available rates and prevent electric utilities from charging higher rates through extensions of billing cycles.

On Tuesday, the House refused to accept changes the Senate made last week to the bill (HB 7109), which included requiring the commission to hold meetings every two years in the service territories of electric utilities.

Senate sponsor Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said the House vote — the final House floor action before Crisafulli ended the session — puts him in a tough position.

Latvala can advise the Senate to remain firm against the House or he can seek to remove the changes the Senate made to the bill. Passing the bill could lead to $600 million in savings for Duke Energy Florida customers.

by Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida


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