2016 Session - Sine Die

March 11, 2016

The 2016 Session of the Florida Legislature adjourned at 6:45 p.m. on Friday evening.  Lawmakers passed an $82.3 billion budget with a rare 159-1 vote in the two chambers. 

There was also an agreement on tax cuts, but the House and Governor’s $1 billion tax cut recommendation was cut to only $129 million.  This includes some one-time tax relief, the recurring value of the cuts is only $78.9 million.  The centerpiece of the tax plan is a Florida TaxWatch priority—making the sales tax exemption for manufacturing machinery and equipment permanent.  This will save manufacturers $68.8 million annually.  The other big tax relief measure is a scaled back 3-day “back to school” sales tax holiday.  There are several other small (less than $2 million) tax adjustments.

We commend the Legislature for enacting various bills that advanced TaxWatch recommendations, including:

  • Permanently extending the sales tax exemption on manufacturing equipment, which will boost Florida’s manufacturing industry, provide high-wage jobs for Floridians and diversify the state economy.
  • Moving forward on telehealth by creating a Telehealth Advisory Council to make recommendations in forming a regulatory framework for Florida. Florida TaxWatch appreciates that the Legislature made a small step in addressing telehealth expansion in Florida but the legislation does not do enough in broadening access and lowering healthcare costs for millions of Floridians who desperately need care. We hope that the Legislature continues to work on this issue in 2017 and make a concentrated effort in truly expanding telehealth in the Sunshine State.
  • Expanding scope of practice for advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs) and physician assistants (PAs), which would significantly lower costs for patients while improving access across the state. We hope that the Legislature will continue to pass legislation to expand scope of practice in the 2017 Legislative session as TaxWatch research has found that if state ARNPs and PAs were permitted to practice to the full extent of their training and education, the state could save up to $339 million across the entire health care system.
  • Various smart justice reforms, including increased use of veteran and drug courts, alternative sanctioning and expungement of juvenile records, which will reduce recidivism, improve job prospects for ex-offenders and result in cost-savings for the Sunshine State. 
  • Better integrating the state’s mental health and substance abuse services to improve access to care for Floridians suffering from complex behavioral health issues.

Florida TaxWatch also commends the Legislature for achieving record per-student funding for public schools, largely with state funds rather than using a large local property tax increase as has been the case the last couple of years.  

However, there were some bills relating to TaxWatch recommendations that unfortunately will not make it to the Governor’s desk.

The business rent tax (BRT) is unique to Florida which is the only state that taxes commercial leases, preventing small businesses and start-ups from expanding and dissuading larger companies to relocate from other states. The House tax cut package originally had a cut to the BRT from six percent to five percent in fiscal year 2016-17. This provision was not included in the final package.

Properly deployed economic development incentives are crucial to ensuring that Florida is able to compete with peer states. These incentives help lure businesses to the state, leading to the creation of much needed jobs, more stable incomes and an increasingly diverse economic portfolio. One of the major components of improving Florida’s economic incentive programs was $250 million for a new Enterprise Florida Fund. While included in the Senate budget, the Fund was dropped from consideration during budget conference.



Tax Cuts – The final tax cut package (HB 7099) is a significant reduction from the $1 billion in tax relief proposed by the Governor and the House. The new proposal would provide recurring tax savings of $79 million and $50 million in one-time savings.  Florida TaxWatch commends the Legislature for including one of our priorities--making the sales tax exemption for manufacturing machinery and equipment permanent.  This is the largest tax cut in the package, saving taxpayers $73.1 million annually.  The only other sizable tax cut in the package is a 3-day back to school holiday ($28.7 million) that was scaled back from 10 days as proposed by the House. The other provisions are small, with recurring impacts of under $2 million.

This Florida TaxWatch analysis provides more information on the package and shows what provisions from the House tax package were retained in the new bill, what was modified, what was added, and what was left out.

Local School Property Taxes - Separate from the tax cut package, the Legislature also moved to hold down required local effort (RLE) property taxes for schools in the budget.  Both the House and the Senate budgets proposed to keep the same RLE millage rate as last year.  The growth in property values would have provided more than $500 million in addition revenue, allowing the Legislature to reach a record funding level for per-student funding.  This would have been a tax increase. However, the final agreement will reduce the RLE millage, and instead use more state revenue to reach the desired spending level.  This will reduce the previously recommended $500 million increase in total RLE by $428 million.  This is being characterized as property tax relief but in reality, only a portion of the $428 million should be considered a tax cut (the amount below the revenue that would be provided by the rolled-back rate.)  Florida TaxWatch commends the Legislature for avoiding the previously recommended property tax hike. Since state law provides that any increase over the rolled-back rate is a tax increase, the Legislature should be clear to taxpayers what exactly there RLE proposal means.

Other tax legislation that passed include:

Renewable Energy Devices - HJR 193 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would give the Legislature the authority to expand the current exemption for renewable energy devices on residential property to all property and also exempt them from tangible personal property (TPP) taxes.  The original joint resolution provided that renewable energy devices “shall” be exempt from TPP to “may” be exempt.  HB 195-which originally would have implemented the amendment should it passed—was amended to simply call for a special election on August 30, 2016 to vote on the amendment. That bill passed as well.

Exemption for Disabled First Responders – HJR 1009 will bring a proposed constitutional amendment to the voters.  The amendment would allow the Legislature, as provided by general law, to exempt from property taxes first responders who are age 65 or older and totally, permanently disabled as a result of an injury or injuries sustained in the line of duty. 

Homestead Exemption for low-income elderly - HJR 275 - Currently, local governments may provide a full exemption to low income elderly that are long term (25 year) residents. The value of the home can’t exceed $250,000.  If it is rises above that, the exemption is lost.  This proposed constitutional amendments provides that the $250,000 limit applies only at the time the exemption is acquired.  The elderly homeowner would not lose the exemption.  

Exemption for Deployed Military Personnel – HB 7023 will add 11 military operations that qualify for the current property tax exemption for service members deployed in the previous year. The issue had wide support last year but fell victim to the abrupt session end. 

Local Option Sales Tax for Unfunded Pension Liability – HB 1297 will allow a county to levy a local option sales tax of 0.5 percent to fund underfunded pension programs.  A county can only impose the surtax if the underfunded defined benefit retirement plan or system is below 80 percent of actuarial funding. Also the county must currently levy a local government infrastructure surtax which is scheduled to terminate and is not subject to renewal and the surtax does not take effect until the local government infrastructure surtax is terminated. New employees may not be enrolled in a defined benefit plan.  Further, the bill requires employees to make an employee retirement contribution of 10 percent.   The bill was requested by Jacksonville/Duval County.


Some of the tax cuts included in the House tax cut package that did not make it to the final bill include:

Sales Tax Holidays – In addition to the Back to School Holiday that was passed, the House tax cut package had three other holidays.  A Small Business Saturday Sales Tax Holiday was a one-day sales tax holiday which would have allowed small business dealer to opt to not collect sales tax on purchases of items that cost $1,000 or less.  During a one-day Technology Sales Tax Holiday, the first $1,000 of the sales price of the personal computers and accessories would have been exempt from the state and local sales taxes.  There was also a proposed one-day Hunting and Fishing Sales Tax Holiday for firearms, ammunition, camping tents, and fishing supplies.  

College Textbooks – The one-year exemption for textbooks created last year would have been extended for another year.  This would have provided students (and parents) with a one-year savings of $40.9 million.

Renewable Energy Tax Credits – Two credits—one for production and one for investment—would have been extended for one year. The credits are capped at $10 million each. 

Other tax bills that saw some movement but ultimately did not pass include:

Save Our Homes “Recapture” BillHJR 7015 was a proposed constitutional amendment to repeal the recapture provision which allows the assessed value of homestead property to increase by the SOH cap, even if the market value falls, provided that the assessed value does not exceed the just value.  Florida TaxWatch is concerned this amendment would have exacerbated inequities create by SOH.  HJR 7015 passed the full House but died in messages in the Senate. The Senate companion (SJR 1074) died in its last committee-Appropriations.

Supermajority Vote for Local Tax Referenda - HB 791 would have required any referendum to levy a discretionary sales surtax held during a primary or presidential preference primary election to be approved by 60 percent of electors voting.  A referendum held on the day of the general election could still be approved by a majority of electors voting.  The bill also prohibited any referendum to levy a discretionary sales surtax from being held during a special election.  HB 791 was approved by the full House but died in messages in the Senate. 

Revise the Millage Cap - SB 1222 would have changed the way local governments determine their maximum allowable millage rate (without requiring a supermajority vote). Currently, the maximum millage rate that most non-school taxing authorities can levy by simple majority vote is a rolled back rate based on the amount of taxes which would have been levied in the prior year if the maximum millage rate had been applied, adjusted by the change in Florida per capita personal income.  These bills would base the rolled back rate on the amount of taxes actually levied in the prior year, adjusted for change in per capita Florida personal income.  This would have in effect made the cap annual, not allowing local governments to build up a cushion between actual and allowable rates.  Florida TaxWatch understands the sentiment behind these bills, but is concerned they will put pressure on the governing bodies to levy the maximum rate or else lose the excess capacity.  HB 1015 also contained these provisions but was amended in its last committee to strip those provision and instead require taxing authorities to post information on their websites about proposed and adopted millage rates.  SB 1222 died in committee and HB 1015 died on the calendar.

Special Assessment for Law Enforcement – HB 789 and SB 264 would have allowed municipalities to levy special assessments for law enforcement services.  The city must have reduced the municipal ad valorem taxes for the first year of the special assessment levy and it would lose the authority to levy the special assessment if it adopted an ad valorem millage rate in the future that exceeds the rate set in the first year. A House CS added provisions that require municipalities to hire a collection agency if delinquent revenues reach certain thresholds.  Both bills died in committee.

Exempting Aircraft Sales – Currently, Florida has a sales tax exemption for the sale of airplanes used by commercial airlines with a takeoff weight of over 15,000 lbs. SB 696 would have exempted all aircraft sales and leases in Florida.  The bill carried a fiscal impact of $30.1 million, but the sponsors assert that the state is not collecting the money because purchasers of aircraft leave the state and do not pay the tax as many other states provide an exemption.  SB 696 died in Appropriations and the House companion (HB 4039) was not heard.

Exemption for Parents of Unmarried Veterans Killed in Duty - HJR 1391 and SJR 1624 were proposed constitutional amendments that to allow the parent or parents of an unmarried veteran who died from service-connected causes while on active duty to receive ad valorem tax relief on a homestead property.  There is already an exemption for the spouse of a veteran killed in duty.  The amendment would have made the exemption 100 percent of the tax owed.  SJR 1624 passed one committee. 

Local Option Sales Tax for Water Restoration – HB 995 and SB 346 would have provided that a county may levy the Local Government Infrastructure Surtax to fund water restoration projects.  Proceeds from the surtax, or from the bonds pledging the surtax, may be spent only for dredging operations related to ecologically beneficial muck removal. The surtax must be enacted by ordinance and approved by a referendum.  Both bills stalled in committee.

Sales Tax Exemption for Agricultural Items - SB 1264 and HB 1189 would have exempted hog wire, nylon mesh, compressed or liquefied oxygen, and barbed wire from the sales tax.  It would have also increased the current exemption for trailers used in agriculture from the first $20,000 of the sales price to $25,000.  SB 1264 died in its last committee stop but HB 1189 was not heard.

Local Government Capital Funding - SB 660 and HB 735 would have provided that an existing impact fee may be used by a county, municipality, or special district to not only construct new capital facilities but to also improve, alter, or replace existing capital facilities. The bills also would have authorized a county or municipality to impose a local option documentary stamp tax in lieu of imposing an impact fee to finance capital improvements and facilities.  The SB was amended to raise the maximum doc stamp tax from a total of $1 per $100 for all jurisdictions in a county to $1 per $100 for each jurisdiction. SB 600 passed one committee and HB 735 was not heard. 





Education “Train” – HB 7029, which originally addressed only charter schools, grew into a huge, multi-provision bill late in the session.  The bill went back and forth between the two chambers, and took five floor votes to finally pass.  The bill significantly changes how the state's charter schools are funded for fixed capital outlay. A revised formula was created that weights capital funding in favor of charter schools that serve mostly impoverished students and those with disabilities. Charter schools will now be eligible for capital dollars a year earlier -- by requiring them to operate for two years, instead of three. The bill also includes measures limiting school districts' spending on capital projects, allowing open enrollment for all K-12 public school students, granting immediate eligibility for high school athletes who transfer schools, creating a youth suicide prevention program and codifying public college and university performance funding in state law.

Principal Leadership - HB 287 creates the Principal Autonomy Pilot Program Initiative. The Initiative is designed to afford provide highly effective principals of participating schools with greater autonomy to operate his or her school in a way that produces significant improvements in student achievement and school management.  The number of districts that will participate in the pilot has been increased from three to seven.  Florida TaxWatch honors a select group of outstanding principals each year as part of its Principal Leadership Initiative.   

Open Enrollment – HB 669 would allow parents to enroll his or her child in any public school in the same district that has not reached capacity in the district.  Then, a parent could enroll their child in any public school that has not reached capacity in the state.  That bill was approved by the full House.  Open enrollment became part of HB 7027, the education “train,” to which a number of other education provisions were attached.  This bill passed.


 Class Size Reform – HB 149 revises the method for calculating the penalty for schools that fail to comply with the class size requirements at the school level average. The bill clarifies that a school’s compliance with class size is measured at the classroom level and that only the calculation of penalties is based upon the school average. The bill also requires the amount of the financial penalties to be expended in the schools that are out of compliance to achieve compliance. The bill also requires the district to publish, by school, compliance data and the compliance plan on the school district website and provide a copy of the compliance plan to the School Advisory Committee at all noncompliant schools. SB 1634, which deals with school choice, specifies that the calculation for compliance with maximum class size requirements for a specified district innovation school of choice is at the school level. The bill also requires the State Board of Education to review at a specified interval the performance metrics of each individual innovation school of choice for compliance with certain requirements. Florida TaxWatch has released a series of reports on the topic of maximum class size requirements. HB 149 died on the Calendar and SB 1634 died in the Appropriations Committee. 

Student and Teacher Assessment – SB 1360 would have allowed school districts to voluntarily drop the current Florida Standards Assessment test and instead use national standardized tests like the SAT and the ACT as the basis for assessing student achievement.  The bill also provided for several alternative assessments and industry certifications as options for students to meet high school subject area, course, credit, and assessment requirements. It also called for the renegotiation of existing student assessment contracts and negotiation of new contracts to implement the alternative assessments. The bill further exempted the performance of students with excessive absences from counting against a classroom teacher’s performance evaluation.  However, there was no House companion measure and SB 1360 died on Special Order.

STEM Teacher Loan Forgiveness ProgramSB 290 and HB 15 would have created a STEM Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program to encourage and incentivize qualified college graduates to remain in Florida and to teach a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) course at a public school. SB 290 died in its last committee—Appropriations.  The House bill was not heard.

Economic Development


Tax Cuts – The final tax cut package (HB 7099) is a significant reduction from the $1 billion in tax relief proposed by the Governor and the House. The new proposal will provide recurring tax savings of $79 million and $50 million in one-time savings.  Florida TaxWatch commends the Legislature for including one of our priorities--making the sales tax exemption for manufacturing machinery and equipment permanent.  This is the largest tax cut in the package, saving taxpayers $73.1 million annually.  The only other sizable tax cut in the package is a 3-day back to school holiday ($28.7 million) that was scaled back from 10 days as proposed by the House. The other provisions are small, with recurring impacts of under $2 million.

This Florida TaxWatch analysis provides more information on the package and shows what provisions from the House tax package were retained in the new bill, what was modified, what was added, and what was left out.

Seaport Funding – HB 7061 and HB 7027 both passed and both contained language to increase the funding for the Florida Seaport and Economic Development (FSTED) Program from $15 million to $25 million per year.  Florida TaxWatch research has shown the importance of seaport funding. HB 7061 also creates the Florida Seaport Security Advisory Committee and the Seaport Security Grant Program, subject to legislative appropriation, to provide funding for the implementation of security plans and measures at Florida’s deepwater ports.  

Transportation Financing – HB 7027 is an omnibus Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) package.  One of the provisions will create the FDOT Financing Corporation, authorizing the corporation to issue debt for the purpose of financing needed transportation projects.  This will be another tool for FDOT to maximize existing revenue but the department would still be bound by the current statutory cap on debt.  Florida TaxWatch has released a study highlighting the benefits of, and the need for, increased transportation funding in the state.  


State Economic Development Incentives  – HB 1325 and SB 1646 would have made numerous changes to various state economic incentive and tax refund programs, including the Quick Action Closing Fund and the qualified targeted industry tax refund program.  Among the changes were the renaming of the Quick Action Closing Fund--it would be called the Florid Enterprise Fund.  The bills also lowered the required return on investment from 5 to 1, to 3 to 1 in the House and 2.5 to 1 in the Senate.  Projects would have been required to create at least 10 jobs and 20 percent of the award was required to come from local financial support.   This fund was a priority of the Governor, who recommended funding of $250 million.  The Senate budget provided that amount, but the Hose budget did not address the Fund.  The final budget does not contain funding for the Fund.  Both bills would have extended the Qualified Defense Contractor and Space Flight Business Tax Refund program.   The Senate bill also made changes to the entertainment incentive program, which the House bill did not address.  HB 1325 passed the full House.  The Senate bill died in the Appropriations Committee.  

Florida TaxWatch recently released a report on the state’s economic incentives.


Business Rent Tax (BRT) – The House tax package proposed to reduce the sales tax rate imposed on the rental of commercial property from six percent to five percent.  The tax would have dropped to 4 percent for one calendar year beginning January 1, 2018, and then return to 5 percent.  The 1 percent reduction would have saved businesses $298.5 million annually.  The reduction and eventual repeal of this tax, which is unique to Florida, is strongly supported by Florida TaxWatch. Unfortunately, this provision was not included in the final tax agreement.


Research & Development Tax Credit – The House proposal also would have increased the cap for these income tax credits from $9 million to $18 million for calendar year 2017.   Florida TaxWatch research has supported research and development tax credits and exemptions.  The final package did not include this increased cap.


Innovation Florida Initiative - HB 1325 also would have created the Innovation Florida Initiative to encourage high-technology startup and second-stage business growth. The Initiative required DEO to develop a statewide strategic plan for fostering and encouraging these businesses in coordination with various economic development entities throughout the state including EFI, the Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research, and GrowFL. Last year, Florida TaxWatch released a report that highlighted the benefits of second-stage companies.  HB 1325 passed the full House.  The Senate economic incentive bill did not include this program.


Aviation Funding – HB 7061 originally created an aviation transportation and economic development program to finance airport transportation and facilities projects, requiring a minimum of $15 million from the State Transportation Trust Fund to fund the program each year. This provision was removed before HB 7061’s final passage. 

Smart Justice


Alternative Sanctioning - HB 1149 will create an alternative sanctioning program for technical violations of probation. A technical violation is a violation of supervision that is not a new felony offense, misdemeanor offense, or criminal traffic offense. The bill allows a judge to establish an alternative sanctioning program and determine which technical violations will be eligible for alternative sanctioning. An eligible probationer who commits a technical violation may choose to participate in the program and admit to the violation, comply with a probation officer’s recommended sanctions, and waive his or her right to a hearing on the violation. A probation officer’s recommended alternative sanction must be reviewed by the court, which may approve the sanction or remove the probationer from the program. This could save money by reducing arrests, incarceration of offenders pending technical violation hearings, and probation officer and court personnel time spent at violation hearings.  This is a Smart Justice recommendation of Florida TaxWatch.

Mental Health Services in the Criminal Justice System – HB 439 will expand the use of mental health and veterans courts and other diversion programs.  They expand eligibility for veterans, authorize creation of mental health court programs, allow county courts to order conditional release of defendant for outpatient care and treatment, creates a Forensic Hospital Diversion Pilot Program (FHDPP),   expand eligibility for certain pretrial intervention programs, and authorize pretrial mental health court programs for juvenile offenders. Florida TaxWatch research has shown the benefits of these courts as cost-effective diversion programs.  

Juvenile Criminal Records – A number of bills making it easier for juveniles to clear their criminal records are nearing becoming law.  SB 386 lowers the age of automatic expunction of juvenile criminal records from 24 to 21 for minors who are not classified as serious or habitual juvenile offenders or who have not been committed to a juvenile correctional facility or juvenile prison. It also allows juveniles who are eligible for automatic expunction at 21 to apply for expedited expunction any time after they turn 18.   HB 293 makes the records of juveniles who have been found to have committed three or more misdemeanors confidential.    


Prearrest Diversion ProgramsSB 618 and HB 1031 encourages local communities to implement diversion programs for certain offenders and enabling law enforcement officers to issue civil citations to adults in specific circumstances.   Florida TaxWatch research was cited during testimony on the bill. SB 618 was passed by the full Senate and HB 1031 died in Committee.  

Elderly Offenders - SB 7006 contains numerous provisions, including two that advance Florida TaxWatch recommendations. The bill requires CJEC to develop projections on prison admissions and populations of elderly felony offenders.  An amendment to the bill passed that was passed by the Criminal Justice Committee, further requires DOC to report on the healthcare issues of elderly offenders.  Both of these provisions are consistent with recommendations made in our report, “Florida’s Aging Prisoner Problem.”  The bill passed on committee.

Sentencing and Gain Time - SB 7066 is a reevaluation of costly punitive practices implemented over the past several decades.  It requires certain drug possession offenders to be served through non-state-prison sanctions, allows courts to depart from mandatory minimums for certain nonviolent crimes, and alters the 85 percent rule by allowing nonviolent inmates to reduce their sentences by up to 35 percent.  The latter two components reflect TaxWatch recommendations as well as recommendations of the 2016 Government Efficiency Task Force.  The bill passed the Criminal Justice Committee.

Health & Aging


Behavioral Health Services - SB 12 will improve mental health and substance abuse services in Florida by creating a coordinated system of care for those suffering from mental illness or substance use disorder through a “No Wrong Door” system of single access points. It creates a single, consolidated license to provide both mental health and substance use disorder services.   It further implements coordinated receiving systems and county transportation systems.  This bill includes TaxWatch recommendations, calling for data driven funding and raising the age of transition for SAMH services from 18 to 21.

ARNP/PA Scope of Practice – The Florida TaxWatch Center for Health and Aging has released reports detailing the benefits of expanding advanced registered nurse practitioner (ARNP) and physician assistant (PA) scope of practice.  Florida TaxWatch has presented our research findings to several committees. HB 1241 authorizes an ARNP to order any medication for administration to a patient in a hospital, ambulatory surgical center, mobile surgical center, or nursing home, within the framework of an established protocol. It also expands the current ability of a PA to order medicinal drugs, to include drugs for a patient in a nursing home.  HB 375 authorizes a PA to perform any duties or services he or she has been delegated by a supervising physician unless such duties or services are expressly prohibited by a statute or rule. It also streamlines the PA licensure process.  HB 977 allows a psychiatric nurse, within the framework of an established protocol with a psychiatrist, to prescribe psychotropic drugs for the treatment of mental disorders.


Telehealth – Another priority of the Florida TaxWatch Center for Health and Aging (see report) is telehealth, which involves providers using the Internet and other technology to care for patients remotely.  It can increase access to health care in areas such as rural communities. The House and Senate both moved telehealth bills this session but the final agreement was a watered down version. SB 1686 authorized health care practitioners in Florida to use telehealth and creates a Telehealth Task Force within AHCA to analyze and make recommendation concerning telehealth.  HB 7087 would have also allowed licensed health care professionals outside of the state to provide telehealth services to Floridians if they register with the Department of Health (or applicable board), meet requirements, and pay a fee.  After much back and forth, all the language to authorize providers to provide telehealth was stripped out.   HB 7087 was passed to create a Telehealth Advisory Council to make recommendations concerning telehealth.  The recommendation are to be based on a survey of health care facilities, health maintenance organizations, health care practitioners, and health insurers on the current use of telehealth, estimated savings from telehealth and the insurance treatment of telehealth.  The Council’s report is due by October 31, 2017, meaning it is unlikely telehealth will be addressed next session.


Behavioral Health Services - SB 1336 directs behavioral health managing entities to develop a plan with each county or circuit to ensure all persons with mental health or substance use disorders subject to involuntary admission receive prompt assessment of their needs for evaluation and treatment. SB 1336 died in its last committee--Appropriations.

Government Efficiency


Centralized State Vehicle Fleet – SB 326 and HB 1341 would have required the Department of Management Services (DMS) to prepare a plan regarding the centralized management of state-owned motor vehicles. DMS would have to evaluate the costs and benefits of operating and maintaining a centralized motor vehicle fleet compared to the costs and benefits of contracting with a third-party vendor for the operation and maintenance of a centralized motor vehicle fleet.  This is a long-time recommendation of the Florida TaxWatch Center for Government Efficiency and Florida TaxWatch testified in committee on our research on the issue.  HB 1341 passed the full House but died in messages.  However the final budget includes $1.9 million for DMS to procure a commercial solution to replace the state’s current fleet management system.

Sale of Surplus State Land – HB 1075 made numerous changes to the state’s land acquisition and disposal laws. Florida TaxWatch has recommended that surplus lands need to be identified and it be made easier for the state to dispose of them.  The bill combines the disposition procedures for all state lands into one section of law.  Changes include:  requiring the Department of Environmental Protection to submit conservation lands that are not meeting their short-term goals to the Acquisition and Restoration Council to consider management and disposition options; directing land managers to identify any conservation lands that could be disposed of in fee simple or with the state retaining a permanent conservation easement, and removing priority consideration given to local governments when surplusing lands.  The bill also streamlines the surplus procedures for Water Management District lands. It authorizes water management districts to sell parcels of land valued at $25,000 or less through an expedited process and make other changes to make the process more efficient.

Public Records – HB 273 requires requests for public agency records relating to contracts for services to be made directly to the public agency and revises several provisions in agency contracts for services related to public records.  Florida TaxWatch released its report on predatory public records abuses earlier this session, offering recommendations to prevent malicious and frivolous lawsuits while protecting taxpayer's rights to government in the sunshine. These recommendations include educating government employees on the public records laws, creating a requirement to give notice to an agency of the intent to sue prior to civil litigation and permitting public agencies to recover their attorney fees and related costs if the court determines that the public records request is frivolous or serves no legitimate public purpose or interest.  The Governor has signed this bill into law.   However a more important reform to the public records law did not pass (see HB 1021 below).


Pension Reform – HB 7107 would make the investment (defined contribution) retirement plan—instead of the pension (defined benefit) plan the default plan for new state employees in the Florida Retirement System.  If the employee does not make an election during the first 8 months (the bill increases it from 5 months), the employee would be enrolled in the investment plan.  Thus far, the Senate has not been receptive to this change and objects to the bill combining the pension reforms with increased death benefits for those killed in the line of duty.  The bill was amended on the floor to require the Legislature to appropriate funds in FY 2017-18 to reduce the unfunded actuarial liability of the FRS.  The bill was approved by the House but the Senate was not receptive to this issue.  

Public Records – HB 1021 would have amended current law to provide that in a public records enforcement lawsuit, a court may, but is not required to, award reasonable enforcement costs, including attorney fees, to the complainant in public records lawsuits. To be awarded such costs, the bill requires a complainant to provide written notice of the public records request to the agency’s records custodian at least 5 business days before filing the lawsuit.   The Senate companion--SB 1220--was amended to more closely align with Florida TaxWatch recommendations. The bill provides that the court may not award enforcement costs if the court determines that the plaintiff made his or her public records request primarily to harass the agency or cause a violation to the public records law. Florida TaxWatch released its report on predatory public records abuses earlier this session, offering recommendations to prevent malicious and frivolous lawsuits while protecting taxpayer's rights to government in the sunshine. These recommendations include educating government employees on the public records laws, creating a requirement to give notice to an agency of the intent to sue prior to civil litigation and permitting public agencies to recover their attorney fees and related costs if the court determines that the public records request is frivolous or serves no legitimate public purpose or interest. SB 1220 passed the full Senate but died in messages. HB 1021 died in the State Affairs Committee.

Government Efficiency - SB 7052 required the Governor to develop government efficiency recommendations on an annual basis and to submit them to the Legislature for consideration as part of the General Appropriations Act.  State agencies would have been required to report quarterly regarding the implementation of the recommendations and any cost impacts for the first two years. This is a longtime Florida TaxWatch recommendation and is a recommendation of the Government Efficiency Task Force and is included in the Task Force’s January 2016 Interim ReportFlorida TaxWatch spoke in support of the bill in committee. There was no House companion. The bill passed two committees but died in Appropriations.

Municipal Power RegulationHB 579 and SB 840 would have imposed additional transparency and accountability requirements on the Florida Municipal Power Agency, as recommended by Florida TaxWatch.    Florida TaxWatch presented its findings before committee and our research was cited several times during testimony and debate on the bill.  Both bills died in committee.  


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Media Inquiries:  Contact Josh Gabel by Email or Phone: 850.222.5052

Media Inquiries:
Contact Josh Gabel by Email
or Phone: 850.222.5052

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