TALLAHASSEE — As lawmakers seek to close a budget gap and eliminate "job-killing regulations," a vast deregulation bill would free auto repair shops from providing customers with written estimates that break down the cost of parts and labor.
It would halt inspections of businesses that sell ice, and stop state reports on how charities use their contributions.
Twenty different businesses are targeted in the bill, including movers, interior designers, talent agents and sports agents that recruit and represent student athletes.
And how much money would the state save with these changes?
In fact, if the House bill became law, it would cost the state more than $6 million in lost revenue and result in more than 100 layoffs, most of them in a call center in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services that fields consumer complaints.
That doesn't sit well with Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
"We think it's important that there remain a consumer hot line," Putnam said. "That 1-800-HELP-FLA is sort of a universal hot line. People report wildfires to that. People report being ripped off to that. People report problems at the gas pumps with that. So it's an important function that goes away."
The House staff analysis, though, says the bill "has a positive fiscal impact on the private sector."
"This is the direct result of removing requirements for various professionals and businesses to pay various fees and to submit applications and disclosures," reads the analysis.
Nearly all of the businesses slated for deregulation pay fees of less than $300 a year.
But Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, who voted in favor of the bill when it came before the Business and Consumer Affairs subcommittee, said that's money that perhaps the state shouldn't have been collecting in the first place.
"We want to turn this over to the private sector," Young said.
Businesses that continue to serve consumers well will thrive, she said. Others won't.
As for written estimates from auto repair shops, she said: "People can ask for those."
Nearly half of the businesses affected by the legislation are regulated by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
"We're continuing to work with members of the Legislature to deregulate those things which are appropriate to deregulate and in the other areas maintaining a level of consumer protection that the people have come to expect and deserve," Putnam said.
He expressed particular concern about the deregulation of telemarketers, saying that most of the department's complaints come from consumers reporting violations of the "do-not-call" list.
Putnam also said he worries about deregulation of charities.
"We're seeing a lot of pseudo charities out there, particularly ones raising money in the name of veterans and not really giving the money back to the veterans," he said.
And Putnam said the auto repair shops should continue to be monitored, though not necessarily by his department. "Someone ought to be keeping an eye on that just to make sure the people aren't victimized," he said.
Putnam said he shares the Legislature's passion for deregulation. "But we want to be smart about it," he said.
Rep. Esteban Bovo, a Republican from Hialeah, sponsored the bill, but he resigned last week to run for the Miami-Dade County Commission.
Rep. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, is now running the bill, which has passed two committees and is slated for its final committee hearing today.
It has no companion in the Senate, but because it's tied to appropriations, any differences between the two chambers will be hashed out when working on a budget agreement.
And if the proposal makes it to Gov. Rick Scott's desk, he's likely to sign it. Ending "job-killing regulations" has become a mantra for the governor, who says he wants to make Florida the most business friendly state in the nation.
Hukill said that many of the businesses covered in the bill have to register with the state, but aren't necessarily regulated.
"This is unnecessary regulation which generally says pay a fee, get a license so we know how many of you there are," she said.
And some, such as charitable organizations, are regulated by federal law.
"It's not something that we in the state require, that certain information be given to the consumer," Hukill said. "The consumer can either ask for it themselves, or if it's not provided, they have remedy under the federal law."
As for the state revenue loss, Hukill said that will be offset by jobs created in the private sector.
"In order for business to continue to create new jobs or keep people employed, they have to be able to exist without unnecessary regulation," she said. "That's separate and apart from good regulation that protects the health and safety of the consumers and the public."
Staff writer Katie Sanders contributed to this report. Janet Zink can be reached at email@example.com or (850) 224-7263.