Thursday, April 19, 2018
Business

Rick Scott hearing it over consumer-related legislation

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott, who often cites his concern for middle-class families, must soon decide whether to sign several bills that consumer activists say would make things worse for working people in Florida.

In the days ahead, Scott must decide whether to sign or veto bills dealing with evicting tenants from apartments, speeding up foreclosure cases in the courts, increasing consumer loan interest rates, altering legal protections for car buyers and banning local laws that require sick leave for employees.

All five were championed by Scott's fellow Republicans in the Legislature in the spring session, and all five are generating a steady stream of emails to Scott.

"All of these bills erode basic consumer protections," said Alice Vickers of the Florida Consumer Action Network. "We've been able to stop them in the past, but we were fighting an uphill battle this year."

One bill would change the law to allow landlords to evict tenants if they make partial rent payments, and permit evictions for two minor violations in a year, such as parking a car in the wrong space. Sheriff's deputies could for the first time issue eviction notices on weekends and holidays.

The bill (HB 77) was co-sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, who manages rental properties, and passed both the House and Senate by wide margins.

"It's not bad for tenants," Stargel said. "It's a very mild piece of legislation and it basically solidifies what is already common practice."

Miami attorney Arthur Rosenberg of Florida Legal Services, on behalf of low-income renters, urged a veto, telling Scott that the bill eliminates a rule that landlords keep window screens in good repair, and requires screen repair or replacement only once a year. The group noted that the foreclosure crisis has resulted in a surge of people living in rental housing, about 5 million people — some of whom rely on good screens in buildings without air conditioning.

Joe Farrell of the Pinellas Realtor Organization in Clearwater urged Scott to sign the bill, saying it "aims to protect both landlords and tenants." Marisa Price, who works in the rental housing industry in Orlando, wrote Scott to say the bill ensures "fairness" and clarifies confusion in current law.

Other bills awaiting Scott's approval would affect Floridians' pocketbooks.

• Foreclosures: A bill that drew dozens of protesters to the Capitol during the session seeks to accelerate the foreclosure process and get distressed properties back on the market sooner. It places more requirements on banks to prove they own a loan before foreclosing on it, but critics say the bill (HB 87) favors banks over homeowners.

• Consumer loans: A bill (SB 282) increases from $2,000 to $3,000 the amount of a loan in which consumer finance companies can charge the maximum interest rate of 30 percent. Most of Florida's 262 consumer finance firms are out-of-state companies.

• Car purchases: Car dealers would have a new layer of legal protection under a bill that requires buyers to first give a 30-day written notice to the dealer before initiating action under a state deceptive trade practices law. A Clearwater car dealer, John Fitzgerald, urged Scott to veto the bill (HB 425), saying it gives "unscrupulous dealers a free pass to aggressively take advantage of consumers without fear of being held accountable."

• Sick leave: More than a dozen Miami-Dade city and county leaders want Scott to veto a bill (HB 655) banning local governments from requiring private employers to provide paid sick leave to employees. The Miami-Dade officials, led by Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, called the bill a "Tallahassee power grab" and said: "It is unconscionable that legislators would pass a bill that diminishes the quality of life for our residents."

Several working mothers from the Orlando area delivered 11,000 petitions to Scott's office this week urging a veto.

Scott has until Wednesday to act on the eviction and foreclosure bills. He has yet to formally receive the others; he will have 15 calendar days to decide whether to sign or veto.

Times/Herald staff writer Toluse Olorunnipa contributed to this report. Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected]

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