Lawmakers had a chance to right some financial and business wrongs during the 2019 legislative session, or at least not make things worse.
They succeeded in some cases and failed miserably in others.
Here’s how four key bills fared:
Sales tax letdown
Senate Bill 1112 was an easy way to remedy an obvious defect in the tax code. Nonetheless, the Legislature proved once again that common sense doesn’t always prevail. Lawmakers decided to keep the playing field tilted in favor of out-of-state online retailers. They won’t have to collect the state’s 6 percent sales tax, a distinct advantage over their brick and mortar competitors.
The bill required nearly every retailer to remit the sales tax regardless of whether they have a physical presence in the state. The state would have netted about $700 million a year.
This wasn’t a new tax. Floridians who bought products from online-only retailers were already suppose to send sales tax to the state, though few complied.
Even so, skittish lawmakers grumbled about getting branded as tax raisers.
They had a chance to close a gaping loophole that favors one part of an industry over another. Instead, they copped out. What’s the opposite of a profile in courage?
Toll road romance
Republican lawmakers can’t seem to help themselves. Someone proposes a toll road to nowhere and they say, “Sure, and here’s a pile of tax dollars.” They did it again this year, in grand style. (See SB 7068)
Senate President Bill Galvano, R.-Bradenton, pushed hard to expand the sparsely-used Suncoast Parkway to Georgia, connect the Florida Turnpike to the parkway and build a transportation corridor from Polk County to Collier County.
The exact routes and costs aren’t known, but the last idea sounds a lot like the Heartland Parkway, scuttled a few years ago when studies showed not enough drivers would use it to justify the cost. No mind. It’s never too early for our lawmakers to resurrect a bad plan and spend even more money.
Many bills fail to get traction. They rot as the legislative session wears on. Thankfully, that’s what happened to a bill that would have made it harder for consumers to hire a third party to help them get out of their timeshare contract.
Timeshare developers pushed the legislation , which targeted what are often called timeshare relief or exit companies. Developers and relief companies get along like lions and hyenas, with unsuspecting owners often caught in the middle. Neither side has a sparkling reputation. You can read about all kinds of crimes and hardball tactics by typing “timeshare scam” into your favorite search engine.
The bill (HB 435) would have put an unneeded thumb on the scale. Legislators were right to let it fail.
Craft vodka by the glass? Not yet.
Senate Bill 220 included several good ideas for supporting the state’s small distillers. But in trying to do too much, it was easier to dismiss.
The legislation allowed makers of craft vodka, gin and other spirits to sell drinks by the glass at their distilleries. Currently, customers can only taste the product; they cannot buy a cocktail. For many distillers, the change would boost revenue. They equated it to beer makers who benefit from selling pints at their manufacturing site.
The bill also removed an unneeded cap on the number of bottles a customer can purchase each year. Distillers complained that keeping track was cumbersome and required asking customers for personal information.
But the bill also allowed craft distillers to blend alcohol made by other distillers and increased the number of gallons they could make in a year from 75,000 to 250,000. The changes drew the ire of the powerful Wine and Spirits Distributors of Florida. Even some small distillers questioned the big increase in production limits.
The state took years to catch up with the fast-growing craft beer industry. Remember the protracted battle over the size of growlers? Distillers will have to wait a while longer, too.
Contact Graham Brink at [email protected] Follow @GrahamBrink.