The Sunshine State was under a bright spotlight this legislative session. An exceptionally busy agenda saw many significant wins for taxpayers.
Florida already has the best tax climate in the nation thanks to a low business tax burden, modest sales tax rate, strong limits on property tax growth, and zero income tax. Every session that sees no tax increase is a win for taxpayers, and this year was another no-tax-hike year.
Under the leadership of Gov. DeSantis, and Speaker Paul Renner, both Taxpayer Protection Pledge signers, Rep. Bob Rommel, chair of the state’s Taxpayer Protection Caucus, and the 34 additional legislators who have signed the pledge, tax hikes have remained off the table. The state continues to stand out as the low-tax leader, a key factor in its massive success attracting new residents and businesses.
Tax relief was on the agenda, as a series of tax holidays and sales tax exemptions passed in House Bill 7063.
The legislature accelerated reductions in the commercial lease tax – Florida’s one tax other states do not have – saving around $300 million for businesses paying rent. Additionally, increases in the communications services tax (CST) were paused, the CST is a complicated tax, with a variety of locally imposed rates, that hits cell phones and cable bills. “113 of Florida’s 481 local jurisdictions raising rates since 2018,” reports Florida Politics.
These wins are worth celebration on their own, and yet there are plenty more victories to cover.
The legislature approved a sweeping tort reform package, sponsored by Rep. Tommy Gregory. The state has been the leader in lawsuits with litigation consuming 3% of state GDP each year, and causing insurance rates for Floridians to rise, creating a ‘tort tax’ that cost residents thousands of dollars annually.
“Florida lawsuits rose steadily from 64% of all nationwide homeowners lawsuits in 2016, to 68% in 2017, to 80% in 2018 and 76% in 2019,” National Association of Insurance Commissioners data found.
Under the new laws, the state will crack down on fraud, and end policies that incentivized lawsuits and inflated legal fees.
Another massive victory for taxpayers and families was the passage of landmark school choice legislation, House Bill 1, sponsored by Rep. Tuck and Rep. Plasencia. Florida had fallen behind the state leaders on school choice, despite its early leadership on education reform. No longer. The state’s new education savings accounts will direct $8,000 in education funding for every Florida child to go to the school of their choice.
Legislators tackled environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards that financial institutions have used to guide investment decision-making rather than solely focusing on monetary returns. They passed House Bill 3, sponsored by Rep. Rommel and Rep. Sirois.
Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis also issued a directive earlier this year making it clear state managed funds must divest from investment vehicles that use ESG standards.
Another priority bill made reforms to the state’s economic development programs, House Bill 5, sponsored by Rep. Tiffany Esposito. In an impressive legislative feat when tackling tax incentives of various types, the legislation will not increase state revenues. It will end Enterprise Florida, the economic development agency, to get government out of the position of picking winners and losers in the economy.
Incredibly, the legislature could have accomplished even more on the regulatory reform front if universal occupational license recognition legislation had passed.
Senate Bill 1364, House Bill 1333, advanced partially through the committee process but did not get to the floor. The bill would require occupational licensing boards to recognize out-of-state licenses in good standing, removing red tape and making it easier for professionals moving into the state to get to work. ATR President Grover Norquist wrote in support of the bill in the Tampa Bay Times.
Florida is currently middle of the pack on occupational license reform rankings. The state has made good progress on reform in past sessions, and the future should be bright for universal recognition.
With the signing of paycheck protection legislation, sponsored by Senator Blaise Ingoglia and Representative Dean Black, Florida public sector workers will no longer have union dues automatically deducted from their paychecks. Their constitutional right to not join the union will be respected and they must opt-in to the union, among other transparency provisions.
Legislators did approve a bill that bars the tracking of firearm purchases. Senate Bill 214 reaffirms Floridians’ right to bear arms and prohibits the state government and financial institutions from tracking consumers’ purchases of firearms.
This was a pro-consumer win, as was the defeat of legislation that would have driven up costs for payment processing.
Senate Bill 564/House Bill 677 would have inserted the government into contracts between private parties by preventing interchange fees from being applied to the full price of a transaction (cutting out the sales tax portion of the transaction).
Florida consumers and small businesses will not have to lose the credit card benefits they currently enjoy, or face higher costs that would have been passed on to them under this misguided legislation.
The legislature also improved the criminal justice system with commonsense legislation, House Bill 605, sponsored by Rep. David Smith, to allow expungement of arrest records. This is a win for due process, as people will not face collateral consequences over offenses they were never convicted of, making it easier for them to find work, and contribute to the community.
Additional good criminal justice legislation unfortunately did not make it over the finish line. Senate Bill 1028 would have prevented barber and cosmetology licensing boards from denying licenses to people with a criminal record unrelated to the profession. Credits earned in training programs while incarcerated would apply to licensing requirements. Too often people get professional training while in jail or prison so that they can get a decent job once their sentence is completed. A good job reduces recidivism. SB 1028 would have addressed this issue for one industry.
House Bill 921/ Senate Bill 968, sponsored by Sen. Danny Burgess and Rep. Mike Beltran, would have reformed the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for court debt. License suspensions unrelated to driving safety are counterproductive. They make it more difficult for the person who owes debt to go to work and pay it back. Florida legislators should prioritize this legislation next session.
Speaker Paul Renner, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, and Governor DeSantis drove a conservative reform agenda that will make Florida more welcoming to taxpayers, families, and businesses.