The Orlando Economic Partnership worked to advance a number of key issues for the region during the 2021 Florida Legislative Session. Below are just some of the issues that dominated the attention of our legislature.
Business Liability Protections for Covid-19 Related Claims
This bill was an early win for the business community. Civil Liability for Damages Relating to COVID-19 by Sen. Brandes became statute early in session and will serve to protect Florida’s schools, business, hospitals and governmental entities against frivolous lawsuits as it relates to incidents resulting from COVID-19. As long as the businesses and organizations who fall under the above-mentioned categories are operating within the mandated safety guidelines and making good faith efforts to protect Florida’s residents, they can enjoy protection as well. We expect this bill to support the statewide effort to economically recover from COVID-19 and keep all of our families and workers safe
DEI – Police Training
HB 7051 by Orlando Senator Randy Bracy was passed and is on its way to the Governor. This bill makes several changes to requirements for the operations and standards and training of law enforcement and correctional agencies. There are a lot of new policies outlined in this bill but most notably, it requires basic skills training on use of force, development of policies in use of force including de-escalation techniques and if the agency authorizes the use of chokeholds, limits on such use to circumstances where the officer perceives an immediate threat of serious bodily injury or death to the officer or another person. It also requires law enforcement agencies to have policies regarding use of force investigations that include an independent review of a use of force incident involving death or the intentional discharge of a firearm that results in injury or death.
Qualified Targeting Industry Incentive (QTI)
Originally filed a stand-alone bill that would remove the sunset of QTI that went into effect last year, this issue was never heard in the Florida House. In a last-minute attempt to reinstate QTI, the Senate added removal of the Sunset of QTI to the Tax Package. However, in negotiations with the House, it was removed. Therefore, we will continue to work on recruitment and expansion efforts of targeted industries without this much needed incentive. While failing to use this tool hampers our ability to grow businesses in the region and in the state, we will continue to work with local and state government on these types of business-minded issues in hopes of better success next year.
Right to Operate
With issues relating directly to the pandemic, we worked to ensure that executive orders coming out of the Governor’s office would provide certainty on timeframes for such orders. This new legislation now states that if the Governor determines that businesses must restrict their operations due to an emergency, emergency orders or proclamations issued by the Governor must contain the reasons for that determination and requires that the Governor review and reevaluate the situation regularly.
This bill was heavily debated in response to an issue coming out of the Florida Keys. However, with one of the state’s largest ports right here in Central Florida, it was a bill to watch. State Preemption of Seaport Regulations by Sen. Boyd made its way into the year’s Transportation Package and successfully passed. This legislation will prohibit local referendums from impacting maritime commerce.
SB 1906 – Reemployment Assistance by Sen. Brodeur proposed to increase weekly unemployment benefits by $100 for Florida residents. Within the past few weeks, Florida democrats attempted to amend a similar bill regarding the Department of Economic Opportunity to increase the benefit amount and had no success. Unfortunately, these bills did not move and amounts for unemployment assistance remain the same.
A special session has been called for May 17 to ratify a new Seminole gaming compact and pass other gaming-related bills, which will include sports betting, more to come when the legislature reconvenes.
Rural Broadband Expansion
This week, state legislators approved HB 1239 – Broadband Internet Infrastructure by Rep. Tomkow, which promises to expand broadband access to rural areas throughout the state. The bill helps broadband companies grow by identifying federal grants available for local spending and removing a sales tax exemption, relieving local governments of the possibility of a harsh fiscal impact. As of now, Florida Internet and Television Association has publicly expressed support for the bill and we as a state are now even closer to our goal of statewide broadband access.
The Renewable Energy bill, SB 896 by Sen. Brodeur, passed through the Florida senate on Monday and promises to expand the production of renewable energy sources like natural gas and solar energy. The legislation permits the Public Service Commission to approve cost recovery for the purchase of renewable natural gas and allows local governments to consider solar energy farming as a permitted use on agricultural lands as part of their planning process. This should help the state of Florida immensely in their effort to encourage environmentally friendly energy production. However, it was not without controversy as it prohibits local governments from regulating where solar farms are located.
Join us for the 2021 Florida Legislative Update
You can learn more about the impact of the session during the Partnership’s annual Legislative Update. The event will feature a panel of speakers including Senator Jason Brodeur and Representatives Kristen Aston Arrington, Kamia L. Brown and Fred Hawkins who will discuss the impact of policy and budget on our economy and business community. RSVP today!