State Capital Briefs: April 25, 2017


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Up to $2.2 billion in tax breaks could be approved on the House floor Wednesday as a number of proposals, including a constitutional amendment that would expand savings on property taxes, advanced Tuesday. But as the Senate has moved forward with a series of tax cuts through individual bills, and the two chambers struggle to reach agreement on a budget, the ultimate fate of the House proposals remains in flux. Under the House proposals, nearly $300 million in cuts would come through a package (HB 7109) highlighted by a temporary 1.5 percentage-point drop in a 6 percent tax on commercial rent. The rate would go to 5.5 percent in two years. The cut is projected to save business owners $190.7 million next fiscal year. The House proposal would also eliminate sales taxes on diapers, feminine hygiene products and college textbooks and offer tax-free holidays for purchasing school and hurricane supplies. Senate committees have moved forward with a number of individual bills that match parts of the House plan, including sales-tax holidays for back-to-school and hurricane preparation items, along with eliminating taxes on diapers and feminine hygiene products. A Senate bill also proposes a single percentage-point reduction in the commercial rent tax. The rest of the proposed House cuts would come through a constitutional amendment (HJR 7105) that would go before voters in November 2018 and expand by $25,000 the homestead exemption on non-school property taxes. A similar proposal (SJR 1774), filed by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, has been approved by one committee.

A bill that would let electric utilities recoup costs of investing in exploratory natural-gas projects in other states cleared its final Senate committee on Tuesday. The measure (SB 1238), sponsored by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, came after the Florida Supreme Court last year rejected the Public Service Commission's approval of a plan by Florida Power & Light to use ratepayers' money to invest in an Oklahoma natural-gas project. Bean told the Rules Committee that legislation is necessary to let FPL "hedge" its natural gas investments to bring more stability and long-term savings in gas prices. But Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, questioned the legislation, noting it would set a precedent for allowing utilities to recover costs and earn a guaranteed return on their natural gas investments. The Rules Committee adopted several Latvala amendments that added more restrictions to the plan, including limiting the investments to areas with at least a 50 percent probability of gas-producing reserves. A number of groups opposed the legislation, including the Sierra Club, AARP, the Florida Retail Federation and the Florida Industrial Power Users Group. Susan Glickman, a lobbyist for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, called the bill "anti-consumer." She said the measure was giving "a blank check" to utility companies, while ratepayers would bear the risk of the investments. Sam Forrest, an FPL vice president, likened the "hedging" investments to buying insurance, saying they provide "some modicum of protection" when natural gas prices rise. A similar bill (HB 1043) is pending in the House committee process.

Lottery players in Florida would be warned about the addictive nature of the state-sponsored games, under a measure the House may scratch off its to-do list as early as Wednesday. The proposal seeks to require vendors and retailers to print or place warnings on all lottery tickets stating, "Warning: Gambling can be addictive." The House on Tuesday added to the bill (HB 937) by requiring warnings on print and electronic advertising for the lottery. House sponsor Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, said the expansion to require online, print and televised ads to include the warning would be similar to what is now required for alcohol and tobacco products. After amending the bill Tuesday, the House is positioned to vote on it as soon as Wednesday. A Senate version of the bill (SB 1370), sponsored by Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, has been approved by two committees and awaits a hearing in the Rules Committee.


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