From the Captain’s Chair: Legislative Updates from Tallahassee March 28, 2017
On March 7th, the Florida Legislature began its regular 60-day session. Although, Mark Twain is credited with saying, “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session,” it really is important for all of us to pay attention to the laws being considered that could potentially impact our industry in either positive or negative ways. With 120 members in the Florida House of Representatives and 40 senators in the Florida Senate, it is not always possible to speak with everyone, but I did have the chance to meet with several lawmakers in Tallahassee this month to highlight our priorities.
Transportation and infrastructure needs are of the highest priority for South Florida and our industry. With more than 20 million residents currently, Florida is the third largest state in the nation, and South Florida is the second largest Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) in the Southeastern United States, larger than Atlanta. People will continue to come here to visit, vacation, and live – in fact, close to 26.3 million will call Florida home by 2040, and we have a duty to demand from our public officials an infrastructure that meets our growing transportation needs. It has been publicly acknowledged that an elevated bridge across, or a tunnel under, the New River is an absolute necessity before any additional passenger rail can be approved, and we are persistently engaged with elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels, urging the prioritization of transit projects that will help to alleviate congestion, including alternatives to the probability of multiple bridge and railroad gate closures throughout the day with the onset of impending passenger rail projects.
There are some broad issues that require our vigilant attention. With our neighbor to the north, Georgia, poised to enact a $500,000 tax cap on vessel refits and repairs, we will be working with legislators in Florida during the appropriations process to lower the current tax cap threshold of $1 million to $600,000. We must be prepared to demonstrate the success of the initial cap and justify the need to lower it in order to remain competitive.
We continue to deliver the message promoting South Florida as a global Marine Research Hub with the ongoing, collaborative effort of four universities, the University of Miami, Florida International University, Nova Southeastern University, and Florida Atlantic University, sharing research projects and advancing the commercialization and monetization of important marine discoveries. We are working with the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) to produce a study on the economic and public benefits of establishing the Marine Research Hub.
SB1262 by Senator Gary Farmer (D-Ft. Lauderdale), and its companion HB1227 by Representative Kristin Jacobs (D-Coconut Creek), prohibits minors under 16 from operating a vessel. The association is closely monitoring these bills, which have been referred to committees in their respective chambers but neither has been placed on an agenda at this time.
Change in life or business is certain. I have full faith and confidence that the process in place and the dedication of the executive search committee will result in the seamless transition of the industry’s next leader.
SB1338 by Senator Lauren Book (D-Hollywood) and HB7043 by Representative Holly Rascein (R-Key Largo) provide the condition under which a vessel is at risk of becoming derelict in Florida waters, and prohibits anchoring or mooring vessels or floating structures in certain areas. HB7043 passed its first committee, while the Senate version has not yet been heard.
Other general legislation that has the potential of impacting our industry includes the elimination of Enterprise Florida – the economic development agency for the State, and Visit Florida- the State’s tourism agency. Both initiatives are priorities of the Speaker of the Florida House. The Senate is, so far, not considering similar legislation.
Interestingly, the only bill that the legislature is required to pass each year is a balanced budget. This year, the legislative session is scheduled to conclude on May 5th, so if the General Appropriations Act (also known as the budget) is not sent to the Governor before then, a Special Session will be called.