Online sales tax signed by Governor Ron


The online sales tax bill has been signed by Governor Ron DeSantis into law. This answers the question of whether he would act on the bill or not.

Earlier this month, legislators finalized the Republican legislative leadership’s plan to require online retailers to collect sales tax.

An estimated $1 billion in revenue would come from the new enforcement of sales taxes technically already owed on purchases Floridians make from out-of-state sellers, but which few Floridians pay.

DeSantis had until midnight to sign or veto the bill into law or else it would have gone into effect without his signature. Lawmakers sent him the bill on April 12. He waited until one hour left in the day Monday to send the alert that he had signed the measure.

The Governor’s budget recommendations for the 2021-22 fiscal year did not include e-fairness legislation.

When asked in January about fully implementing the online sales tax, the Governor told reporters, “There are no tax increases in our budget. We’re not going to do that.”

When DeSantis did sign the bill, it was announced at 11:23 p.m. 37 minutes before the bill would have become law without his signature. The Republican announced his action in a news release about signing five different and unrelated bills and offering no comment on the legislation.

While the proposal was widely supported by business groups, DeSantis’ signature came with far less fanfare than when he appeared Monday morning in Polk County to sign a controversial bill cracking down on violent protests.

State revenue estimators predict collecting sales tax online at the point of sale will generate a $973.6-million boost in general revenue funds in the 2021-2022 fiscal year and a $1.08 billion boost each year afterward.

Yet supporters contend the bill is not a tax increase since people technically owe the state the money already. Consumers are currently supposed to send sales taxes directly to the Department of Financial Services in a separate check. Under the new plan, out-of-state sellers would begin collecting those taxes for consumers, as in a conventional purchase.

Brick-and-mortar retailers, who have complained about the inequity of online sellers evading tax collection, cheered the legislation.

“Through the passage of SB 50, Gov. DeSantis and legislative leaders have acknowledged the pivotal role that the retail industry plays in supporting Florida’s families,” said Scott Shalley, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation.

“With this measure signed into law, all businesses can compete on a level playing field and continue to support the 2.7 million Floridians who work in the retail industry. Thank you, Governor Ron DeSantis, for your leadership and for providing meaningful relief to Florida retail businesses.”

Regardless, Republican critics like Rep. Anthony Sabatini and Anthony Rodriguez and a slim majority of Democrats who had backed the measure until it got tied to restocking the unemployment trust fund have tried to portray the bill as a tax increase.

However, Democratic Leader Gary Farmer raised an objection, arguing it was a tax increase that required a supermajority vote but was overruled.

Moreover, as the bill was written in January, the additional revenue would have gone into general revenue, but the plan is now “revenue neutral.” Republican legislative leadership’s latest deal includes using the additional revenue to replenish the Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund to prevent a tax hike on businesses.

With the trust depleted last year, unemployment taxes on employees jumped from $7 per employee last year to $49 this year. If nothing changes, that rate could jump to $87 next year.

Furthermore, a measure added in an amendment approved this month would use the additional revenue to lower commercial rent taxes once the unemployment trust fund is refilled. Once the trust is restored to $4.07 billion, the statute now calls for the rent tax to drop from 5.5% to 2%, which will cut taxes by approximately $1 billion annually.

“This basically makes the bill revenue-neutral forever,” said bill sponsor Sen. Joe Gruters.

Proponents for e-fairness legislation, including the bill’s House sponsors, Reps. Chuck Clemons and Chip LaMarca, argue it will level the playing field for local and brick-and-mortar businesses, who compete against online businesses who don’t list the tax in their final sale total.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce lauded the measure. Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson thanked the Governor for his leadership in relieving Florida’s businesses.

“Gov. DeSantis’ signature reiterates his commitment to relaunching Florida’s economy and helping Florida job creators recover from a once in a century pandemic,” he said.

Florida Retail Federation President and CEO Scott Shalley said the bill the pivotal role Florida’s retail industry plays.

“With this measure signed into law, all businesses can compete on a level playing field and continue to support the 2.7 million Floridians who work in the retail industry,” he said.

Florida TaxWatch has been pushing for e-fairness legislation for years. TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro called the measure a “Taxpayer Penalty Relief Endeavor” that also would alleviate the effects of COVID-19 on businesses.

“The combination of each of these provisions will certainly have significant and lasting benefits on Florida’s fiscal landscape, leading to a more prosperous future for all,” he said.

Florida League of Cities President Tony Ortiz, an Orlando city commissioner, said the bill addresses statewide issues but argued the positive impacts at the local level “can’t be understated.”

“No longer will out-of-state retailers, who don’t contribute anything to the betterment of our communities, have an unfair advantage over our local businesses who are not only part of our local communities but who have a vested interest in them and their success,” he said.

Democrats support the underlying e-fairness legislation but opposed directing those funds to help businesses, arguing it would lower taxes on businesses on the backs of consumers. They instead supported using the revenue to increase unemployment benefits.

If DeSantis had vetoed the bill, the Legislature in theory would have had the votes to overturn his decision. It passed the House by a 93-24 vote, and the Senate by a 27-12, indicating enough support in both chambers to reach the two-thirds threshold to overturn a veto.

Of the 45 states that charge sales taxes, only Florida and Missouri haven’t forced them on online sales since a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling cleared that path. Florida will join the rest when the law goes into effect in July.

Senate transgender sports bill in committee


On Tuesday, the Senate Rules Committee moved to temporarily postpone a bill that would restrict transgender women’s ability to play in women’s sports.

The bill (SB 2012), sponsored by Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel of Lakeland, would create a limited pathway for someone transitioning from male to female to compete in women’s sports.

First, a student must declare a female identity to the school. Next, they would need to maintain a specified testosterone level for at least 12 months before their first competition and throughout their period of eligibility.

The bill calls on the Board of Governors to adopt regulations regarding the provision and tasks the State Board of Education with resolving disputes.

Proponents argue the bill will ensure a level playing field within women’s sports.

Moreover, they note that men generally create more testosterone than women and possess physical attributes that contribute to enhanced athletic performance.

Those genetic differences, proponents warn, can be harmful.

Opponents, meanwhile, dispute the genetic differences, to a degree, and question whether there’s a need for the legislation.

They also argue the bill is discriminatory and harmful.

The Senate postponement comes a week after the House passed similar legislation.

The legislation has been among the most controversial of the Session, generating hours of debate over amendments. House Republicans voted down 18 amendments offered by Democrats on the floor.

Those included changes that would have carved out elementary and middle school children from the bill, prohibited genital inspections, or codified the current Florida High School Athletic Association guidelines into law.

The Florida High School Athletic Association since 2013 has had guidelines in place that allow transgender students to request to play on the team aligned with their gender identity. To do so requires the affirmation of gender identity and testimony that athletes live their entire lives as a gender different than that assigned at birth.

Since then, only 11 students in Florida have asked to be allowed to compete in sports differing from the gender assigned to them at birth.

Anti-riot bill passed


On Thursday, Florida Senate approved an “anti-riot” bill championed by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, sending it to him for signature into law over the objections of Democrats and civil rights groups who say the measure infringes on the fundamental First Amendment right to protest.

Moreover, the parts of the bill (HB 1 ) that most upset Democrats grant civil legal immunity to people who drive through protesters blocking a road; prevent people arrested for rioting or offenses committed during a riot from bailing out of jail until their first court appearance; and impose a six-month mandatory sentence for battery on a police officer during a riot.

Governor Ron DeSantis, when he unveiled the proposal, emphasized the need to prevent bail for rioters, so they aren’t able to rejoin the unrest. During an emotional debate, Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, called the bill a “mail piece for reelection for a specific base who wants it. … We have to [instead] pass legislation for all Floridians.”

Senator Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, who read the First Amendment on the Senate floor, added, “We know the governor wants this piece of legislation. We don’t have to do everything the governor wants.”

However Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said the bill wasn’t about politics, race or peaceful protests. Instead, it was meant to prevent riots that hurt or kill people and destroy property, she said.

“This bill is about preventing violence,” said Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, sponsor of the Senate version of the measure.

Burgess and his fellow Republicans fended off 16 amendments from Democrats in a Wednesday session as they attempted to water down the bill. Burgess was questioned by Senator Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, about whether James Fields, a white supremacist who killed Heather Heyer during protests at Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, would have been granted civil immunity for her death under the bill.

Burgess noted the bill wouldn’t prevent criminal charges and the provision would only apply to people defending themselves from protesters, not those deliberately targeting them. Fields was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in 2019.

“That person rammed a vehicle into those people to hurt them … he wasn’t defending himself,” Burgess said. “That is in no way protected in this bill.”

The bill passed House 76-39 with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed on March 26. It will become effective immediately when DeSantis signs it, which he said Thursday he would do.

Governor Ron DeSantis began to push for an anti-riot bill in September, in response to the protests against police bias and brutality that took place throughout the country last summer, some of which turned violent, with rioting and looting. The protests were sparked by the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by Minneapolis police.

One of the officers charged in the killing, Derek Chauvin, shown in a video kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes, is currently on trial. Chauvin has a second home in Windermere.

During a conference call with reporters, Black Voters Matter co-founder and executive director Cliff Albright said the legislation is a backlash against the passion expressed by young people in the aftermath of Floyd’s death.

“And in response to that, for the state to say, we’re going to criminalize your activity. We’re going to criminalize your passion. We’re going to criminalize your protest. That’s not what democracy looks like,” Albright said.

Much of the bill addresses the reaction of protesters and rioters in the wake of the Floyd killing. The “defund the police” slogan of some protesters led to a provision of the bill requiring municipal budget plans that would cut police budgets to be approved by the state.

Cities and counties would also be civilly liable for damages caused during a riot if they don’t restrain police from quelling the disturbance.

A new crime of “mob intimidation,” defined as three or more people “acting with a common intent” forcing or threatening to force another person from taking a viewpoint against their will, is created by the bill. It is punishable as a first-degree misdemeanor, and bail is denied until the first court appearance for anyone charged with the crime.

That provision is in response to videos last summer of protestors of police violence menacing people eating at outdoor restaurants.

Memorials, statutes, and historic property, including Confederate monuments, a target of some protesters last year, would be protected under the bill since it would require restitution for repairs. The bill also increases penalties for assault, battery, burglary, and theft during a riot.

After the vote, Farmer and several other Democratic senators donned black shirts to mourn what they called the death of the First Amendment.

Gun owners in Texas need no license/training to carry their handgun publicly


On Friday, Texas House cleared a bill that handgun owners no longer need a license or training to carry their handgun publicly.

The bill is now headed to the Senate.

The bill allows “permitless carry” for all Texans who are legally allowed to own a firearm. Getting a license would be an option.

State Rep. Matt Schaefer (District 6, R-Tyler) backed the bill. The bill preliminarily passed on Thursday with a vote of 84-56 along mostly party lines.

The House passed the bill on Friday. 

Schaefer said: “This bill should be called common sense carry because this bill is about common law-abiding citizens being able to carry commonly owned handguns in common public places for the common reason of personal and family protection. Under this bill, people who are prohibited from possessing a handgun will still be prohibited from possessing a handgun. Sensitive places where the unlicensed carry of a handgun is prohibited will still be prohibited. But if you are a law-abiding citizen age 21 or older that can legally possess a handgun you will be able to carry that handgun in a holster in public places where it is not otherwise prohibited.”

The timing of the GOP-led House passing the bill now after years of stalled efforts angered opponents whose chances for tightening gun laws after the Walmart shooting that killed 23 people are fading.

Democrats railed against loosening gun laws after the 2019 mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart. Texas lawmakers did not meet in 2020, making this the first year gun-control bills have been filed since the attack.

The measure has drawn opposition from Texas police chiefs, as well as some firearm instructors who run licensing courses, who critics say has a financial incentive to oppose the change. Obtaining a handgun license in Texas costs between $100 and $150, according to Schaeffer, and applicants must also go through criminal history and background checks.

“Members, there are many things that are wrong with our gun laws, but in my opinion, at least one thing that is not wrong with them is our current system of permitting for carrying a handgun, and one reason that system works is the training requirement that exists, and another reason, in my view, is that there is, in essence, a background check if you will. Before you get your license, you have to meet certain eligibility criteria,” said State Rep. John Turner (District 114, D-Dallas).

For hours, some lawmakers presented amendments to a bill that they don’t want to see become law.

This issue has come up in past sessions but has not passed. Earlier this week, law enforcement lined up against it, while Texas Republican Party Chairman Allen West spoke in favor of it.

The bill now goes to the Senate, before going to the governor’s desk for a signature. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has been silent amid calls for gun control and did not mention the El Paso shooting while laying out his legislative priorities in February.

Texas has more than 1.6 million licensed handgun owners. If approved, Texas would become by far the largest of roughly 20 states that already allow handgun owners to carry their weapons in public without a permit.

Sexual Assault Kit Tracking Bill


HB 673, Gail’s Law, by Representative Emily Slosberg (D–Boca Raton) passed out of the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee with unanimous, bipartisan support.  Gail’s Law would require the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to create and maintain a statewide system for tracking sexual assault evidence kits from the point of collection through the criminal justice process.  The tracking system would be accessible to survivors of sexual assault, giving them the option of opting-in for updates on the status of the evidence in their case.  Currently, 30 states and Washington D.C. have implemented a statewide database for tracking sexual assault kits.

HB 673 is named Gail’s Law after Gail Gardner, an Orlando woman who is survivor of a vicious sexual assault in 1988 by an armed man who broke into her home and raped her at knifepoint. Despite courageously consenting to an invasive forensic exam, where a sexual assault evidence kit was collected, Gail had to wait nearly 30 years before her kit was tested. In November of last year, Orlando police finally identified Gail’s attacker as a man who was already in prison for another sexual assault. That man is accused of assaulting 15 other women in Florida, yet evidence that could have led to his conviction sat on a shelf for 33 years.

In response to Gail’s Law passing out of its second House committee, Representative Slosberg, the Co-Chair of the Florida Women’s Legislative Caucus, said, “I want to thank my colleagues on the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee for their support of this landmark legislation. There is no reason why we should be able to track a pizza more efficiently than we can track evidence in a sexual assault case. Gail’s Law will bring more accountability to the investigation of sexual assaults and eliminate the potential for evidence to go untested and for perpetrators to escape justice. I look forward to working on this bill at its next stop in the House Judiciary Committee.”

COVID Liability protection taken up by house


The House glanced at a Senate bill on Thursday that would establish COVID-19 liability protections for businesses and healthcare providers such as nursing homes.

Lawmakers asked few questions before rolling the bill (SB 72) onto third reading. Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes is the bill sponsor.

Under the proposal, a plaintiff would need to prove with “clear and convincing evidence” that a defendant acted with “gross negligence” when filing a COVID-19 related lawsuit.

The bill’s protections would become applicable if a defendant made a “good-faith effort” to substantially comply with government health guidelines.

Proponents of the measure contend businesses and providers navigated the pandemic’s early stages with conflicting health guidance and limited supplies.

They fear predatory lawsuits are a looming threat.

Critics, meanwhile, argue the legislation goes too far while offering too little to frontline workers.

Critics also take issue with a provision that would require plaintiffs to submit a physician’s affidavit, attesting that the defendant’s action or inaction led to damages, injury, or death.

Physicians, they argue, cannot make that determination within a reasonable degree of medical certainty.

The massive bill comes after Brandes merged two COVID-19 liability bills into one during the final committee stop.

Originally, the proposals to shield healthcare providers and businesses were filed as separate measures.

The move to merge, Brandes said, was strategic.

“It’s easier to defend one fortress than to guard two,” Brandes told members of the Senate Rules Committee.

Throughout the committee process, outnumbered Democrats have filed dozens of amendments without success.

If signed into law, the bill would take effect immediately and apply retroactively.

Earlier this month, the House passed a bill (HB 7)  that would provide liability protections solely to Florida businesses facing COVID-19-related lawsuits.

However, Sprowls later agreed to the new Senate language during negotiations.

“We anticipate picking up that bill, passing it, and getting it to the Governor’s desk as soon as possible,” Sprowls told reporters.

Fried charged as Black pastors call voters bill racist


Bills to restrict vote-by-mail and tighten other voting rules are racist, voter suppression attempts, a coalition of Black pastors, voting groups, and others including Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried charged Thursday.

Fried joined the Equal Ground Action Fund protest and news conference on the steps of the Old Capitol Thursday. She and other speakers denounced SB 90 from Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley and HB 7041 from Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, a Spring Hill Republican, and urged the sponsors to withdraw the legislation.

Fried said the Legislature “is doing everything it can to suppress votes.”

“What this bill does is silence those voices. This bill does nothing good. It silences people who need a voice,” Fried said. “We must stand united to fight for this freedom.”

Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, did not explicitly charge that the bills were racist. But others at the event did, saying the bills’ purpose is to suppress voting in communities of color, voters who tend to support Democrats.

One pastor also vowed people would return to the streets if necessary to fight against voter suppression.

Fried and the Revs. Derrick McRae of Orlando, R.B. Holmes of Tallahassee, and Reginald Gundy of Jacksonville were joined by representatives of the ACLU of Florida, the League of Women Voters of Florida, the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund of Florida, and other church, voting, and civil rights groups.

All insisted the bills could not be justified as responses to election fraud because Florida just completed what everyone agreed was the most-secure, smoothest, problem-free election in memory.

Therefore, they argued, the Republican majority designed the bills bills to suppress votes from voters of color, low-income voters, and disabled voters who heavily rely on vote-by-mail and early voting.

The two bills would shorten vote-by-mail request applications from covering two election cycles to just covering the immediate election cycle, meaning millions of voters would have to re-apply every two years instead of every four. They would eliminate or restrict the use of vote-by-mail drop boxes, which became popular last year as people sought to avoid crowds during the height of the coronavirus crisis. The bills would eliminate or restrict the ability to have others turn in ballots for them. The bills would also tighten rules for how voters may identify themselves.

Supporters contend the changes are necessary because abuses are possible under current law and have been seen in other states. Specifically, they warn against “ballot harvesting,” partisan operatives going door-to-door to show people how to vote, in exchange for turning in the mail ballots.

Those at Thursday’s conference weren’t buying it.

“We understand that this process seems to be targeted against communities of color,” said McRae, president of the African-American Council of Christian Clergy and pastor of the Experience Christian Center in Orlando.

Gundy, Florida chair of the African American Ministers in Action, pastor of Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church in Jacksonville, and representing Faith in Public Life Action Fund, went further, calling the measure “a racist bill” intent on reducing the Black vote.

“Yes, we’ll adjust. Yes, we’ll get to the polls. Yes, whatever suppression you put out there, we’ll find a way to get around it,” Gundy said. “But why create a racist bill — that’s what it is — that will suppress people from going to the polls?”

Gundy warned the bills could spur another round of protests.

“We’ve been told we have to obey just law. But we have not been told we have to obey unjust law. If that means we have to get back in the streets, we will. If that means we have to do what we need to do to get you to listen to us, we will,” Gundy said.

He called Baxley out by name. Gundy said he accepted that Baxley is a man of faith, and would pray for him to conclude that the bill is a mistake and withdraw it.

“You, Brother Baxley, by doing that, prepare to stand before God some day and say I did what was right,” Gundy said. “Brother Baxley, let me tell you what I want you to know. We love you. We don’t hate you. We need you.”

The $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill is almost going to pass


$1.9 Trillion Covid-19 relief bill is expected to pass Congress on Wednesday. The bill is said to transform the economy in a positive way and to create benefits for the least well-off citizens and do away with poverty. The passage of a bill of this scale and ambition two months into any new president’s term would represent a power-affirming win.

The bill can be said to be the first political payoff for President Joe Biden as his first legacy achievement.

When President Biden was campaigning for the presidential set, he pledged to send stimulus payments to millions of Americans and to secure money to fund the return of kids to school while speeding up the pace of vaccinations.

“Leadership matters. Vaccinations are up, infections are down, $1,400 survival checks are on the way, and that is only the beginning,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the chairman of the House Democratic caucus, said on Tuesday.
With its tax credits for children and low-income workers, an extension of health insurance subsidies, and nutrition and rental assistance, the rescue plan the American Rescue Plan is intended to do far more than simply stimulate the economy. Liberal champion Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is hailing it as a major victory for the progressive movement and the biggest targeted relief for the working population in many years.
While the White House is gearing up to spin what it regards as a massive success, the process of passing the American Rescue Plan also included warning signs for Biden as he eyes the rest of his ambitious agenda, which includes immigration revisions, climate change legislation, infrastructure spending, and gun control.
His initial $1.9 trillion requests, not far off half the entire US annual federal budget, are playing into Republican claims that his administration will be rooted in out-of-control socialism. The attack takes substantial liberties with the term but did appear to resonate in sectors of the electorate in last November’s elections when Republicans in the House narrowed the Democratic majority.