Lawmakers side with companies in disputes with workers and consumers


“The session was pretty good for business,” said a lobbyist

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Lawmakers continued to bolster Florida’s business-friendly reputation in 2022, opening up legal avenues to protect profits and avoid worker lawsuits.

And while there’s no such thing as the $543 million corporate tax refund raked in 2020, the apparent death of a data privacy bill has allowed a sizeable company average savings of what could have been hundreds of thousands of dollars to comply.

A business lobbyist said overall it was a good session, while one of the leading House Democrats called it a mixed bag.

“It doesn’t look like they’re getting the major tax relief through the Senate. This is a victory for Florida residents when it comes to tax policy,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando.

In previous sessions, Eskamani accused the Legislature of practicing “corporate socialism” by approving a series of corporate tax cuts, refunds and exemptions.

This session, she flagged a bill (SB 620) to allow companies to sue local ordinances and the apparent failure of a bill requiring deletion of consumer data within 48 hours of collection as a big business wins for 2022.

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Here are four items from the 2022 business legislative agenda, with two bills approved and two waiting to die at the end of the session.

The Local Business Protection Act

A parade of city and county officials across the state has warned lawmakers not to approve a pre-emption bill that curbs the authority of local governments by blaming taxpayers for millions of dollars in damages and interest from companies who claim an order cost them money.

Critics say the SB 620 will allow businesses from pill mills to rowdy nightclubs to sue local governments if they lose up to 15% of their profits or revenue due to local regulations. Sponsored by Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine is the idea of ​​Senate President Wilton Simpson, also a candidate in 2022 for the post of State Commissioner for Agriculture.

Wakulla County Commissioner Ralph Thomas told a Senate committee he would redistribute taxpayers’ money to businesses. He worried that a tourism-related business could sue if his commission were to reduce a tourism development tax. This, he said, would lead to an out-of-court settlement to save money.

“If we can get them to settle for $25,000, that’s cheaper than paying all those attorney fees,” Thomas explained.

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During the House debate, Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson, D-Gainesville, said the measure would undermine noise regulations and questioned why the legislature wanted to “give companies so much control over our quality of life?”

Rep. Juan Alfonso Fernandez-Barquin, R-Miami-Dade, responded that it was “bottom line simple”: Local governments, he said, shouldn’t pass ordinances that shut down businesses .

“Local government should fill in potholes, pick up trash, cut grass in parks, and work on water and sewers. It’s simple,” Fernandez-Barquin said.

The legislation passed on party-line votes of 69-45 in the House and 22-14 in the Senate.

The Profits Protection Act

Another Hutson measure (SB 280) aims to end the need for preemption bills like the SB 620.

A priority of Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, who is nominated to be Senate President after the November election, would require local governments to make an economic impact statement on businesses before implementing ordinances.

Any subsequent legal challenges to the order would be placed on a fast track by the courts. Curiously, as of Friday, he was at a standstill in the Chamber.

The bill “provides the tools for local governments to look at what they’re doing to determine whether or not it will work,” Passidomo said. “It creates a process for us to get out of the preemptive business.”

SB 280 authorized the Senate on a 22-8 bipartisan vote.

Consumer Data Privacy Protection

Another bill (HB 9) could be the leverage the Senate needs to get the House to act on SB 280. A House priority, passed by a 103-8 vote, the legislation is stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee since March 2.

According to government spending watchdog Florida TaxWatch, this would create huge compliance, operational and litigation costs for businesses.

“We say an individual should have a say in what happens to their personal information,” Rep. Fiona McFarland, R-Sarasota, said the benefits to consumers outweigh the costs to businesses.

McFarland describes the bill as putting “a bit of Florida sunshine” on data mining of personal information. It would apply to companies that derive 50% of their revenue from selling or sharing consumers’ personal information, and if they buy or receive that information for advertising purposes.

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That applies to most Florida businesses, Alfred Saikali, a privacy and data expert with Kansas City-based law firm Shook, Hardy and Bacon. The bill requires companies to maintain a privacy policy that limits the collection of information and requires certain information to be deleted within 48 hours.

Saikali told the House Judiciary Committee the requirement could cost companies up to $750,000 to implement. “If you’re a medium-sized company, how do you meet that demand,” Saikali said. “It’s not as simple as pressing a button, and everything disappears.”

Associated Industries of Florida, Florida Bankers Association, the Florida Chamber and the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association all oppose the measure.

Emergency Employment Standards

Lawmakers approved a proposal to give businesses broader protections when sued by workers during a state of emergency declared by the Department of Health, which also serves as the state’s surgeon general. It’s a pandemic-related bill, according to its sponsor, Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Doral.

Ride-sharing and food delivery companies have not provided hand sanitizer or masks to their drivers, who are independent contractors, fearing this could alter the employment relationship and entitle the contractors to benefits. full-time benefits.

Supported by Americans for Prosperity-Florida, the measure was approved by the Senate 39-0 and the House 115-2.

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“What strikes me is the continued protection the legislature is giving our small businesses,” said Evan Power, who lobbies for charter schools, car dealerships and homebuilders and leads the Republican Party of Leon county.

Power said that overall “the session was pretty good for business.”

James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @CallTallahassee

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