2021 Legislative Session: That's a Wrap!

Magazine ,

By Amanda Gill

FAA Government Affairs Director

The COVID-19 pandemic was raging when the cameras started rolling for the 2021 session. The Florida Capitol remained closed to visitors, COVID-19 protocols limited public testimony opportunities in committee meetings, and legislators questioned how they were going to find a way to balance the budget with the financial challenges posed by the pandemic. Thankfully, by the time session ended on April 30, 2021, a very different scene had emerged. If you missed the action, grab some popcorn, find a comfy chair, and check out the highlights from this year’s jam-packed session below.

FAA's 2021 Legislative Priorities

Clarify fire radio system requirements (HB 587/SB 1902). In 2016, state statute was amended to give local governments the ability to regulate fire radio system requirements for buildings within their jurisdiction. These changes in the code were designed to ensure firefighters can communicate effectively while inside a building in the event of an emergency.  Under the initial statute, buildings are required to comply by January 1, 2025, and must apply for the appropriate permit for installation by December 31, 2022. The problem is that a building’s pass/fail status is a moving target that can be influenced by nearby construction. In addition, some local governments are trying to expand requirements to include annual inspections and are preventing new apartment communities from obtaining a certificate of occupancy until radio signal strength issues are resolved, which can take weeks or months depending on contractor availability.

In response to concern from developers and apartment operators, FAA worked to introduce HB 587 (Rep. John Snyder, R-82) and SB 1902 (Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-27). This legislation would have clarified fire department radio signal requirements for new and existing apartment buildings and require:  

  • Local radio systems to meet the minimum national standard.
  • A reasonable timeline for ongoing inspections.
  • Local governments to provide developers with tools to determine in advance if a project will have a radio strength signal issue.
  • Standards for the certificate of occupancy process.

Unfortunately, HB 587 and SB 1902 did not have a hearing. FAA is pleased to report, however, that another bill related to this issue passed both the House and Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis on June 16. HB 1209 (Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff, R-26) extends the deadlines for existing apartment buildings to apply for the appropriate permit for the installation of this technology from December 31, 2022, to January 1, 2024. This extension will provide FAA and other industry stakeholders with additional time to work with the legislature on this during the 2022 legislative session. 

Protect the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund and provide rent relief for residents impacted by COVID-19 (HB 13/SB 510). Early on in the session, House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R-65) and Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-10) announced a plan to address Florida infrastructure needs related to sea level rise and wastewater with resources from the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Under the initial proposed plan, the documentary stamp proceeds that have been earmarked to fund Florida's affordable housing programs would have been split into thirds, with only $141.1 million for affordable housing in fiscal year 2021-2022.

After an outcry from housing industry stakeholders and others, the proposals dealing with Sadowski (SB 2512/HB 5401) were amended to increase funding for the state's affordable housing programs. SB 2512 passed the House and Senate as amended and was signed into law by the governor on June 2. This end result allocated $146.7 million for SHIP and $62.5 million for SAIL and other affordable housing programs for a total of $209.2 million in funding for FY 2021-2022.

Permit affordable housing tax incentives (HB 563/SB 674). This session, FAA supported HB 563 (Rep. Anthony Rodriguez, R-118) and SB 674 (Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-39), which would allow, but not require, local governments to establish property tax incentives for affordable housing. Unfortunately, HB 563 and SB 674 did not have a hearing this session. FAA plans to continue to speak to legislators in the House and Senate to encourage support for this proposal during the 2022 session. However, HB 7061 included notable positive changes related to property taxes for affordable housing that is owned entirely by a nonprofit entity that is a not-for-profit corporation, qualified as charitable under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. An amendment was adopted on the House floor, which increased the existing 50% property tax discount into a full exemption. HB 7061 was approved by the governor on May 21. 

Establish COVID-19 liability protections for housing providers (HB 7/SB 72). FAA joined others in the business community in urging the legislature to pass COVID-19 liability protections for business. On March 29, DeSantis signed into law SB 72 (Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-24), which establishes COVID-19 liability protections for businesses, including housing providers. Under the new law, which went into effect immediately, a business that makes a good faith effort to substantially comply with applicable COVID-19 guidance is protected from civil liability stemming from a COVID-19-related civil action.

Other Industry Victories and Important Legislative Developments

 Eviction Expungement

Two bills that would allow renters to request that their eviction records be sealed passed the House. FAA was successful in preventing this harmful legislation from advancing in the Senate. 

HB 1193 and HB 1995 were introduced by Rep. Vance Aloupis (R-115). Together, these bills would authorize a tenant or mobile-home owner who is a defendant in an eviction proceeding to file a motion with the court to have the records of such proceedings sealed and to have his or her name substituted with the word “tenant” on the progress docket. 

FAA continued to meet with Aloupis throughout the legislative process to express the industry's concerns. As a result of FAA's advocacy, Aloupis filed an amendment on the House floor that would prevent an individual who has intentionally destroyed, damaged, or misused the landlord's property from seeking expungement. In addition, Aloupis' amendment would prevent unlimited expungement by prohibiting an individual with a judgment entered against him or her in two or more eviction proceedings during any 12-month period or a judgment in three or more eviction proceedings during any 24-month period from obtaining expungement. While FAA believed this amendment was a step in the right direction, FAA remained opposed to the legislation.

In preparation for the vote on the House floor, FAA members sprang into action, sending more than 450 emails to members of the Florida House asking them to oppose this legislation. Despite these strong advocacy efforts, HB 1193 and HB 1195 passed with Aloupis' amendment with only one "No" vote from Rep. Sam Killebrew (R-41) on April 15.

While the passage of this legislation in the House was very concerning, FAA was successful in preventing HB 1193 and HB 1195 or similar legislation from moving in the Senate. As a result, the legislation will have to be reintroduced during the 2022 session to receive further consideration. FAA anticipates this legislation, or a similar proposal, will be reintroduced next session. As such, the FAA government affairs team will 

be working to educate representatives and senators on the negative and unintended consequences posed by this proposal. 

Impact Fees

In the months leading up to the 2021 session, several local governments across the state sought or successfully passed measures to rapidly increase impact fees — in some cases by 200%-300%. FAA joined other housing industry stakeholders in supporting HB 337 (Rep. Nick DiCeglie, R-66) to address this important issue. HB 337 passed the House on April 21 and the Senate on April 26. This legislation was signed by DeSantis on June 4. 

HB 337 will cap impact fee increases at 50% and require impact fee increases of not more than 25% to be implemented in two equal amounts, and impact fee increases between 25% and 50% of the current rate to be implemented in four equal. Notably, the bill provides that impact fee limitations will operate retrospectively to Jan. 1, 2021, which will invalidate some of the massive impact fee increases that were recently passed by local governments. 

Local Licensing Requirements

For the last few sessions, FAA has supported legislation that would prohibit local governments from imposing additional occupational licensing requirements. That bill finally cleared the finish line in the final days of this session and was sent to the governor for final approval. HB 735 (Rep. Joe Harding, R-22) prohibits local governments from requiring a license for a person whose job scope does not substantially correspond to that of a contractor or journeyman licensed by the Construction Industry Licensing Board.

FAA supported this legislation because it specifically prevents local governments from requiring a license for a variety of services that can be performed by maintenance staff, including but not limited to: painting, flooring, cabinetry, handyman services, plastering, stuccoing, and caulking. 

 Data Privacy

After a flurry of advocacy and opposition from the business community, data privacy legislation (HB 969/SB 1734) failed to pass in the final days of the 2021 session. As introduced, this legislation would have impacted businesses with more than $25 million in gross revenue; entities that buy, sell, receive, or share the personal information of 50,000 or more consumers, households or devices; or entities where 50% or more of revenue comes from selling or sharing personal information. Although the proposal failed to pass in 2021, the bills are likely to be reintroduced in 2022.

And as they say in the film biz, that’s a wrap on the 2021 Florida legislative session! It’s hard to believe, but FAA is already preparing for the 2022 legislative session. If you have any questions regarding FAA's advocacy efforts or if you have a policy idea that you’d like to see FAA pursue in the future, please contact amanda@faahq.org to get involved today.