Internet sales tax bill returns [Florida Times Union]
(Florida Times Union Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) TALLAHASSEE | A political food fight over whether online retailers should pay Florida's 6 percent sales tax is again set to take the spotlight this legislative session.
Current law does not require buyers to pay sales tax for online purchases, a situation that has cost the state an estimated average of $425 million annually over the past three years.
Because it puts so-called bricks-and-mortar stores located in Florida at a competitive disadvantage, changing the law has been a top priority for the Florida Retail Federation over the past few legislative sessions.
Florida does not have a personal income tax, so sales tax is a huge revenue stream for Florida. In 2012, it represented 70 percent of Florida's $24.7 billion in general revenue.
A Senate bill that would require Internet retailers to pay state sales tax passed its first Senate committee stop Wednesday. Because it represents a tax increase, the legislation also includes a set of tax breaks to ensure it won't bring additional revenue into the state.
Offsetting new money is needed to gain the support of Gov. Rick Scott and some GOP lawmakers leery of supporting anything resembling a tax hike. Come campaign time, the vote could prove to be costly in a GOP primary.
Last session, Scott said he would not sign an Internet sales tax unless it was revenue-neutral. This year's version accomplishes that goal by, in part, including a tax break on machinery and equipment used in manufacturing. It will save Florida manufacturers $141 million annually, and is a top priority for Scott.
The bill also includes a $150 million cut in the communications services tax, which is applied to telephones and other types of telecommunication.
As a result, the Department of Revenue estimates the bill will "not have an insignificant fiscal impact on its operations."
The Senate sponsor, Venice Republican Nancy Detert, wants to turn the conversation away from potential tax increases.
"Rather than worry about whether this is a new tax, a tax reduction, or a tax increase, what this really is is tax reform," she said during a meeting of the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee, which she chairs.
Though the proposal won't bring more money into the state, Senate staff says it could get the state involved in a costly lawsuit.
"Many of the states that have enacted similar laws have become involved in lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of their laws," said a staff analysis of the bill. "There have been no final decisions" on those lawsuits.
A similar version of the bill in the House, sponsored by state Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, has not yet received a committee hearing.SITE OF TB HOSPITAL MAY BE UP FOR SALE
The state is taking steps toward selling the site of the A.G. Holley tuberculosis hospital in Palm Beach County, after shuttering the decades-old facility last year.
State Surgeon General John Armstrong told a House panel last week that the Department of Health is working with the Department of Environmental Protection, which becomes involved in land transactions, to get an appraisal on the property.
After that, Armstrong said the state will seek bids. He said the state has worked with leaders in Palm Beach County and Lantana, the city where the hospital is located. "They are energized by what this property will represent, and we will work to see this to conclusion,'' Armstrong said Wednesday to the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee.
The surgeon general, who is secretary of the Department of Health, said the agency faces costs for continuing to maintain the property and does not want it to be "fallow." Armstrong said the state first had to offer the property to colleges and universities before going out to bid.
He said one institution initially showed interest but did not continue pursuing the property.
News Service of Florida CHARTER SCHOOL BILL PASSES FIRST STOP
A bill aimed in part at standardizing the process for opening new charter schools and cracking down on a few problem "fly-by-night" charters was approved along party lines Wednesday in a House committee, with Republicans in favor, but Democrats saying they had too many concerns. Democrats said, however, they were encouraged that bill sponsor Rep. George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale, had pledged to work on some of those concerns following the 8-5 vote on the measure (PCB 13-01) in the House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee.
Democrats expressed concern about several issues, including the degree to which the bill may keep teachers in charter schools from being evaluated for purposes of pay in the same way as traditional public school teachers. Jeff Wright, director of public policy advocacy for the Florida Education Association, the state's teachers union, said his staff read the bill as setting out a different evaluation system for pay from the one being designed for traditional public school teachers.
"You want to have an uprising in K-12 " he asked the panel.
News Service of Florida TEXTING WHILE DRIVING BAN ADVANCES IN PANEL
A bill that would ban texting while driving was approved in its first committee Wednesday, but only after lawmakers added some exceptions. The Senate Transportation Committee amended the bill (SB 52) by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, to allow texting while a driver is stopped at a red light or stuck in traffic.
This is the fourth year Detert has sponsored a texting ban. She said it's embarrassing that Florida is one of just a few states with no limits on texting while driving. Steve Augello traveled from Spring Hill to tell lawmakers about his 17-year-old daughter, Alessandra, who was killed in 2008 when a driver crossed the center line while texting and caused a head-on crash.
"It kills. I'm living proof," he said. "I have a life sentence. I have to live the rest of my life without my daughter because of someone who was texting and driving. We've got to get this law passed."
Sen. Greg Evers, R-Crestview, said lawmakers must change with the times, as they had when requiring seat belt use. "I just find it hard to believe that so many folks have had to die," Evers said.
News Service of Florida Matt Dixon: (904) 716-8789
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