Vacation rental bills in peril

Chip Case
Lobbyist Chip Case helped get a significant sexual predator/offender amendment introduced to a House committee last week. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

TALLAHASSEE – Behind the scenes maneuvering by lobbyist Chip Case, Anna Maria City Attorney Becky Vose and her son, attorney Wade Vose, may have helped derail two vacation rentals bills being debated by state legislators.

Defeating either bill would preserve local governments’ ability to regulate vacation rentals.

During the House of Representatives’ Thursday, Feb. 22, Government Accountability Committee meeting, Rep. Jay Fant (R-Jacksonville) introduced a sexual predator/offender amendment to Rep. Mike La Rosa’s (R-St. Cloud) vacation rental bill, HB 773. With La Rosa’s support, the committee adopted the amendment with no objection.

According to Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy, the amendment was drafted by the Voses, tweaked by Case’s staff and introduced by Fant, who utilizes Case as a political consultant.

The amendment proposes that sex offenders or sexual predators be required to register with the local county sheriff’s office 48 hours prior to arrival at a vacation rental and the rental owner/operator would have to notify all property owners within 1,000 feet 24 hours before the guest’s arrival. Violating owner/operators would be subject to fines or the suspension or loss of their vacation rental license.

The amendment proposes that all online advertisements and rental postings prominently display the rental unit’s complete street address and include a link to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s sexual predator and offender website. Fant said the amendment would apply only to vacation rentals, and not to hotels or other public lodgings.

“If this is what we need to do to protect children and make people feel comfortable, we absolutely need to do it,” La Rosa said.

During Thursday’s Anna Maria Commission meeting, Murphy discussed the amended House bill and its potential impact on both the House and Senate bills.

“It doesn’t match the Senate bill (CS/SB 1400), and it’s a very onerous thing for the vacation rentals to have to go through this notification process. The Senate will probably not take that bill up because of that amendment, so we maybe have dodged a bullet,” Murphy said.

With Becky Vose present, Murphy thanked the trio for their “work, diligence and creativity.”

Additional amendment

The House committee adopted a second amendment proposed by David Santiago (R-Deltona) that would apply to all public lodging establishments, including hotels. This amendment pertains to sexual predators only. According to Florida law, a sexual predator has been convicted of a first-degree felony sex crime or two second-degree felony sex crimes. A sexual offender has been convicted of a sex offense involving a minor.

The amendment proposes that public lodging operators must ask at check-in if any guest is a sexual predator. If so, the operator shall immediately inform all the lodging’s other guests.

Rep. Cary Pigman (R-Sebring) asked if this would create a circumstance where he, his wife and his teenaged children are asked if they’re sexual predators when checking into a Disney hotel.

“While I laud your efforts, I get bogged down in how we’d execute this without making Florida the weirdest state in the world to get a hotel room,” Pigman said.

“This would make things a little bit weird, but it would make it safe,” La Rosa said before the Santiago amendment was adopted with no objection.

By a 13-11 vote, the committee reported favorably on the amended House bill and forwarded it to the Commerce Committee chaired by Jim Boyd (R-Bradenton). The amended bill was not listed on the committee’s Monday, Feb. 26 meeting notice.

Homestead amendment

The House committee rejected by an 8-14 vote an amendment proposing that local governments continue regulating vacation rental properties not homesteaded as primary residences. La Rosa opposed the amendment, but said he heard good points made during that discussion. He acknowledged his bill needed more work and withdrew the strike-all amendment that would have matched his bill to the Senate bill – except for the sexual predator/offender amendments. La Rosa’s bill still differs significantly from the Senate bill’s attempt to give all vacation rental regulation to the state.

As of Monday, the Senate rental bill was not on the meeting notice for the Appropriations Committee’s Feb. 27 meeting. The legislative session is scheduled to end on March 9, but could be extended.