Vacation rental bills looming large

TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Legislature is getting closer to potentially taking away local governments’ ability to regulate short-term vacation rentals and vacation rental advertising.

And Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy and Commissioner Carol Carter are among those who are concerned that state legislators may finally succeed in their annual efforts to strip away cities’ home rule rights.

Similar in nature and intent, Senate Bill 1128 and House Bill 1011 are progressing toward possible final votes on the House and Senate floors.

As recently noted by Florida League of Cities Legislative Advocate Casey Cook, legislators who support the proposed legislation want to turn over the regulation of vacation rentals to the already understaffed and under-resourced Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulations.

And new this year, state legislators are including in their proposed legislation a requirement that all vacation rentals advertised through Airbnb, VRBO and other online platforms must be fully licensed and registered with the state. This is the legislature’s attempt to ensure that vacation rental-related taxes are remitted to county tax collectors, including the sale tax revenues to be remitted back to the state.

Originally filed by Sen. Manny Diaz Jr, R-Miami/Dade, SB 1128 passed through its second committee stop on Tuesday, Feb. 11. The Commerce and Tourism Committee ruled favorably on the amended bill by the 3-2 vote and committee chair Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, was one of three senators who voted favorably on the bill.

The Senate bill has been referred to the Rules Committee for its third and final committee stop but it was not included on the agenda for the committee’s Wednesday, Feb. 26 meeting.

If SB 1128 passes through the Rules Committee, it is likely headed to the Senate floor for a final vote by the Republican-controlled Florida Senate.

Serving as the House companion, HB 1011 is co-sponsored by Rep. Jason Fischer, R- Jacksonville, and Rep. Mike LaRosa, R-St. Cloud.

HB 1011 passed through its third and final committee stop on Thursday, Feb. 20, when the Commerce Committee ruled favorably on the bill by a 14-9 margin. State Rep. Will Robinson Jr., a Republican from Bradenton, broke ranks with his party and opposed the legislation. The following day, Murphy sent Robinson an email expressing his appreciation.

“Thank you for voting no on HB 1011 concerning vacation rentals. Your stance on this critical issue is greatly appreciated and respected.  It was apparent that you were the only Republican who had the courage on the committee to stand up for what is in the best interests of the community. Your efforts have not gone unnoticed and will not be forgotten. We thank you for your continued support of the city of Anna Maria and your understanding of the impact of this proposed legislation,” Murphy’s email said.

HB 1011 now appears to be headed to the House floor for a final vote in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

If identical bills are adopted by the Senate and the House, the legislation would be sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis to sign into law or veto. The 2020 legislative session is scheduled to end on March 13.

Local concerns

On Friday, Murphy discussed his concerns and said he’s in daily contact with Chip Case, the city’s lobbyist.

“I’m very concerned about this legislation getting to the House and Senate floors. We need to keep the pressure on the Senate Rules Committee,” Murphy said.

“When Commissioner Carter and I were in Tallahassee two weeks ago, every person we visited, including Fischer, said we certainly got a lot email from your constituents. That’s important. It might be falling on deaf ears, but if we didn’t have that public pressure and we appealed to the governor, the legislators could say there’s been no public objection to this bill,” Murphy said.

“If it passes as written, we’re through regulating vacation rentals. Occupancy limits, inspections and registration would all be out the door. We would lose the ability to know, from a law enforcement point of view, who’s responsible for that house. Now we know who’s responsible because we make sure every vacation rental has a registered agent, a person we can contact 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That’s critical if there’s a fire, a burglary, an issue with noise or some other issue. Without registration, we have nothing. You’re not going to call anybody at Airbnb. Most of these homes are listed under an LLC and in many cases, it’s foreign ownership,” Murphy said.

“The annual inspections are good, and the occupancy limits are important too – Airbnb wants to cram 25 people in those houses – but the loss of knowing who’s responsible for that house and having that contact information is critical,” Murphy said.

On Monday, Feb. 24, Carter distributed an email that said HB 1011 could be headed for a final vote on the House floor as early as Thursday.

“Time to reach out to all house members to vote no,” she wrote.

She also noted SB 1128 could be on the Rules Committee’s March 3 agenda.
“Must keep up the pressure on our senators,” Carter wrote.
She urges concerned citizens to contact Republican Rules Committee members Lizbeth Benacquisto, Rob Bradley, Jeff Brandes, Anitere Flores, Travis Hutson, Tom Lee, Kathleen Passidomo, David Simmons, Wilton Simpson and Kelli Stargel.

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