The 2019 Legislative Session in Florida is now complete. The Florida House and Senate adjourned “sine die”, meaning with no plans to reconvene, on Saturday after 60 days of budget negotiations, bill wrangling, and intense debate. Hot button issues like restoration of voting rights, sanctuary cities, expanding the school guardian program to teachers (all passed and expected to be signed into law) dominated the headlines while dozens of other initiatives were thoughtfully weighed, with some passing and many more having to wait at least one more year to be considered.
Legislative Recap Event
The Chamber will be hosting a Legislative Recap event at 5:30 PM on Wednesday, May 15th at the Hilton Bayfront in Downtown St. Pete. We will have several local legislators share their take on the Session and explain how our community can continue to grow our influence in Tallahassee.
Click here to learn more and register.
Chamber’s Advocacy Efforts
The St. Petersburg Chamber invested heavily in our advocacy efforts this year. Not only did we bring over 50 business owners and community leaders to Tallahassee for St. Pete Day in March, but Advocacy Manager Matt Lettelleir made 10 separate trips to the capital to build relationships and give the Chamber’s perspective on several issues.
Major Wins for USF St. Petersburg
The biggest news for St. Petersburg rising out of this session might just be how bright the future is for USF St. Pete. In 2018, the Chamber asked the Legislature to not mandate the consolidation of USF without performing a study to ensure the best course of action for Pinellas County’s only university. Representative Chris Sprowls assured us, and his colleagues, that the St. Pete campus would be taken care of under consolidation. He made good on that promise in this year’s Session.
Not only did the Legislature mandate that USFSP be designated a “branch campus”, ensuring more autonomy and control than USF Tampa desired, but the campus also received an additional $3.5 million for operations and faculty expansion.
Credit must also be given the Regional Vice Chancellor, Government Relations for USFSP, Helen Levine for her commitment to securing the future of our campus.
Additional Priorities and Other Issues Important to St. Pete and Tampa Bay
Below you will find a brief synopsis of how other Chamber priorities fared this year as well as other items important to the future of St. Pete. Items in italics were Chamber Priorities.
Arts and Culture:
St. Petersburg Museum of History– Unfortunately the museum was not included in the final budget. A late start contributed to the non-appropriated.
Arts Funding– The budget includes $21 million for arts and cultural grants programs, an 800% increase over last year. $25k grant for St. Petersburg Arts Alliance included.
Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum- Received $250,000 for improvements.
Florida Holocaust Museum- Received more than $1.5 million for security and other enhancements.
TBARTA– The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority received $1.5 million for operations as well as an additional $1 million for research and feasibility studies.
Toll Roads: Plans approved to build 3 toll roads (extending Suncoast Parkway to Georgia, connecting Florida Turnpike to Suncoast Parkway, and building a new expressway from Polk County to Collier County).
E-Scooters- Changes made to state law to allow scooters on city streets and permitting local jurisdictions to regulate use.
Texting and Driving- Now a primary offense.
Community Redevelopment Areas– Some restrictions and rules were added but city and county officials are uncertain what impact will be on the CRAs in St. Pete at this time.
Development- Prevents local jurisdictions from imposing fees or requiring developers to include affordable units in housing developments.
Single Use Plastic Straws- Places a moratorium on ordinances restricting the use of single use plastic straws for 5 years.
Vegetable Gardens- Prevents local jurisdictions from regulating residential gardens.
Local Tax Referendums- Limits tax referendums to general election years and requires 180 day window for audit.
USF St. Pete- Required to be designated a “branch campus” under consolidation and received an additional $3.5 million for operations and faculty.
Charter Schools- Voucher program passed to allow families making up to $77,000 a year to get scholarships to private schools.
Workforce Education- Requires career planning education, financial literacy electives, career and technical education graduation pathway, and degree articulation between colleges and universities.
Drug Imports- Allows FDA approved drugs to be imported from Canada and other countries.
Needle Exchange- Allows all counties to create programs similar to the one in Miami-Dade.
Medical Marijuana- Repealed ban on smokable medical marijuana.
Enterprise Florida and Economic Development Corporations: EFI received $16 million to fund operations and EDCs regulations were unchanged.
VISIT FLORIDA- Received $50 million in funding and authorized for one year. Agency’s future will be back in jeopardy next spring.
Business Rent Tax- Reduced tax on commercial leases from 5.7% to 5.5%.
Affordable Housing Trust Fund– While some of the fund was swept for other purposes, the legislature designated $200 million for housing programs, more than $100 million more than last year.