|Destination Resort Casinos||One of the most lobbied and controversial bills this legislative session. Would have allowed three mega-casinos to be built in South Florida.|
|Online Travel Companies||This bill granted online travel companies (OTC) a special tax advantage, allowing them to pay taxes on the wholesale rate of a hotel room rather than the retail rate.|
|School Start Date||The defeat of this bill was the direct result of FRLA members who participated in Tourism Day. The school start date will remain fourteen days prior to Labor Day.|
|Unemployment Compensation Tax Rate Reduction||This taxation policy change will reduce the unemployment compensation tax increase by almost $50 per employee, saving employers $549 million over two years.
Current = $72.10 per employee
Proposed increase = $171.00 per employee
Final bill = $120.00 per employee
Savings = $50.00 per employee
|Hospitality Education Program (HEP)||The HEP program helps the hospitality industry grow its workforce by producing a pool of certified and immediately employable workers with the proper skill set to be an asset to the industry.
|Visit Florida||With FRLA as one of its biggest allies, Visit Florida received full funding for 2012. Visit Florida will continue to promote Florida as one of the top destination locations in the world.
|Advertising funds for tourism and marketing||The Florida and Restaurant & Lodging Association was awarded $2 million out of the H & R trust fund to work with Visit Florida to promote tourism using a intra state marketing campaign.|
|State Budget||The budget was passed on time preventing extended session.|
|Guaranteed Higher Minimum Wage
||A bold attempt by FRLA that would have allowed the option for an employer to choose an alternative method of paying tipped employees whereby the employer guarantees a wage, including tips, to equal at least 130% of the Florida Minimum Wage.|
Destination Resort Casinos: Died In Committee
The high-stakes battle over gambling in Florida was dealt its final blow for the 2012 Legislative session. What was commonly referred to as “the gaming” or “destination resort casino” bill turned out to be one of the most controversial and lobbied bills this session.
SB 710 by Sen. Bogdanoff and HB 487 by Rep. Fresen were filed early in the session with strong support from major casino industry interests. Both pieces of legislation would have brought three Vegas style casinos to South Florida, requiring a minimum investment of $2 billion in the development and construction of the resorts.
In addition to the three casinos, a new government agency would have been created to regulate all gambling throughout the state. The Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering would have been transferred from DBPR to the newly formed “Department of Gaming Control”.
The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association is joined by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Retail Federation, Attorney General Pam Bondi, CFO Jeff Atwater, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in opposition to the expansion of gambling and the Destination Resort Casino bill.
Carol Dover, President and CEO of FRLA, along with Richard Turner, V.P. of Government Relations, spent countless hours in front of the media or at public gatherings discussing the negative impacts of this legislation. The biggest danger of this legislation was the cannibalization of existing hotels and restaurants, the competition for limited discretionary dollars spent by tourists, and the decades spent to create Florida’s family friendly image.
In the end, Florida’s family friendly image was saved. HB 487 was temporarily postponed by Rep. Fresen in its first committee appearance. SB 710 survived its first committee appearance, but was never heard by another senate committee.
Online Travel Companies: Died In Committee
For several years now, competing hospitality interests have been at odds both in Florida and across the country over how taxes should be calculated on hotel rooms obtained over the internet. This issue has appeared before Florida legislators for the past several years and will likely appear again in 2013.
The dispute revolves around how hotel rooms that are sold through online travel companies (OTC’s) should be taxed. Internet companies such as Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline, and Orbitz currently pay taxes only on the wholesale rate (which is the rate they pay the hotel), rather than on the retail rate (which is what is charged the customer).
Hotels, who currently pay taxes at the retail rate, argue that online travel companies have an unfair advantage over brick and mortar companies. The Florida Association of Counties estimates that counties are losing $20 million a year in hotel tax revenue due to the discrepancy.
HB 1393 by Rep. Jason Brodeur and SB 1888 by Sen. Gardiner would not only have provided an unfair tax advantage to online travel companies, but would also deny local governments much needed tax revenue. FRLA extends a special Thank You to all of the many passionate hoteliers who took the time to travel to Tallahassee on several occasions to voice their opposition to HB 1393. Neither the House nor Senate bill was heard in committee.
School Start Date: Died In Committee
Each year prior to 2006, many school districts around the state began to push their school year start dates further into the month of August. The inevitable finally happened, one school district decided to start its school year in July. It was at this point that parents around the state started to complain and the hospitality industry started to notice a reduction in sales and booking.
In 2006, legislation was passed so the school year start date could not begin any sooner than fourteen days prior to Labor Day. This was a compromise between parents, businesses, and educators. Educators claimed the need for additional days to prepare students for exams and parents, and businesses were satisfied that if the school year start date was fixed so that it was a predictable constant in the future, both sides would be winners.
As the 2012 session began, HB 1243 by Rep. Metz and SB 1468 by Sen. Montford were introduced. Both bills would have given school districts the ability to set the school start date at practically anytime they please. On “Florida Tourism Day”, FRLA members had a chance to discuss their concerns with Sen. Montford. As a result, Sen. Montford amended his bill so that the school start date could not begin prior to August 15th. At the request of FRLA, Sen. Montford had the bill temporarily postponed at its first committee hearing. HB 1243 by Rep. Metz was never heard by a house committee.
FRLA wishes to thank Sen. Montford for all of the hours spent talking to FRLA members and our lobbying team. Sen. Montford was willing to get a better understanding of our concerns. Sen. Montford has proved to be a true friend of the hospitality industry.
Hospitality Education Program (HEP): Funded $706,698
HEP was created in the early 1960’s with the primary goal of training all individuals and businesses in the food service industry. The HEP program provides important workforce-related training and transition programs through Florida’s public school system to students interested in pursuing careers in the hospitality industry.
The dollars in the Trust fund are derived from a $10 license surcharge paid exclusively by Florida’s restaurant and lodging establishments for the sole purpose of funding this important program.
Approximately 21,000 students and 200 high schools participate in the HEP program. This program helps the hospitality industry grow its workforce by producing a pool of certified and immediately employable workers with the proper skill set to be an asset to the industry.
FRLA worked diligently with the governor and legislative leadership to continue to provide the funding necessary to recruit and train the hospitality leaders of tomorrow.
Unemployment Compensation Tax Rate Reduction: Passed
For two years state lawmakers have pushed back significant hikes in the state’s unemployment compensation taxes, however, businesses across the state are scheduled to get a sizable tax rate hike in 2012.
Florida’s trust fund began to deplete in 2009 by skyrocketing unemployment, causing Florida to borrow from the federal government. The taxable wage base was scheduled to increase from $7,000 to $8,500 in 2009, but business groups persuaded the legislature to delay an increase in the wage base for two years in hopes the economy would turn around and spark new hiring.
Unfortunately, Florida has endured sustained high levels of unemployment and 46,000 businesses in Florida would have seen the minimum tax rate per worker jump from $72.10 per employee to $171.00 (minimum rate). The maximum rate (high risk-experience) would have jumped from $378.00 to $459.00. Since 2009 Florida has been forced to borrow $2.4 billion from Washington to keep the trust fund solvent.
The current rate = $72.10 per employee
Proposed increase = $171.00 per employee
Final bill = $120.00 per employee
Savings = $50.00 per employee
The champion of the business communities’ legislative initiative on this issue was Sen. Bogdanoff. Sen. Bogdanoff added an amendment to SB 1416 which will drop the taxable wage base for $8,500 to $8,000 and she extended the loan repayment period from the current 3 year payment schedule to a 5 year payment schedule. These two taxation policy changes will reduce the unemployment tax increase by nearly $50 per employee, saving employers $197.3 million in 2012 and $352.1 million in 2013.
Guaranteed Higher Minimum Wage: Died on the Calendar
Due to the numerous restaurant closures and the cry for help from our members, FRLA took a bold move this legislative session by introducing SB 2106 sponsored by the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee, chaired by Sen. Detert.
In 2004, a constitutional amendment was adopted in Florida that immediately raised the minimum wage by $1 per hour and also provided for annual increases in the Florida minimum wage, indexed to inflation.
Under the amendment, however, the Florida minimum wage differs from the federal model as applied to tipped employees. For tipped employees, the amendment permanently sets the tip credit at $3.02 per hour. So regardless of how much an employee actually earns in tips, e.g., $10 per hour, $20 per hour, etc., the direct cash wage paid by the employer always goes up in lock step with the inflation increases in the Florida minimum wage.
At present, with a $7.67 per hour Florida minimum wage, this means employers must pay a tipped employee at least $4.65 per hour, regardless of how much the employee receives in tips. Again, this compares to only $2.13 per hour under the federal law, which prevails in most other states. This differential treatment is causing restaurants to reduce their Florida workforces and is leading to growing businesses refocusing their expansion plans to other states.
SB 2106 would have allowed the option for an employer to choose an alternative method of paying tipped employees whereby the employer guarantees a wage, including tips, to equal at least 130% of the Florida minimum wage, which would currently equate to $9.98 per hour.
For employees who receive a relatively small amount of tips, the employer would end up paying a higher direct cash wage than would be required under the present law. For employees who receive a larger amount of tips, and who are therefore making considerably more than minimum wage, the employer would pay a smaller direct cash wage.
This change would allow restaurants to stabilize their economic positions, remain open, and continue to keep Florida’s number one industry and largest private employer afloat during these tough economic times.