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Jax Daily Record Monday, Jun. 7, 202104:30 PM EST

The Marbut Report: A look at the 2021 Florida legislative session

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The Jacksonville Bar Association CLE program focused on new laws of interest to local attorneys.
by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

The 2021 session of the Florida Legislature was “an eventful two months in Tallahassee,” said attorney Chris Hand, principal of Hand Law and one of the presenters at the Jacksonville Bar Association’s CLE program May 25 at the JBA offices and on Zoom.

He and attorney Trey Mills, a partner at Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne & Diebenow, provided a recap of the legislative session that adjourned April 30.

Their comments focused on the bills of most interest to local lawyers out of the more than 250 sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature.

The coronavirus pandemic and its effect on certain litigation led to legislation that limits liability if customers allege they contracted COVID-19 at a business.

Hand said under Senate Bill 72, the plaintiff must make a specific complaint against the business, provide credible medical evidence that the disease was contracted at the business and also must demonstrate the business failed to make a good faith effort to comply with health standards to ensure the safety of its customers or patrons.

“The allegation must be proven by clear and convincing evidence. It’s a higher level of protection,” Hand said.

Another bill, SB 90, was approved in response to how many people chose to cast their ballot in the national election during the pandemic.

Effective July 1, Floridians who wish to vote by mail will be required to request a mail-in ballot before each election, instead of before every other election. The legislation also limits the number of drop boxes that may be made available to collect ballots.

Another bill makes it illegal in Florida for a social media provider to ban certain users.

Attorney Chris Hand also took mark in the CLE.

SB 7072 bars social media companies from willfully deplatforming a candidate for elected office before an election. 

The bill allows a banned candidate to sue the provider and provides for penalties of $250,000 a day for squelching a candidate in a state election; $25,000 a day for a candidate in a local election.

Hand said he is “100% certain” that Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn will challenge the law in court.

Mills talked about the $101.5 billion state budget submitted to DeSantis.

When the budget was being crafted, it was anticipated that lower state revenue because of the pandemic would yield about a $3 billion shortfall. 

However, the state received enough federal coronavirus relief funds that the final figure is 10% above the 2020-21 budget, Mills said.

As of July 1, the state will collect a 6% sales tax on online purchases made to retailers who do more than $100,000 in business annually.

Mills said that is projected to generate about $1 billion a year that will at first be used for the state to catch up on obligations to the Reemployment Trust Fund, the state’s unemployment benefits program. 

When the fund is restored, the revenue will be used to offset a reduction in the state tax on commercial real estate leases from 5.5% to 2.2%.

“That makes NAIOP happy,” Mills said, referring to the commercial real estate development association.

Another bill also was approved in response to how some businesses adapted to the pandemic.

SB 148, commonly known as the alcohol-to-go bill, makes it legal for restaurants to provide beer, wine and cocktails, in sealed containers, along with carryout or delivered food orders, Mills said.

In Florida, the governor has authority to veto line items within the spending plan.

Hand said Florida Taxwatch prepares a list of potential vetoes each year. Visit
floridataxwatch.org/Research/Budget-Turkeys.

Visit jaxbar.org to view the schedule of in-person and virtual CLE programs offered by the association.

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