The Corcoran Report: April 2008

By Michael Corcoran

Florida's Regular Legislative Session is Half Over

Florida's Regular Legislative Session is past the halfway mark and is scheduled to conclude on Friday, May 2, 2008. Florida's Legislature has encountered much new territory over the last several weeks, including the necessity of modifying the current year's state budget due to continued declining revenues and collections. Additionally, there have been several other proposals considered over the last several weeks of particular importance to business and property owners in Florida.

FY 2007-2008

During the first and second week of the Legislative Session, Florida's Legislature amended the current fiscal year's state budget. This is the result of declining revenues and collections due to the slowing economy. In Florida, this task was largely unprecedented as not in recent memory have so many modifications to the state budget been required. Of course, as we have seen nationally, the economic conditions in Florida and the nation persist and have occurred rapidly. The modifications of the FY 2007-2008 state budget resulted in a total budget reduction of $1.56 billion. This results in a total state budget for FY 2007-2008 of $70.3 billion.

FY 2008-2009

Currently, the Legislature is working through allocation of next year's state budget. Florida has a balanced budget requirement; therefore, the state budget cannot exceed the predicted revenue collections.

The House and Senate both released their budget proposals on Friday, April 4, and plan to vote on their individual proposals on Wednesday, April 9. The Senate proposal currently reflects total state expenditures in FY 2008-2009 of just under $66 billion. The House proposal reflects a total state budget of just under $65.5 billion.

These budgets will be voted on by the respective chambers. Then, over the next two weeks, differences between the two budgets will be negotiated and a final budget will be prepared. With final reductions of nearly $5 billion over last year's budget, the state will be forced to prioritize many services currently provided. The impact of cuts likely will be felt across a broad spectrum of Florida's citizens.

Right To Keep & Bear Arms

Florida's House and Senate are also considering legislation which would allow employees to keeps guns in their vehicles at their place of work, and would apply to all public and private employers with certain exceptions. The bill provides employer immunity from civil liability for their actions or inactions taken to comply with the bill and protects an employer from liability for the actions of those who may cause harm with a gun that was legally brought to the business. While many in Florida's business community are concerned about the impact of this legislation, its passage appears likely.

Mortgage and Foreclosure Fraud

As a result of the slowing economy and the reduction in real estate values throughout Florida, there are several pieces of legislation designed to address problems within the foreclosure and mortgage system in Florida.

House Bill 643, which has passed the House and is currently awaiting approval in the Senate, provides contract transparency and accountability before requiring a written agreement between a foreclosure rescue service and a homeowner. The bill also creates new protections for homeowners facing foreclosure and promotes consumer fairness.

House Bill 743, which has also passed the House and awaits Senate approval, increases the penalty for mortgage fraud and authorizes county property appraisers to reassess properties affected by mortgage fraud to potentially lower homeowners' property taxes.

Taxation

Florida's House and Senate continue to debate and consider ways to reduce taxes while still providing needed revenue for services provided to Florida's citizens.

The Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission has also proposed several constitutional amendments which would appear on the November 2008 General Election ballot on the issue of tax reduction.

One such proposal would reduce property taxes by as much as 25% by eliminating the schools' portion of property taxes and replacing that with an increase in the sales tax. Another proposal the commission is considering would eliminate all but a very few exemptions to the sales tax.

Both of these proposals must come before the Taxation and Budget Commission again for final vote. If approved, they will appear on the November ballot; but they will require at least 60% of the popular vote for approval.

Summary

While only four weeks remain in the Legislative Session, much work remains and many proposals could still move through the Florida House and Senate. We will continue to aggressively monitor and report back to you on legislation which may impact the Community Papers of Florida. Of course, should you have specific questions about legislation, please don't hesitate to contact us.

Thank you for allowing us to continue to serve you, the members of the Community Papers of Florida.

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