Over the years the Hospitality Industry has been confronted with many challenges, from being burdened with excessive taxation with the Alcoholic Beverage Surcharge to being overly regulated with unnecessary rules and laws. Every step of the way, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association worked to eliminate harmful laws and protect the industry with proactive lobbying. FRLA opposes any legislation that increases government regulations, mandates and costs on business. Below is a taste of what FRLA has accomplished over the past decade. Please note the list below is a sampling and does not encompass all legislative successes.
Preempted Local Governments from Passing Ordinances Requiring Menu Labeling
In 2008, FRLA worked with members of the House and Senate to craft language that prohibits local governments from passing ordinances that mandate restaurants to provide menu or nutritional labeling.State Preempts Local Ordinances Banning “Happy Meals”: In 2011, The regulation of public lodging establishments and public food service establishments, including, but not limited to, sanitation standards, inspections, training and testing of personnel, and matters related to the nutritional content and marketing of foods offered in such establishments are preempted to the state. Over the past years, several local jurisdictions (California and others) have passed ordinances prohibiting such menu items as McDonald’s “Happy Meals”. The above provision prevents local governments in Florida from passing such ordinances.
MENU LABELING AND NUTRITION: National Standard for Menu Labeling
After battling nutritional menu labeling bills in states and cities across the county, the National Restaurant Association and FRLA supported a national standard that protects smaller restaurants and is applied fairly for all food service vendors. This language was included in the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and was signed into law March 23, 2010.The nutrition-disclosure provision, found in Section 4205 of the act, amends the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act by requiring chain restaurants, similar retail food establishments and vending machines with 20 or more locations to provide specific nutrition labeling information. Those restaurants must post calories on menus, menu boards and drive-thru boards. Buffets, salad bars and other self-service items are also included and will be required to provide caloric information adjacent to the item. Establishments must also provide additional nutrition information in writing (e.g., a brochure) upon request.The federal standard replaced the differing regulations and laws that a growing number of cities, counties and states passed to mandate that chain restaurants put calories and other nutrition information on menus. The new federal law contains two important provisions critical to restaurant operators. As soon as the bill was enacted, the federal law preempted state or local menu-labeling requirements that are not identical to the federal menu-labeling requirement.
The new law also includes a “reasonable basis” standard for operators to use in developing nutrient-content data for standard menu items. The standard helps protect restaurants from unreasonable litigation because it recognizes the variability that occurs in the preparation and service of food in restaurants. Through the reasonable-basis standard, the law gives restaurant operators flexibility by allowing them to base their calculations of nutrition data on any reasonable basis, including through nutrient databases, cookbooks and laboratory analyses.
While restaurants and food establishments that are not part of a chain of 20 more locations may not be required to provide nutrition information, they can voluntarily elect to comply. Those that do so will be shielded from other state or local requirements that are not identical to the federal legislation.
ALCOHOL: Repeal of Alcoholic Beverage Surcharge
Easily one of the association’s greatest accomplishments was the repeal of the Alcoholic Beverage Surcharge. For 16 years the onerous tax burdened the hospitality industry. After years of lobbying and a three tiered phase out, the alcoholic surcharge was finally defeated. The repeal of the Alcoholic Beverage Surcharge has saved the industry millions.
Trans Fat Legislation Defeated
Nearly every year a bill that would require virtually every restaurant in the state to post signs alerting patrons of the dangers of consuming trans fat or banning trans fat pops up. FRLA continues to work to ensure restaurant are able to operate without intrusive government regulations in areas that are best left to the influence of our customers and the free market.
Defeated Bills Requiring Restaurants to Serve Sugar-Free Substitutes
If passed, two bills introduced in 2010 would have required public food service establishments to serve sugar free substitutes for certain syrups and fruit preserves and provide notice to guests of the availability of such sugar free substitutes.
TAXATION: Defeated Proposed Food and Beverage Tax to Fund Education
For the past few years, a controversial practice of filing shell bills has been exercised in the Legislature. These bills might relate to a particular subject such as economic development, education, insurance, etc., but other than a broad statement that the bill relates to that subject, there are no other provisions contained in the bill. These bills are later used as a vehicle for an issue of importance to a legislator.In 2008, one of these bills was included on the agenda of the Senate Commerce Committee. When the committee packets were available, FRLA noted that Senator Jeremy Ring (D-Margate) had used the shell bill to draft a proposed committee bill that would authorize a local option sales tax of two percent on food and beverages sold in hotels and motels. The proceeds from the proposed tax would be allocated to the local school district to be used to fund K-12 education services.The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association spoke in opposition to the bill at as Senate Commerce Committee. Following the committee hearing, FRLA worked closely with the Senate Tax and Finance Committee on this issue to eventually defeat it.Similar legislation was also recommended in 2008 by the Greater Miami & The Beaches Hotel Association that a statewide 2% tax on restaurants be imposed.FRLA successfully battled the spread of the Miami-Dade County meal tax and fought diligently to protect the integrity of local option tourist development taxes against those who would divert them to purposes other than those for which they were created. After FRLA and others in the hospitality industry voiced their opposition, this reckless proposal was not heard again.
Defeated Misuse of Tourist Development Tax
The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association opposes any expansion of Tourist Development Taxes (TDT’s) for uses other than those currently allowed by law.In 2008, an affordable housing bill (HB 699) was used as a vehicle to place a Key West Tourist Development Tax expansion amendment that would have allowed for existing and a new 1% hotel bed taxes collected in Monroe County to fund various housing programs.This expansion of taxes would have departed from the historical use of “bed taxes,” which are used to promote tourism. This proposed tax expansion did not require local voter approval to expand the tax or raise it in the future. It was critical to defeat this proposal since other local governments would have sought to similarly increase taxes on hotels.In addition to the hotel tax being placed on an “affordable housing” bill, an amendment expanding the use of hotel taxes was also placed on HB 7129, a Growth Management Bill. The amendment added nearly the same language as the Key West Tourist Development Tax amendment placed on the “affordable housing” bill. After considerable efforts by the FRLA lobbying team, the Key West Hotel Tax amendment was stripped from the bill before a final vote.
Finally, as if that was not enough, SB 1322, was filed by Senator Siplin. The bill would have expanded the use of TDT’s by allowing funds to be used for economic development, such as projects to attract high-technology industries, including information technology and communications, biotechnology, bioinformation, biomedical research, electro-optics, life science, nanotechnology, and computer simulation.
Reduction of Unemployment Compensation Tax Rate
For the past few 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 who 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.
Transportation/Highway Logo Sign Fee Hike Defeated
A change in the Florida DOT Logo Program created an unnecessary economic hardship on many participating businesses. After a considerable number of years without experiencing any increases in cost, Chapter 2009-85, Laws of Florida, authorized an increase of up to $5,000 for urban signs, and $3,500 for non-urban signs to participate in the DOT Logo Program. During the original workshop phase by the Florida Department of Transportation in the development of administrative rules earlier this year, the costs to participate in the DOT Logo Program (in some cases) was increased from $1,000 to more than $4,500 as allowed by law. These are significant increases especially when hospitality, tourism and travel industries are experiencing significant downturns due to the current economic conditions. While the hospitality, tourism and travel industries appreciate that government services occasionally need to increase the cost of services, an increase of over 400 percent in a one year period, when little if anything related to the program has changed is difficult to justify and even more difficult for affected businesses to plan and budget for.FRLA supported reducing the current highway signage rates. Such drastic increases were not supported by logical data or a change in circumstances. FRLA placed an amendment on Senator Gardiner’s Transportation Bill (SB 2362) that removed an 3-year, rotation-based logo program and allowed annual permit fees for sign locations inside an urban area, as defined in s.334.03(32), may not exceed $3,500 (instead of $5,000) and annual permit fees for sign locations outside an urban area, 1684 as defined in s. 334.03(32), may not exceed $2,000 (instead of $2,500).
REGULATION: Clean Bathrooms
Every few years legislation is introduced that would codify into statute provisions for bathroom cleanliness that already exists in rule and law, failed to pass out of committees in either the House or the Senate. FRLA continues to work with staff to help explain why this legislation is duplicative and unnecessary. The association’s lobby team is effective in stopping redundant and unnecessary legislation from becoming law. Removed Mandatory Hotel Rate Postings from Statute: After successful lobbying in 2008, it was announced that hoteliers no longer be subject to the nuisance of hotel room rate filing and posting requirements on the back of the door informing the occupant of the highest possible room rate. Provision Hidden in Swimming Pool Bill Could Have Cost Hotels: In 2006, an obscure piece of legislation requiring certification of swimming instructors for people with disabilities was introduced as an attempt to force hotel employees to be certified that have pools. The law, as written, currently exempts public lodging establishments from having to hire licensed and certified pool technicians. The subtle, yet damaging deletion of current law could have cost the lodging industry in that they would be required to hire certified pool technicians for work that has been performed by hotel staff. The removal of this exemption was discovered by FRLA and amendments returning the long established exemption were adopted by both chambers. The hotel exemption is still intact. Passed Automated External Defibrillator Bill: In 2008, FRLA helped pass a bill that revised provisions relating to the maintenance of and training requirements for the use of automated external defibrillators. It also encouraged establishments to notify the medical director of the local emergency medical services, etc., of the location of such defibrillators. The bill removed any civil liability for the use of a defibrillator in addition to currently mandated training requirements.
Defeated Solar Heated Swimming Pool Requirement: After the Governor made it mandatory that state employees stay at facilities determined to be “green” in 2008, one energy bill caused concern for the lodging industry. SB 1544 Saunders had an amendment that would require all heated hotel pools to work from solar power. While FRLA appreciates and commends initiatives to live in a “greener” state, the cost associated with updating hundreds of pools was not cost effective. During the Senate Communications and Public Utilities Committee, this provision was removed from the bill at the request of FRLA.
Access to Private Beaches: In 2008 FRLA helped defeat bills that, if had passed, would have declared all sandy beaches in Florida become public. Private entities, such as lodging and restaurant establishments, would have been prohibited from restricting access from their property to the public.
In an effort to halt summer from being cut short and therefore hindering family vacations, FRLA supported bills in 2006 that stopped school districts from starting earlier than 14 days before Labor Day.
Since the passage of the law there has yet to be a year in which new legislation is introduced to remove the 14 day rule. FRLA continues to fight legislation that lessens the busy summer travel schedule.
Workers Compensation Reform
In 2003, the legislature reformed Worker’s Compensation insurance. As a result, Florida went from one of the highest insurance rates in the country to somewhere in the middle. Employers saved millions in rate reductions and attorney fees were controlled. In October of 2008, the Florida Supreme Court overruled the attorney fee provisions of Worker’s Compensation law and rates immediately began to increase.In 2009, legislation was passed that restated the Legislature’s intent in 2003 when the workers’ compensation system was reformed and, except in medical-only cases, the Legislature limited overall attorney compensation through a contingency fee schedule based upon benefits secured.Prior to the 2003 reforms, Florida’s workers’ compensation rates were some of the highest in the country. After passage of the 2003 reforms, Florida’s rates were reduced six consecutive times, resulting in a cumulative rate decrease of 60.5 percent. After the Florida Supreme Court’s October 2008 decision in Murray v. Mariners Health, which declared an ambiguity with regard to attorney’s fees provisions, the Office of Insurance Regulation issued its first rate increase in years, approving a 6.4 percent rate increase.
Protecting Your Industry: Visit Florida
With FRLA as one of its biggest allies, Visit Florida received full funding for 2012, more than $54 million. Visit Florida will continue to promote Florida as one of the top destination locations in the world.Supported the “Jack Davis Florida Restaurant Lending a Helping Hand Act”: Food Donation by Public Food Service Establishments or the “Jack Davis Florida Restaurant Lending a Helping Hand Act” expands the definition of “perishable food” to include foods prepared at public food services establishment licensed under chapter 509. After the passage of the legislation in 2008, if a restaurant wants to donate edible, perishable foods to charities, they are protected from frivolous liability and lawsuits.Defeated Destination Resort Casinos: 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 of the legislative season.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 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.
Hospitality Education Program
FRLA’s beloved Hospitality Education Program (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. Every year FRLA works diligently with the governor and legislative leadership to continue to provide the funding necessary to recruit and train the hospitality leaders of tomorrow. In 2012 alone, HEP received $706,698.
Negligence/”Slip and Fall”
Florida law stated that business owners must maintain their premises for visitors’ safety. However, plaintiffs are allowed to bring cases without showing that a property owner had constructive knowledge. This leaves business owners with little defense in civil court when they are accused of wrongdoing. This system creates an environment leading to higher costs passed on to everyone. In 2010, two bills in the House and Senate were passed that changed the law. The new law states that if a person slips and falls on a transitory foreign substance in a business establishment, the injured person must prove that the establishment had actual or constructive knowledge of the condition and should have taken action to remedy it. FRLA was a proud supporter of the bill as it places the burden of proof on the plaintiff rather than on the defendant (the property owner). Hopefully this legislation will help prevent frivolous lawsuits, which will benefit both property owners and consumers.
In 2010, legislation was passed that restored the ability of parents to waive the right to sue over some risks inherent to certain activities undertaken by their children. The bill allows parents to waive their right to sue over injuries to a child for inherent risks of the activity, not for negligence.
Jobs for Florida
In 2010, FRLA supported legislation that encourages businesses to employ displaced Floridians and provides incentives to help Florida businesses. The bill, which passed, was designed to eliminate obstacles that hinder economic growth, provide incentives to Florida businesses and achieve long-term success in the global market economy.