Agriculture Holds Steady in 2017

florida-state-capital-57d6c7a45f9b589b0a154aeaWith new House rules and a House Speaker set on slashing the state budget, the 2017 legislative session was definitely bumpy at times, but Florida agriculture and Florida Farm Bureau did not take a step back, securing key tax cuts and reductions in regulations while maintaining funding for programs important to our state’s farmers and ranchers.

Legislative Successes
At times over the past two months, it was difficult to make any progress with bills on Florida Farm Bureau’s legislative agenda. The entire legislative process was bogged down from beginning to end because of new House rules requiring every appropriation to be filed as a bill and heard in committee. This slowed down bill drafting, committee meetings and distracted legislators, who are usually able to focus more on policy issues. However, at the end of the day, Florida Farm Bureau and specifically, Florida agriculture, achieved several legislative victories before the 2017 legislative session came to an end.

Agricultural Sales Tax Exemptions: HB 7109
In a year where the House was intent on making significant reductions to the state budget and the Legislature passed a much smaller tax cut package than in years past, Florida agricultural producers received $2.3 million in agricultural sales tax exemptions. Included in the Legislature’s $80 million tax cut bill is language that exempts animal health products from state sales tax.

In January, a Florida Department of Revenue audit of a veterinary supply company found that animal health products were not exempt from state sales tax, although it had been assumed these products were exempt. As a result, Farm Bureau, along with other agricultural organizations, immediately worked to file legislation to exempt these products from sales tax and preserve a $2.3 million savings on prescription and non-prescription animal health products used for poultry and livestock, including but not limited to:

  • Antiseptics
  • Absorbent cotton and gauze for bandages
  • Lotions
  • Vaccines
  • Vitamins
  • Worm remedies
  • Aquaculture health products used by aquaculture producers to treat fungi, bacteria and parasitic diseases

A special thank you to Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland), Chair of the Senate Finance and Tax Committee, and Rep. Jim Boyd (R-Bradenton), Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, for their work on behalf of agriculture and for including these sales tax exemptions as part of the Legislature’s tax cut package.

This $80 million tax cut package ended up being smaller than the House’s $297 million tax cut proposal and was significantly less than Gov. Scott’s $618 million request for tax cuts in March.

Elimination of the Supplemental Pesticide Fee: HB 5401
In addition to $2.3 million in tax cuts for agricultural producers, Florida Farm Bureau also helped secure a $2 million reduction on fees, eliminating the supplemental fee imposed on pesticides back in 2009.

Pollution Notification: SB 1018
Legislation that clarifies and codifies the reporting process following a pollution event passed the Legislature and is awaiting the approval of Gov. Scott. SB 1018 by Sen. Denise Grimsley (R-Sebring) was amended to include language from SB 1536 by Sen. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton). This legislation requires the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to notify the public less than 24 hours after a pollution event has occurred.

Unfinished Business for 2018
Florida Farm Bureau can get a jump-start on the 2018 legislative session, with plenty of unfinished business left from legislation that didn’t make it across the finish line in time this year. Here are a few of the things we will be working to include as part of next year’s legislative agenda:

Agricultural Sales Tax Exemptions
Florida Farm Bureau will work to continue to lower taxes on agricultural producers and keep Florida agriculture competitive with other states and countries. This year, in addition to the $2.3 million in animal health products, we proposed more than $10 million in tax exemptions that included farm fencing materials, an expanded exemption for farm trailers and compressed or liquefied oxygen used in aquaculture production. We will be working to clarify the fiscal impact of these exemptions for state officials and look to include some of this language during the 2018 legislative session.

Agricultural Truck Tag Exemption
Legislation that expanded the exemption on truck tags used for agricultural transportation from 150 miles from the farm to all areas of the state did not pass. This legislation was ultimately included in the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) legislative package, but did not pass after being loaded down with several last-minute amendments. This legislation is not controversial and has been supported by the DHSMV, so we expect this legislation to be back again next year.

There was also other language included in the general agriculture bill that we will work to include as part of Florida Farm Bureau’s legislative agenda during the 2018 legislative session.

Legislation that Impacts Agriculture
In addition to our legislative agenda, we worked on other legislation during the 2017 legislative session that directly or indirectly will have an impact on our state’s farmers and ranchers.

Everglades Reservoir: SB 10 – Approved by Governor
Senate President Joe Negron’s proposal to build a water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee passed the Legislature after it was amended to remove the purchase of farmland in the Everglades Agricultural Area and the cost was reduced from more than $4 billion down to $800 million. Gov. Rick Scott signed this legislation into law on Tuesday, May 9.

Homestead Tax Exemption: HB 7105
HB 7105, legislation proposing a ballot initiative to increase the current homestead exemption in Florida by $25,000, passed the full Legislature as a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Lutz). Florida Farm Bureau does not support additional homestead tax exemptions because of the adverse impact they could have on agricultural landowners and family farms. This increase in the homestead tax exemption would result in a $750 million loss of revenue to local governments, and they could look to agriculture to supplement the loss of revenue. It will appear as a constitutional amendment on the 2018 ballot.

Workers’ Compensation: HB 7085
After the Florida Supreme Court found some provisions within the state’s workers’ compensation laws to be unconstitutional, Florida Farm Bureau became involved in helping to craft a workers’ compensation policy that will be both constitutional and pro-business. Appropriately dealing with attorneys’ fees was a top concern of Farm Bureau and many pro-business organizations.

Rising workers’ compensation premiums will continue to be a problem for business owners and family farms. By the end of 2017, we expect workers’ compensation premiums to rise by more than 30 percent, which is simply unsustainable. Florida Farm Bureau, along with a coalition of other agricultural and pro-business organizations, will work with the Legislature to find a solution to these rising costs.