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House advances pre-emption measure that would prevent ban on sale of taxed items




Cities and counties would not be able to bar the sale of any item if there is a tax involved in the purchase, under an amendment that is now headed to the House floor as part of a wide-ranging tax package.

The pre-emption measure, which passed the House Appropriations Committee Thursday afternoon, would limit local governments’ abilities to ban the sale “or offering for sale” of any items if they have a state sales tax attached. The measure preserves exceptions already permitted in law, such as a statute that allows counties to ban alcohol sales on Sundays.

The measure applies to “the retail sale of anything subject to state sales tax that affects revenue,” said Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, who is sponsoring the package. “It doesn’t affect other forms of regulation, prohibition or use.”

Various municipalities in the state have already passed or proposed such local bans on items like plastic bags or styrofoam, said Renner, who chairs the Ways and Means committee where the bill was assembled. He called the new measure “narrowly drawn” and said it would still allow local governments to require permits or otherwise regulate items in their jurisdictions.

The measure would also extend to physical items that are leased or rented, Renner said.

The wider package, HB 7087, addresses several other tax reductions, including tax exemptions for hurricane-damaged items and generators if they are being purchased by nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and tax credits in situations involving brownfield sites or housing opportunity projects.

But the pre-emption component drew the most feedback at Thursday’s committee meeting, with counties and businesses battling over the scope of the measure.

Broward County lobbyist Edward Labrador contested Renner’s assertion the amendment was narrow, calling the exemption overly broad.

“Usually pre-emptions in this body address a particular problem. This doesn’t,” he said. “We don’t know what the implications of that are — and it requires more discussion going forward.”

But Melissa Ramba of the Florida Retail Federation said the prohibition would protect local businesses and make sure they remained competitive with online retailers.

“A retailer should be able to sell any legal product in the state of Florida,” she said, asserting that she knew of some businesses had been closed down by local restrictions on sales.

If the measure passes, local bans that have already been grandfathered into law would remain on the books, such as some cities’ local bans on styrofoam. Those bans were prohibited by a bill passed two years ago, though seven South Florida cities including Miami Beach were permitted to keep their ordinances in place.

Some animal rights groups, including the Humane Society and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, also opposed the pre-emption measure, pointing to local ordinances in the state that have banned the sale of dogs from so-called “puppy mills.”

But Renner in his closing remarks, said their example made the case for the pre-emption amendment.

“If you have a situation in which some cities have banned the sale of those types of puppies and others have not, you have not solved the problem,” he said. “In certain areas, especially commerce, we need to look at more statewide and in some cases federal pre-emption.”

Photo: Rep. Paul Renner, via Tampa Bay Times