The COVID-19 pandemic created new challenges in the lawmaking process across the country. Many legislative bodies canceled in-person meetings and committee hearings altogether. Others converted them to virtual platforms. This made the personal interactions and the relationship-building that are central to effective advocacy more challenging, but it did not deter NAIOP of Florida. In fact, the 2021 legislative session was one of its most successful.
NAIOP of Florida consists of five chapters throughout the state. Each faces unique local legislative challenges. Recognizing the importance of speaking with one voice in Tallahassee, regular meetings are held in advance of each legislative session to discuss the policies that are most important to the commercial real estate industry across the state. During an annual summit, agreed-upon positions are formalized with written summaries, which helps ensure that the group’s advocacy is focused and uniform.
Ordinarily, NAIOP of Florida members gather in Tallahassee during session to meet with legislators. That wasn’t possible during the 2020 and 2021 sessions. Refusing to let important objectives rest, members generously donated their time by attending multiple virtual meetings with lawmakers and participating in letter-writing campaigns to help keep the association’s legislative priorities at the fore.
The effort paid off when Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 50 into law on April 19. This addressed two of NAIOP of Florida’s top legislative priorities: the collection of state sales tax on internet transactions and, starting as early as 2023, a significant reduction in the business rent tax from 5.5% to 2%. Prior to 2021, Florida was one of the few states that did not levy sales tax on internet transactions. It remains the only state to do so on commercial rental income. Years of hard work and incremental successes laid the groundwork for this significant tax reduction.
NAIOP of Florida scored a second major policy victory with the passage of legislation that reformed the local permitting process. The enactment of House Bill 1059 on June 29 will make significant improvements to that process with increased transparency, certainty and predictability. Starting on October 1, local permitting agencies must implement the following measures:
Finally, House Bill 1209, signed by the governor on June 16, addressed another NAIOP of Florida priority — the delayed implementation of minimum radio signal strength upgrades for fire department communication in commercial buildings from January 1, 2022, to January 1, 2025, with permitting required by January 1, 2024. This will allow for technological advancements that are expected to reduce the onerous cost of implementation, which is approximately $1 million for a Class A high-rise building.
These successes, along with passage of legislation in 2020 that dispensed with the archaic requirement that commercial leases be witnessed, show that public policy can still be effectively shaped by advocacy amid a pandemic. But it would not have occurred without the steadfast dedication and continued involvement of the local chapters and their members. Each chapter — Central, Northeast, Northwest, South Florida and Tampa — contributed countless hours to the effort. That work is harnessed and directed in the most effective way possible with the guidance of NAIOP of Florida lobbyist Chris Carmody, a shareholder at GrayRobinson, PA, in Orlando.
NAIOP of Florida won’t be idle as the legislature prepares for the 2022 session. The group recently held its statewide Public Policy Summit in Orlando, which included representatives from each chapter. Members discussed the issues facing the industry, identified potential solutions and established legislative priorities to advance in Tallahassee next year. Topics included building maintenance and inspection (especially important in the wake of the Champlain Towers South condominium collapse disaster in Surfside), the state’s economic competitiveness, representation on the Florida Building Commission, infrastructure and the environment.
Legislative victories such as those of the past several years don’t come easily. They are the result of a continued and sustained effort to build relationships, participate in coalitions and educate lawmakers on public policy initiatives that affect commercial real estate. The Florida Legislature will convene next year and NAIOP of Florida will be there, at the table, to support those initiatives that advance the interests of commercial real estate, spur economic growth, and create jobs for the benefit of Florida’s communities, residents and families.
Thomas G. (Trey) Wilson, III is a partner at DMHD.