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Senate Panel Backs Hurricane-Tax Holiday

February 2, 2014 - 6:00pm

One of the sales-tax holidays backed by Gov. Rick Scott received Senate committee support Monday, but minor turbulence could be ahead as the measure travels through the Legislature.

While Scott has recommended a 15-day period in June for a list of hurricane-related items to be sales-tax free, the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee approved a version of the proposal (SB 362) that stands at 12 days.

Senate bill sponsor Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, called the differences between his measure and Scott's recommendation "minor details that need to be worked out."

"The devil's in the details about how many days it's ultimately going to be," Bradley said. "There is some discussion about what items are going to be included or not included."

On Friday, Senate Finance and Tax Chairwoman Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, filed an amendment to expand the measure to 15 days as Scott proposed. But before the committee meeting on Monday afternoon, she withdrew the proposal as the Senate continues to review the additional time sought by Scott.

"We look forward to working with the governor's office to get the final Senate position on the bill," Bradley said.

Bradley has proposed that during the period the sales tax would be lifted on flashlights and other self-powered lights selling for $20 or less; portable self-powered radios, two-way radios, or weather band radios that sell for $50 or less; tarps or other flexible waterproof sheeting that sell for less than $50; first-aid kits that cost under $30; packets of AA, C, D, 6-volt, and 9-volt batteries that sell for under $30; and portable generators worth less than $750.

The governor's office has promoted the 15-day hurricane sales-tax holiday as a $20 million savings for consumers.

In November, state economists, sitting as the Revenue Estimating Conference, projected that Bradley's proposal would cut state and local government tax revenue about $3.6 million.

At the time, economists said the calculation was difficult as many Floridians already have storm-preparation items around the house as standard parts of hurricane kits.

The proposal is also unique in that the discount period would occur prior to the start of the next fiscal year, July 1.

Bradley has proposed the discount be offered between June 1 and June 12, 2014.

Bradley's measure still must get through the Finance and Tax Subcommittee and the Appropriations Committee.

The House version of the bill (HB 567) by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, has yet to be scheduled for a committee appearance.

Scott has also called for legislators to extend the back-to-school sales-tax holiday from three days, as it has been in recent years, to 10 days.

Another proposal (HB 769 and SB 740), by Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, and Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, would designate October as sales-tax free for certain energy-efficient appliances costing $1,500 or less.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam plans to include a discount period for many of the same items as part of his energy agenda for the 2014 session. That proposal should be rolled out in a couple of weeks.

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