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Hutson and Renner Try To Push Back Against Criticism on Home Rule, Taxes and Education

| July 27, 2017

Sen. Travis Hutson, left, and Rep. Paul Renner at this morning's Common Ground breakfast organized by the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce. (© FlaglerLive)

Sen. Travis Hutson, left, and Rep. Paul Renner at this morning’s Common Ground breakfast organized by the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce. (© FlaglerLive)

Rep. Paul Renner heard the word “congratulations” so often before and after his joint appearance with Sen. Travis Hutson at a chamber breakfast in Palm Coast this morning that you’d have thought he’d just gotten married, or had a child.

In fact, he had the political equivalent of twins: he was recently named Speaker of the House starting in 2022, assuming he keeps winning elections until then, and this week he got the chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee, a powerful tool of tax policy in the state. The chairmanship also gives Renner more leverage over bills that do and do not make it to the House floor while making him a full-fledged member of the House leadership.

“It’s not a magic wand,” Renner cautioned, “even the speaker, it’s not a magic wand, but certainly it’s an honor as a freshman to be asked to serve on the leadership team.”

The two lawmakers who represent Flagler County in the Legislature gave an overview of what even they acknowledged was a messy legislative session—slow to get started and scrambling so much at the finish that a special session was necessary to adopt a budget and settle the manner in which a medical marijuana constitutional amendment is to be implemented.

The session was also rich in controversies and displeasing outcomes to many. Some of those voices were in the legislators’ audience this morning: Flagler Beach Commission Chair Jane Mealy, prefacing her remarks with appreciation for the legislators’ work overall, told them bluntly that “there was an assault on home rule,” and that “cities really were upset this year.”

That was the case, for example, regarding the implementation of medical marijuana rules, which Mealy feels strapped land-use decisions (her commission is considering a ban on all medical pot dispensaries this evening, even though Mealy would have rather approved dispensaries within city-crafted guidelines, but state law gives cities only two choices: ban them all or allow them indiscriminately). It was also the case regarding deregulation of wireless infrastructure, which will allow carriers to install transmission poles very permissively in municipal right of ways, giving cities little say. Mealy did not mention that issue, though sitting nearby were Palm Coast government officials, who’d had discussions about those rules a few weeks ago.

Hutson defended the Legislature’s actions, particularly the new wireless rules, product of a bill he sponsored. “A lot of the bills that were filed maybe felt like an assault” he said, but only because people reacted to the originally filed bills, not necessarily to the final product. He was right in some regard, but wrong in others: the final implementation of the wireless and marijuana rules do minimize local government say, though Hutson, relishing his ownership of the wireless bill, said on its account: “I gave you a lot of flexibility.”

On medical pot, he said more is to come. “We may look further ahead next year,” Hutson said. “I don’t think the medical marijuana issue is over. I think it’s just beginning.”

He also explained the messiness of the session—and that fact that “there was a lot of stuff where local governments would feel threatened”—on the make-up of the House and Senate in this last session: half the senators were new, a third of House members were as well. The coming session, Hutson said, will be “smoother” with a more weathered class of lawmakers, and “a whole different leadership style” under House Speaker Jose Oliva, a Miami Republican, and Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican.

Hutson and Renner each defended some of the more controversial bills of the year, bills they supported against local opposition, among them House Bill 7069, which revamped public education, shifting millions of capital dollars toward charter schools while diminishing charters’ accountability, among other things, and also increased teacher bonus awards. In Flagler alone, Hutson said, 184 teachers will get $800-a-year bonuses for the next three years, 502 teachers will get $1,200, and 58 will get $6,000 a year, for the next three years.  

He defended the shift of money toward charters ($329,000 in Flagler), saying districts should not get money for students they are not educating. He noted that one of Flagler’s charter schools—Palm Harbor Academy, a name that slipped Hutson’s mind—was to close because it received two failing grades in a row. In fact, the school got an F last year, but a D this year. “So they’re not closing down,” Diane Dyer, a senior district administrator, said.

As to the massiveness of the controversial education bill, which was hurriedly introduced at the end of the session, was not debated in committee and quickly approved on the floor of the two chambers, Hutson said, “if you take those pieces out individually, most of that passes and sails straight through.” In fact, several provisions, including its “schools of hope” measure—which will allow charter schools to open immediately next to failing traditional public schools—had not “sailed through” when presented as individual bills.

Several Flagler County school district officials sat within a few feet of Renner and Hutson as they spoke, including Jim Tager, the superintendent. The school administration under Tager’s predecessor, Jacob Oliva, and the unanimity of the school board, had written and spoken vehemently against many parts of the education bill, urging the governor to veto it. None of the school officials addressed the legislators during today’s Q&A, but they have grappled with the implications of the bill in recent board meetings. 

One of the reasons Renner won the speakership in 2022 is his loyalty to House Speaker Richard Corcoran, for whom he lifted some of the heaviest legislative weights of the year, including bills that would have ended funding for Visit Florida, the state’s tourism arm, and Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development arm. Both bills were strongly opposed by local governments and some local businesses–which doesn’t mean they were opposed by constituents at large, on behalf of whom Renner said he was speaking: We shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners and losers,” he said.

In the end, the two more drastic proposals to end funding for the agencies were reversed in negotiations with the governor—who supported more funding for both agencies—by restoring funding for Visit Florida and couching economic development dollars under another name, and a process that Renner says will not benefit individual companies anymore. “Those dollars must only be used in a way that benefits the public as a whole,” he said. “Those moneys can’t be used to benefit a single company.”

The lawmakers were also taken to task for going too slowly on ending taxes on commercial leases, as Mark Langello, a commercial developers, told them: a 0.2 percent decrease in that tax amounts to $2 on a $1,000 lease, he said—not enough to be more than a symbolic gesture. But. Renner and Hutson said, the tax revenue from the levy, at $1.7 billion, is much too large to be eliminated in one swoop. It will have to be a gradual reduction, and one that ensures that what revenue is lost is made up in other ways, since it supports many public services. Still, they pledged, the tax will continue to be cut in coming years.

The Flagler County Chamber of Commerce’s Common Ground Breakfast featuring Renner and Hutson was held at 8 a.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn in Palm Coast, drawing 80 people, according to the Chamber’s count.


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18 Responses for “Hutson and Renner Try To Push Back Against Criticism on Home Rule, Taxes and Education”

  1. Paula says:

    What????? No discussion on the attempt to take away Home Rule over short-term rentals????? Lack of their support led to a protest.
    I’m out of the state right now. Otherwise, would have paid to be there to ask them about their tepid response to their constituents’ clear desires. This issue will “not go gentle into that good night.”
    No mini-hotels in communities zoned single-family!!!!

  2. Facts says:

    Both Senator Hutson and Representative Renner are being supported and paid by the vacation rental industry. AIRBNB, HOMEAWAY and Florida vacation management association do not want to be regulated like all the other transient public lodging establishments. The 2011 Senate Bill 883 not only took away Homerule to regulate vacation rentals but it also exempt this transient public lodging business from our local property zoning which protects our single family communities from this incompatible use.

    Just one week ago a two year old died in a swimming pool in a vacation rental home that was not in compliance with the pool safety standards. These dwellings must be inspected annually by local officials. All of these vacation dwellings are required to abide to the Florida fire prevention code 69A-43. After Flagler county adopted their ordinance and started their inspections over 80 percent of these vacation rentals where found to not be in compliance with the fire code. But let’s not forget that these dwellings have been operating for years unregulated already prior to the 2014 law. But these dwellings should have been in compliance prior to operating. But the state does not inspect these dwellings. They only collect a licensing fee yearly. This is why they must be regulated. Why would you issue a license prior to inspecting these dwellings for compliance?

    Both these representatives are using the famous trade line from the vacation industry. They continue stating this is a private property rights issue. But this was never a private property rights issue. This problem was created by our legislature in 2011. They overreach their authority when they removed our Homerule and property zoning. We should all submit Burt Harris claims against the State. They allowed these business to operate in our neighborhoods devaluing our property values. They also allowed a transient element into our neighborhoods creating an unknown. Who is staying next door to your home? Is it a sexual predator?

    I continue to ask them why is a bed and breakfast that was built as a one family dwelling treated differently than a vacation dwelling? They where both one family dwellings license by the state as a business. But a B&B is restricted by our local property zoning from operating in single family neighborhoods. A B& B is required to be inspected twice a year for fire/ life safety codes. A B&B in most cases require a sprinkler system. So why is a vacation rental treated differently?

    In my professional opinion a bed and breakfast is a better option. They have management on site and are in compliance with all the fire codes. Where a vacation dwelling that is unregulated and does not have on site management. This vacation dwelling is a death trap. It may be a bargain but you may pay with your life. Was it worth it? I for one would rather stay at a resort with onsite management.

    Senator Hutson and Representative Renner need to submit legislation to repeal 2011 Senate bill 883 now! You represent us not outside interest. Senator Hutson could have place a bill on his agenda that was submitted by one of his colleagues this year that would have repealed the 2011 Senate bill that but he chose to do the complete opposite and placed Senator Steube bill on his agenda to take away Homerule once again.

    Senator Hutson is not on our side. An I believe Representative Renner is not the answer either. Let’s choose a candidate that will represent us.

  3. Layla says:

    An assault on home rule was putting it mildly. Why would anybody in State government think it was a good idea to remove home rule unless you were in somebody’s pocket?

  4. Facts says:

    Let’s no forget that the two sponsors of the vacation rental bills to remove Homerule , Senator Steube and Representative LaRosa have conflicts. Steube the attorney for Policoff represents the vacation management industry and LaRosa the real estate broker manages vacation rentals and Senator Hutson counterpart. Bought and paid for by AIRBNB, HOMEAWAY, Florida vacation management association and Vacation rental pros owner Steve Milo who lives in St Jones county.

    Maybe Flaglerlive should look into these Representatives?

  5. Robert Lewis says:

    Did you know that tourism and sales tax fuels the Florida m economy. The more visitors we have, the more people spend money, the more money the State makes. So let’s bash the vacation and tourism industry. When they have to raise property taxes because of no tourism money, we sure can thank those fighting vacation rentals.

    In one breath they are demanding to find visit Florida and the next breath demanding no vacation rentals. We want people to come visit here, but just not stay here. The Hammock isn’t for everyone, just those who have blocked public beaches and created their own private resort.

    Not in my back yard.

  6. Facts says:

    No Robert. The tourist industry is doing just fine with the current ordinances in place. In fact the industry is thriving since Homerule was put back in place. All transient public lodging establishments should be treated the same including your vacation dwelling. I say vacation dwelling because your operation is not a rental. It uses a licensing agreement just like a hotel, motel and B&B.

    Why should anyone who bought a home in a single family neighborhood put up with this type of operation? It is not the Hammock. This problem is country wide. These dwellings should not be allowed to operate a transient business in our communities. They should only operate in zoned areas establish for this type of business operation.

  7. Paula says:

    Dear Robert Lewis,

    Take a look at Florida’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research. You’ll see that tourists contribute only 13.3% of money to the state while residents contribute 64.9%. Business makes up the rest. Analyses also show that jobs and businesses suffer with short-term rentals because “those dollars are going to an underground economy rather than to the regular, labor intensive tourism industry.”

    It’s the residents, not short-term renters, that drive Florida’s economy. And we’re driving residents out by allowing short-term renters in neighborhoods zoned single family.

  8. Paula says:

    Addendum: title of graph I described above is called “Contribution to General Revenue from Sales Tax Collections.”

  9. Bc. says:

    Robert Lewis—/No one is saying no to visitors coming to Flagler beach. We don’t want 20 people in a single family home. Let’s vote the crooked politions out lets get someone in office who cares what the voters want safe quiet neighborhood. Also I bet Mr Lewis does not live next door to a vacation rental like I do. 😡

  10. Robert Lewis says:

    BC & FACTS – You welcome visitors to Flagler as long as they are not your neighbors. The privilege you have to build your home along a public beach and to blockade public access. I am sorry we can not all have the luxury to live in private beach communities that have restricted public access to public land. Some have to save up all year to go with their family to enjoy the beaches. After all we want people to visit the Flagler Beaches?

    Lets be realist about what vacation rentals are. 20 people in a single family home. Its more like 20 people in 5/6 bedroom home, hardly the picture of a true single family home. And what are they doing? These folks arent dealing drugs, they are enjoying our beaches, spending money at our businesses, they are enjoying the beauty of Florida beaches with their family and friends.

    Lastly, you claim zones for vacation rentals. You bought a house in a beach community. Last time I checked, there is only 1 stretch of beach from Marineland to Volusia. How many zoned areas are there for vacation houses? How many hotels are there? How many opportunities are there for visitors to the area to stay at the beach? You are selfishly telling everyone Not in My Back Yard.

  11. Bc. says:

    Mr Lewis I can’t count the number of times I have seen male and females urinating in the back yard sometimes in my yard because it’s the first lot when coming from the beach not to mention the extreamly bad cursing at all hours of the night while the are around the pool. I have even witnessed fist fights. So next time there are 20 folks renting the house next door I should have you come over and spend the night at my beach home that is if you can find a parking space it is very common to have 8-10 cars parking all over the place including on top of my sprinkler heads. I did not move to retire to Flagler beach to be next to a private mini hotel. I pay high real-estate taxes. Oh not to forget the trash I pick up every time they leave I guess when you rent you leave your trash beer cans comdoms on the beach. So unless you live next to one I guess you really don’t no what you are talking about

  12. Sherry says:

    Obviously Robert Lewis has not bought into what was once a peaceful, quiet neighborhood and has not be forced to “permanently” live next to a “troubled” vacation rental. The Hammock “RESORT” properties has plenty of space for tourists, and is set up for those kinds of “temporary” residents.

    For those who want to rent out their single family house. There is a reasonable “middle ground” that could be implemented when it comes to creating a place for “RESPECTFUL” vacation renters. Unfortunately, the STATE politicians are “paid off” by the likes of Vacation Rental Pros. . . therefore, there is very little in the way of enforceable regulations. . . which creates great frustration and strife in what should be quiet, peaceful, private, and safe neighborhoods.

    LOCAL “Regulations” could and should be strictly enforced and include things like:

    1. A maximum occupancy rate. . . according to the number of beds. . . NOT floor space
    2. A noise regulation
    3. Parking regulations
    4. Up keep and sanitary regulations

    These kinds of things could and should be the responsibility of the owner and the rental property management company. Unfortunately, often the “profit motive” supersedes all else, and those who should be “self regulating” look the other way. . . while cashing those checks. . . and leaving the neighbors’ lives disrupted and unhappy.

    Many condo complexes implement rules AGAINST short term rentals. They do it because often “tourists” just wanna “party”. Their attitude is, they’ve paid their rent and they should be “entitled” to “cut loose”. . . . . . after all.they don’t “actually live here”.

    They don’t have to deal with “themselves” everyday. . . their NOISE, their DRUNKENNESS, their taking up all the parking places, their disregard for the neighborhood/environment, etc.

    Why should single family home owners not be allowed to regulate their neighborhoods. . . similar to what condo owners do??? Political pay offs!!! Renner and Hutson both need to be GONE Vote them OUT!!!

  13. Wishful Thinking says:

    Hooray ‘Facts’ Hooray ‘ Paula’ Hooray Sherry……
    The stupidity, or corruption ( or most likely a combination) of the thinking of these two is disgraceful to those of us they represent. ZONING is a word they have no desire to comprehend . If we all have the right to do what we want with our homes zoned Single Family what will their comment be when pot dispensaries begin to ‘crop up’ just anywhere without any ZONING requirements ??? To take away Home Rule power is what communism is all about. Let’s remember that next time we vote unless these dudes break off their profitable romance with ARBNB , the FLOARIDA REALTORS ( headquarters Orlando – formerly ‘Florida Association of Realtors’ who sponsored the Senate Bill in total conflict in their existence to ‘protect the rights of single family buyers and sellers and educate agents….
    Steube has a website ad sends e-mails out monthly ad keeps his name sounding very important. Our guys don’t do crap

  14. Bc. says:

    Did not reall want to comment again. But we must vote the corrupt politicians out lets get ride of them once and for all. We need people in office that will do what the voters want. We want a safe quiet neighborhood. Its absurd that they would let over crowding in a single family home lets get rid of the bums once and for all

  15. Robert Lewis says:

    Thanks for the invite! I will bring the beer and a pie.
    Sounds like your issue is isolated. If it were a repeat instance of public urination, I’m sure the sheriffs office would be called. But to not allow some into your neighborhood because they drink or curse, seems ahoy privileged. How dare we disrupt your stolen paradise. Not all of us can afford the over priced Hammock Beach Resort. These are public beaches that should be enjoyed by the public. Yet subdivisions like yours have conquered the beaches. Let’s talk about home rule and land stealing. I’d love to meet the commissioners that gave away all our beach access to accomdate the wealthy and privileged.

    You’re stance against vacation rentals is more of an infringement upon our rights. Our rights to rent our properties, our rights to vacation in an available location with my family. In one hand you demand visit Florida and in the next you scream not my back yard. Trying to have your cake and eat it too.

  16. Paula says:

    Please visit Old Salt Park and Jungle Hut! We do.

  17. Sherry says:

    I believe that’s why “zoning regulations” are established and why they should be enforced. Those who wish to “commercialize” their single family homes by “renting” them out in a way that is similar to a motel or B&B should be “regulated” and taxed in precisely the same ways.

    You can’t have it both ways! It’s no longer a private residence if you rent it out like a motel!

    If the Hammock resorts doesn’t fit your budget. . . there are camp grounds near the beach in Beverly Beach and Gamble Rogers. While I agree there should be “more” public access to the beach. The “rights” of the local single family home owners should not be violated by those who disrespect what should be common decency and courtesy in the neighborhood. Appropriate REGULATIONS should be implemented and strongly enforced!

  18. Facts says:

    Senator Hutson and Representative Renner. Why not have a townhall meeting on this short term rental issue in our neighborhoods. How about in October when must people are in town. But this meeting should not be open to outside investors including people that represent AIRBNB, Home Away, Florida vacation rental management association. If you really want to get a conscious of your constituents which I doubt. You must insist that they be residents of Flagler County. The registered voter will determine your faith.

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