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Bowing to Hammock, Thrasher and Hutson Will File Bills to Restore Vacation-Rental Regulations

| October 16, 2013

A red sea of opponents of a 2011 law preventing most county regulation of vacation rentals demanded of Rep. Travis Hutson and Sen. John Thrasher that the pre-emption be repealed. Thrasher and Hutson were in Flagler County for the annual legislative delegation meeting, Wednesday afternoon in Bunnell, which took place early this year. (© FlaglerLive)

A red sea of opponents of a 2011 law preventing most county regulation of vacation rentals demanded of Rep. Travis Hutson and Sen. John Thrasher that the pre-emption be repealed. Thrasher and Hutson were in Flagler County for the annual legislative delegation meeting, Wednesday afternoon in Bunnell, which took place early this year. (© FlaglerLive)

The annual legislative delegation meeting in Flagler County drew more than a full house Wednesday evening in Bunnell as the same issue that dominated last year’s meeting—vacation rentals in the Hammock—again dominated half the two-hour session. Red-shirted opponents of a two-year-old law that vastly opened the door to vacation rentals occupied well over half the seats in the meeting chamber, though proponents of the law were represented as well.

Rep. Travis Hutson and Sen. John Thrasher, whose districts include all of Flagler County, make their annual stop here in early fall to formally hear the concerns and priorities of local governments, agencies, businesses and residents. The legislative session doesn’t start until spring. But numerous legislative committee meetings pave the way, as does the filing of bills that will largely set the session’s direction.

Unlike previous such meetings, when legislators focus on listening rather than on making promises, Thrasher and Hutson this time made news: they pledged to the sea of red-shirted partisans that they will each file a bill in their respective chamber to repeal the 2011 law and return the matter of vacation rental regulations to local governments.

“I’m a big property rights person as much as anybody,” Thrasher said, addressing the many homeowners the 2011 law was intended to help by enabling them to rent their homes rather than lose the properties for being unable to meet mortgage payments. “But individual property rights have to be balanced and I’m of the opinion that we’re not going to be able to work it out here.” When he heard the concerns of residents and vacation renters last year, Thrasher proposed that the two sides work things out among themselves before taking it up with lawmakers. They didn’t. “I intend to file a piece of legislation that will repeal this law.”

Sen. John Thrasher and Rep. Travis Hutson, on the dais, speak with Ken Mattison, CEO of Florida Hospital Flagler (in the red tie), and Andy Dance, chairman of the Flagler County School Board, just before the legislative delegation meeting. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Sen. John Thrasher and Rep. Travis Hutson, on the dais, speak with Ken Mattison, CEO of Florida Hospital Flagler (in the red tie), and Andy Dance, chairman of the Flagler County School Board, just before the legislative delegation meeting. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Hutson said he’d file a companion bill in the House. But both lawmakers warned the audience that there are no guarantees the proposal will get very far, considering that there may be up to 1 million vacation properties in the state. The industry can lobby legislators convincingly, and some of those industry representatives were in the audience this afternoon, speaking of their business as job-creating and as a boon to tourism, the principal force in Florida’s economy. Property owners, too, spoke to the legislators from the perspective of individuals who have the right to do with their homes what their deed allows them to do—to rent them.

But residents made similar arguments, citing their own rights as property owners to live quietly.

“Single-family residences have been converted into mini-hotels,” Paul Pershes, who heads the Ocean Hammock Property Owners Association, said. “The state law that was put into place is hurting us dramatically.”

Steve Milo, who runs Vacation Rental Pros, described the business as vital to the local economy and described himself as a job creator who spoke on behalf of owners’ property rights. Some 43,000 vacation renters stayed in Flagler County in one calendar year, according to another supporter of the law. Unlike last year, when Milo trooped his own employees before the delegation to speak on behalf of the law, none of his employees spoke, and he said the numerous homeowners who benefit from the law could not attend since they live out of the county.

And so it went for almost an hour (the second hour of the two-hour meeting) as proponents and opponents of the new law dueled in words and pleas, the chamber erupting in applause every time opponents of the law spoke, and did so especially when Thrasher promised to file the repeal bill.

Thrasher had nothing to lose: if it passes, he’s a hero, unlikely to be punished politically since the majority of those who benefit from vacation rentals are visitors who don’t vote. If the bill doesn’t pass, he’s done his best and at least appeared responsive.

“I really think the Florida legislature made a mistake when we passed this law. We should be deferring to the local folks,” Thrasher said. “There’s a balance in property rights and I’m of the opinion that this needs to come back and be decided at the local level.”

When the bill passed in 2011, it did so with overwhelming margins: 94-19 in the House, 38-0 in the Senate (with Thrasher voting for it).

The bill reclassifies resort condominiums and resort dwellings as “vacation rentals,” and it pre-empted local government regulations of such rentals, with some exceptions. (See a complete legislative analysis of the bill here.)

The first hour was considerably duller, even for the speakers: many of them zipped out of the room as soon as they were done.

The meeting always follows the same pattern, with local governments going first—the county, Palm Coast, Flagler Beach, Bunnell and the school board, then other government or social service agencies and private concerns. None of the local constitutional officers spoke. (Bunnell was a no-show: Judi Stetson, the city’s grants director, was scheduled to speak, but did not appear, and Lawrence Williams, the new city manager, opted not to fill in, though he was in the audience.) Nate McLaughlin, chairman of the county commission, pressed for more state support for the Agricultural Museum that the county just took over again (from Palm Coast), describing it as one of the county’s economic development priorities. Curiously, McLaughlin made no mention of another legislative priority the county commission approved: to push for the repeal of the right of local voters to decide by referendum every 10 years whether the county may have the authority to give tax breaks to new companies.

Jon Netts, Palm Coast’s mayor, asked for $375,000 from the state to help the city comply with water-treatment regulations (the city was found to be in non-compliance with federal standards in one regard, and faces a steep bill as it carries out the needed upgrades).

Netts also asked, as he did last year, for more clarity on the state’s law restricting so-called Internet cafes. Thrasher sponsored the law that essentially banned the cafes earlier this year. But owners of such businesses are increasingly exploiting loopholes to open gambling halls under new guises. “We may have to go back and revisit that, as we may have to revisit a number of things related to gaming,” Thrasher said. “I still think they’re probably gambling devices.”

Flagler Beach City Commission Chairman Steve Settle asked for more state advocacy on behalf of the city’s shoreline projection-and a 25 percent financial commitment to an Army Corps of Engineers study on the matter. And he asked for the state’s support in changing the Gamble Rogers Recreation Area back to its original name: Flagler Beach Recreational Area.

Andy Dance, chairman of the school board, made his appearance with Superintendent Janet Valentine and let the delegation know that this would be Valentine’s last meeting: she is retiring in June. Dance focused on intricate matters of performance pay and the ever-stingier ways in which the state funds local districts, or asks them to pick up new tabs—as with students dually enrolled in a local community college while still attending high school. The state now expects districts to pay part of that college cost.

Inevitably, there was a question—not from Dance, but from Dave Sullivan, the chairman of the local Republican Executive Committee—about common core. Sullivan wasn’t taking a position on the matter but merely inquiring about the state’s, and the legislators’ direction.

“Common core standards are standards, while there’s some disagreement despite about what they are and where they came from, they’re standards,” Thrasher said. The curriculums are developed by local school districts, he said to a few heads shaking in the audience.

But Thrasher is correct: the curriculums are developed locally, though common core opponents have routinely mis-characterized the matter by claiming, falsely, that curriculums are imposed on local districts. There is a bill that would suspend the implementation of common core, though it’s been implemented already in the early grades. “My personal belief is, you’ve got to have standards, you’ve got to have something that’s achievable for children to rise to in order to succeed in this world,” Thrasher said. Hutson said he “echoed” the same thoughts.

Sullivan raised a question to Hutson and Thrasher that had never been raised before: he asked them to be more forthcoming about the way they set their own priorities after hearing constituents from their counties (Hutson has three counties, Thrasher four), and to essentially provide a scoresheet of previous years’ priorities—whether they were taken up, whether they resulted in anything substantial or were rolled over into the current year’s list.

Numerous other community members and leaders spoke, including Ken Mattison, the new CEO at Florida Hospital Flagler, who urged the delegation to press for an expansion of Medicaid, with federal dollars–an expansion under Obamacare that Gov. Rick Scott belatedly supported earlier this year, but that the Legislature rejected, resulting in a lack of insurance for at least 1 million Floridians despite Obamacare.

Mattison was not around when a local resident appeared before the legislator to ask that the hospital’s religious tax exemption be withdrawn, as that resident claimed the non-profit hospital should not have the benefits of a church, a mosque or a synagogue. Among other speakers: Chet Bell, the CEO of Stewart-Marchman Act Behavioral Healthcare, and Mary Ann Clark, who this evening spoke not as the president of the Flagler County Historical Society, but as a proponent of passing the Equal Rights Amendment. In 1979, the amendment fell three states short of the 38 required for it to become part of the U.S. Constitution. Florida was among the states that did not ratify.

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6 Responses for “Bowing to Hammock, Thrasher and Hutson Will File Bills to Restore Vacation-Rental Regulations”

  1. Janet O says:

    Re: Common Core statements made by Mr Thrasher, his initial premise is that ‘standards are standards and it is important to have standards,’ is a bit of circular speak. The point is not that we have standards, it is that we have standards of quality that guide curricular decisions that create best educational experiences for our students, and result in graduates ready for independent pursuit of self-responsible life, career, post-grad training, or college. Mr. Thrasher is correct that there is not clarity around where the standards came from, though it is reported that acknowledged authors are not educators and it is documented that the two educators who sat on the review panels ( Sandra Stotsky for ELA and James Milgram for MATH, highly regarded experts in standards, educationally sound best practice, and developmentally appropriate scaffolding, both with extensive experience in field testing and implementing standards and curriculums) would NOT endorse the CCSS for all that ccss lacked educationally while written in confusing/inappropriate non-Standard language . Yet the FS BofE and administrators, Mr Thrasher and Mr Hutson, are parroting the marketing phrases put out by the professional handlers promoting this “Emperor’s New Clothes” of ReEducation that CCSS is. The travesty is that as Mr Thrasher admitted, CCSS was legislated in 2010, as a condition to get FL a waiver from NCLB AYP requirements. Who at the FL DoE evaluated and compared the FL standards with those of CC? Or was that shift before the CC Standards were written and available for comparative review?

    No one in FLAGLER COUNTY or FL wants standards that are lower than pre-cc FL Sunshine State standards that have been demonstrating improvements over the last few years (ccss has only begun implementation in K-2 thus far), or standards that are developmentally inappropriate, or standards that are not internationally benchmarked to enable our students to be competitive on HS completion, or standards that are so contrary to research documenting best practice in ELA and MATH standards. Yet that is what our legislators gave our children in buying into ccss – a ruse with gaps, confusions and unfinished business. Our children will be the victims.

    Just ask – why might there be controversy over this issue … birthed from the depths of the ‘unread’ stimulus package, in exchange for a waiver on educational performance levels in NCLB, created by trade organizations and business bureaucrats, written by non-educators? Who benefits?

    Please do your own research, advocating for FS students benefits your future, too! Research the organizations working nationally to expose the partners in the ccss, the undermining of US education through ccss, and making sense of fallout from and supporting a child through classroom experiences with ccss implementation. Sandra Stotsky submitted a 45 page critique to ELA ccstandards and Ze’ev Wurman(Stanford U) submitted a 28 page critique to MATH ccstandards for the Tampa hearing, available from Floridians Against Common Core. Thursday in Tallahassee is last public forum, yet submissions about FLcc( a.k.a. FL new sunshine state standards) to FL DoE can be made until October 31.

  2. Kip Durocher says:

    All a bunch of hot air. These legislators, and I use the term very
    loosley, will go back to their ivory towers and nothing will change. Except
    maybe a “special law” for the beautiful people in the Hammock.
    If they cough up more $$$$ than the lobbiests.
    America is for sale by your government people. Wake up and smell
    the smell ~ that is the smell of government burning up your money.
    Bitch ~ call them and tell them you think they are scalkywags and should
    be damned to the nether regions.

  3. Gia says:

    Repeal bill is wrong. You can’t have it both way.

  4. Flofida native. says:

    Money talks. People are starting to learn how to work this commi$$ion. Big busine$$ has been doing it for years.

  5. James C says:

    It’s a shame that a few investors, who do not live anywhere near here, have so much control and power over a beautiful neighborhood. If they loved it here so much, they would re-locate and move their families there. THEY ARE NOT AND WILL NOT! The only thing they love is the lack of rules and regulations in the community and county thereby making them act with impunity in building these monster homes with 10, 12, 14, 17 bedrooms or more so that can do one and only one thing…MAKE MONEY ON THE BACKS OF THE FULL TIME CITIZENS WHO ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR MAINTAINING AND BEAUTIFYING THE NEIGHBORHOODS. I live there. WIth these short term rentals there is absolutely no sense of community…no sense of neighborhood. If only rentals were for a minimum of 2 weeks, things would be better. Having different people living next to you every single week, with daily and weekend rentals being commonplace, is not good for anyone and all should know that. That;s what we have, and it will not go away until something is done. The investors have deep pockets and my neighborhood is making their pockets much deeper. Political opponents are putting out the facts and I would hope all who are affected in this matter, make concerted efforts to read everything and especially, read between the lines…however, the political campaigns of the investors are so filled with mis-information and absolute BS, they would make any Cook County official very, very proud. If things continue with this madness, I will have to consider re-locating at great expense…with no help from the investors with deeper and deeper pockets living somewhere else.

  6. Sherry Epley says:

    I am thinking that surly all those on vacation are NOT noisy, bad neighbors. Why not allow home owners to rent out their places, and then call the cops if there is too much noise or code enforcement for other bothers? Why throw the baby out with the bath water?

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