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Legislative Update
Realtors® Report from the Capitol

Legislative update
When this year’s Legislative session wrapped up in May, a handful of real estate-related initiatives had moved forward. Here’s a recap:

Property Tax Reform.
At press time, this measure was slated for a mid-June special session. According to House and Senate leadership, the $31.6 billion tax cut plan calls for all cities and counties to reduce taxes in the upcoming 2007-2008 fiscal year and replace Save Our Homes with a tiered, percentage-based “super” tax exemption. As proposed, a property tax bill could be about $174 lower for homesteaders, $199 for non-homestead residential owners and $941 for commercial industrial property owners. A provision would also save small business owners about $92 on tangible personal-property taxes.

Provided voters approve changes to Save Our Homes, average savings for homesteaders is estimated to be $948 ($1,306 for the three-quarters of homesteaders who will benefit most), $245 for non-homestead residences, $1,240 for commercial industrial property and $262 on tangible personal-property taxes.

Property insurance. SB 2498 by South Florida Sen. Rudy Garcia (R-Miami) allows property owners into the Citizens pool if the only insurance they could obtain on the private market was 15 percent more expensive than Citizens. (The current threshold is 25 percent.) The measure also prevents new private insurance companies from setting off their Florida operations in a separate, Florida-only company (known as PUP companies), and freezes Citizens rates through 2008.

Effective Jan. 1, 2009, Citizens is again allowed to raise rates.

Another bill, HB 7057 by Rep. Trey Traviesa (R-Tampa) requires all homes valued at over $750,000 in high-risk zones to be fitted with opening protections (i.e., hurricane shutters) by Jan. 1, 2009, to remain eligible for property insurance coverage through Citizens.

Housing trust funds. More of the money generated by a portion of documentary stamp taxes for the William E. Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Funds will beallocated to state and local programs. The state budget provides $393.4 million for housing programs—down from $433 million last year but $150 million more than the cap imposed by the 2005 Legislature. Legislators failed to remove the $243 million cap on the funds, a move sought by affordable housing advocates, including the Florida Association of Realtors® (FAR), citing a lean budget year.

Lawmakers also approved HB 1375 by Rep. Mike Davis (R-Naples), a long-time advocate of statewide affordable housing programs. This bill would require local governments to adopt by July 1, 2008, a workforce/affordable housing plan into the local comprehensive plan. Failure to do so would prevent local governments from receiving state housing grants.

More staff at the Division of Real Estate. The state budget also appropriates money for seven new employees at the Division—four full-time and three part-time—which should enhance services to real estate licensees.

Ballot Initiatives. Last year, FAR successfully backed a constitutional amendment requiring a 60 percent majority of voters to approve any constitutional change. This year, the Legislature wants to tighten the process. The House passed SB 900 82-35, which requires petition signatures to be turned into supervisors of elections within 30 days of the signing; allows petition signers to revoke their signature within 150 days; and requires paid petition gatherers to identify themselves as non-volunteers by wearing an identification badge. The House added an amendment to the bill and it returns to the Senate for a vote.

Home Inspector Bill. SB 2234, a bill that FAR has pushed for a number of years, would require home inspectors, mold remediators and mold assessors to be licensed by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. At press time, this bill was awaiting Gov. Crist’s signature.

Condominium Law.
SB 314 by Sen. Steve Geller (D-Hallandale Beach), which enables condos to be sold with an 80 percent approval of owners, won legislative approval and is headed to Gov. Crist. Current law calls for unanimous consent from all individual condo owners before a condo association may be dissolved. This could be necessary following a major disaster that destroys a building. Following 1992’s Hurricane Andrew, for example, buildings were destroyed and owners, forced to evacuate, couldn’t be found, making it impossible to dissolve the condo association.

Also approved in the 2007 session:

• HB 7163 by Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera (R-Miami). Gov. Crist has signed this bill, which allows real estate licensees to earn 3 hours of CE credit for attending a Florida Real Estate Commission meeting.

• SB 1824 by Sen. Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey) places numerous disclosure and education requirements on mortgage brokers and lenders to help protect consumers during the mortgage application process, and includes enforcement and investigative tools for prosecuting mortgage fraud. If signed by Gov. Crist, it becomes effective Oct. 1, 2007.

• HB 111 by Rep. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) amends the definition of “primary title services” and “related title services,” and codifies a civil court case that permits a portion of a title insurance premium to be rebated. Already signed by Gov. Crist, it becomes effective Oct. 1, 2007.