Florida House passes anti-tax, union reform measures

By Troy Kinsey, Capitol Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, January 25, 2018, 5:51 PM EST

The Florida House on Thursday passed signature Republican measures to limit tax increases and more easily dissolve local unions. A handful of Democrats crossed party lines to vote in favor of the anti-tax legislation, pointing to its election year saliency.

  • Anti-tax measure would appear on Nov. ballot if passed by Senate
  • Union reform measure called "union busting" by Democrats
  • Similar measure failed to gain traction last year

If also passed by the Senate, the tax measure would appear as a constitutional amendment on Florida's November ballot. If at least 60 percent of voters approve it, proposed tax increases would be subject to supermajority (two-thirds) votes by the Florida Legislature.

The legislation is a top priority for Gov. Rick Scott, who will leave office in just over 11 months and wants to protect the dozens of tax cuts passed during his two terms.

Scott is also widely expected to launch a campaign to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, and the anti-tax amendment could drive up conservative turnout in what many political handicappers say is shaping up to be a midterm election year benefiting Democrats.

"The Florida House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed this proposal in a bipartisan vote to give Floridians the chance to go to the polls and vote to make it harder for politicians in Tallahassee to raise taxes and fees," Scott said in a statement following the vote. "I look forward to the Senate swiftly voting on the House’s bill."

While Senate passage of the tax legislation appears likely, the fate of the union reform measure passed by the House is uncertain. A similar bill failed to gain traction in the Senate last year, though House Republicans are optimistic the recent series of scandals and resignations that has hobbled the upper chamber could provide a new opening.

The bill (HB 25) would automatically dissolve local unions - specifically those involving teachers and health care workers - if at least 50 percent of eligible employees haven't joined.

"If you can't get 50 percent of an organization to agree on something, then go home," Rep. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) said during Thursday's debate.

Democrats railed against the proposal as a "union busting" attempt that, if allowed to become law, could dramatically curtail the ranks of the state teacher union, resulting in lower pay.

"This is the right to work state," said Rep. John Cortes (D-Kissimmee). "If you don't want to belong to the union, you don't have to, and this nonsense with 50 percent, well, if 50 percent don't want the union, they don't have to get in, and your bill's going to keep on rolling and rolling on rolling. Why? Why do we need this bill? I still don't understand this. This is a bill that's nonsense."