TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida TaxWatch (FTW) today released two reports, Bringing The Sunshine State Back: The Impact of COVID-19 Across Florida’s Economy & Options for Recovery, and The Best Defense is a Good Offense: The Economic Impact of Protecting Responsible Floridians from COVID-Related Civil Liability, that address the impacts of a lack of a liability shield and the pandemic on Florida’s major economic sectors.
Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro said, “Florida TaxWatch is proud to have led this independent analysis to examine the benefits and liabilities of creating meaningful liability shield legislation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In turn, we have also offered industry-specific recommendations and options to help in Florida’s recovery and ease taxpayer burdens created by the pandemic, including policy, regulatory, and tax-oriented actions.”
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis shared his thoughts on the issue, including general remarks thatCOVID-19 has dramatically changed the world and Florida’s economy. As we look to the road ahead, we appreciate Florida TaxWatch’s work on this issue and are excited to partner with them. Small businesses are the backbone of Florida’s economy and they should have peace of mind without a ‘sue and settle’ mentality.
Even as businesses begin to re-open and reemployment assistance claims begin to taper off, challenges remain for Florida’s recovering economy. Experts predict that the state’s economy will not return to pre-pandemic levels until the end of 2021, or later due to the state’s large emphasis on tourism, and the state government will continue to grapple with largely fluctuating revenues over the next few years.
Florida TaxWatch Chairman and former U.S. Sen. George S. LeMieux said, “Florida TaxWatch’s findings take the next step in protecting Florida businesses from frivolous lawsuits. No business owner should be at risk of being sued if their business followed public health guidelines for operating a safe workplace. Now is the time to help our struggling businesses, not subject them to unwarranted legal attacks.”
FTW, in collaboration with the Regional Economic Consulting (REC) Group, presented its policy brief entitled, The Best Defense is a Good Offense: The Economic Impact of Protecting Responsible Floridians from COVID-Related Civil Liability, and asked the question: “What if no legislative action is taken and no measures are put into place to shield Florida businesses from civil liability resulting from COVID-19 related litigation?”
The answer: The total maximum effect on tax collections, for both the state and local governments, is estimated at a $1.5 billion loss with the lion’s share coming from sales tax. The impact on personal income amounts to a total maximum possible loss of $14.6 billion. This is based on the absence of a meaningful shield from liability from March 2020 through September 2020, which could have negatively impacted the Florida economy by as much as $16.1 billion with more than 208,000 jobs lost.
“More than 400 COVID-19-related lawsuits have already been filed in Florida and there is nothing to suggest that this trend is slowing down. Even if a great many of these lawsuits are unsuccessful, they have the potential to paralyze Florida’s economic recovery by hurting businesses and individuals who are trying to provide essential services during times of great uncertainty,” said Dr. Clyde Diao, founder, REC Group.
The Florida Legislature should establish safeguards to protect businesses and their agents, and individuals from liability against specific types of COVID-19-related claims so businesses can reopen or remain open. It is also critical that these safeguards ensure that those who contract COVID-19 because of gross negligence or intent to harm by others are able to recover for their injuries.
Senate Judiciary Chair, State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) and State Rep. Lawrence McClure (R-Dover) have introduced Senate Bill 72 and House Bill 7 respectively, related to COVID-19 liability. The House Bill is expected to be heard before the House Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee on Wed., Jan. 13.
“Protecting the health and safety of Floridians is a critical role of state government. Unfortunately, this pandemic has left many small businesses on the brink of closure. Businesses have had to go to great lengths to keep their doors open, while managing evolving health and government standards over the past several months. The COVID-19 liability legislation creates a safe harbor for businesses that have acted in good faith from opportunistic lawsuits,” said State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg).
“Floridians have endured so much in this pandemic. Business owners and their employees must be allowed to earn a living and support their families amid changing guidance and regulations. As we continue to navigate the ongoing pandemic, limited liability protection legislation will help protect businesses who are trying to do the right thing from long-term economic consequences and the threat of potentially limitless civil liability,” said State Sen. Danny Burgess (R-Tampa).
“Small business owners need to know that the state has their back,” said Bill Herrle, executive director, National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).
As an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit government watchdog and taxpayer research institute for more than forty years and the trusted eyes and ears of Florida taxpayers, Florida TaxWatch works to improve the productivity and accountability of Florida government. Its research recommends productivity enhancements and explains the statewide impact of fiscal and economic policies and practices on citizens and businesses. Florida TaxWatch is supported by its membership via voluntary, tax-deductible donations and private grants, and does not accept government funding. Donations provide a solid, lasting foundation that has enabled Florida TaxWatch to bring about a more effective, responsive government that is more accountable to, and productive for, the citizens it serves since 1979. For more information, please visit www.floridataxwatch.org.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, January 11, 2021
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