While the two months of the Legislative Session gets the most attention, Film Florida’s efforts for the 2021 session began last Spring. Since the end of the 2020 Legislative Session, Film Florida members held close to 200 meetings with legislators and candidates. The focus of each meeting was to educate legislators on how our industry can be an important part of Florida’s economic recovery. Our partners at Florida TaxWatch helped with that message when they authored an Op-Ed last August, Seeing Florida’s recovery through the viewfinder. Continuing the theme in November Film Florida member Stephen Wise authored another Op-Ed, Florida’s film and television industry can help aid economic recovery.

As 2021 began and bills started to get filed for the 2021 Legislative Session, former State Rep Holly Raschein authored another Op-Ed, Film Industry Puts Heads in Beds, focusing on how our industry supports Florida’s #1 economic driver, the tourism industry hit so hard by the pandemic. As committee weeks started in earnest, our efforts began gaining more media attention and momentum, Florida Politics highlighted the industry, Joe Gruters’ Film Rebate Bill Gets a 2021 Remake and NBC 2 in Fort Myers also did a news story. Finally, just before session began, former State Film Commissioner and current Film Florida Legislative Committee Co-Chair Paul Sirmons authored an Op-Ed focused on the benefits of the proposed “Targeted Rebate Program,” Film Industry Legislation Can Do More with Less. Many of the noted Op-Ed’s were published in multiple publications throughout the state to help get the message out from Pensacola to Key West. Even after session began, our industry continued to be top of mind, including a news story from ABC Action News in Tampa.

The efforts beginning last Spring, coupled with the tremendous media coverage, led to overwhelming support of SB 704 from Senator Joe Gruters and HB 757 from Rep Dana Trabulsy. SB 704 finished with 16 bi-partisan co-sponsors and HB 757 finished with 27 bi-partisan co-sponsors. Each bill had significantly more co-sponsors this year than similar bills had last year. In fact, HB 757 more than doubled the amount of co-sponsors from 2020. The combined 43 co-sponsors are more than almost any other set of companion bills filed during the 2021 Legislative Session.

Of the 3,140 bills filed this year, just 275 crossed the finish line, less than 9%. Unfortunately the primary bills Film Florida was advocating for (SB 704 from Senator Joe Gruters- R, Sarasota and HB 757 from Rep Dana Trabulsy- R, Fort Pierce) that included a “Targeted Rebate Program” were not among those that passed. We want to sincerely thank Senator Joe Gruters and Rep Dana Trabulsy for being tremendous Champions for our industry. Regardless of the issue or industry, getting a bill of any kind passed in the Florida Legislature continues to be extremely difficult.

In addition to advocating for SB 704 and HB 757, Film Florida also took an active role in advocating for SB 1390 and HB 1125. These bills focused on tax credits for Capital Investment (physical production studios) and Intellectual Property (original content). While different than SB 704 and HB 757, SB 1390 and HB 1125 would also help our industry, along with other industries in Florida. Film Florida Executive Director John Lux authored an Op-Ed in support of the bills (Investing in Florida’s Future). SB 1390 passed favorably through two committee stops, unfortunately HB 1125 was not placed on a committee agenda. SB 1390 and HB 1125 died in committee along with SB 704 and HB 757.

Between the growing support in the legislature, and the many, many positive news stories about the importance of our industry for Florida’s economic recovery, the obvious question is then “Why couldn’t we pass a bill?” We continue to run into roadblocks from those legislators that sit in positions of Leadership where they have the power to stonewall bills. Some that oppose our efforts believe the government shouldn’t be involved in private industry (not just our industry but any private industry), they don’t believe Florida needs to incentivize businesses to work in Florida. Some still do not understand the value of our industry for Florida. Finally, some are just indifferent so when bills that would benefit the industry come to their committees, there’s no urgency to address the bills. Our industry continues to be seen as a “nice to have” as opposed to “need to have” industry. Therefore, when time gets tight in committee meetings, or funding is negotiated between this industry or that industry in budget talks, our industry doesn’t have enough Leadership support to push it through.

We are very proud of what we accomplished during the Legislative Session, but we are far from satisfied, and honestly we’re angry and frustrated that our efforts to help grow and diversify Florida’s economy continue to be dismissed. While we didn’t achieve the ultimate goal, it’s important to recognize the continued progress that was made in significantly building momentum, engaging in encouraging conversation and garnering positive media coverage for the industry.

As we put the 2021 Legislative Session behind us, we look forward. The saying goes, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. While our legislative efforts will continue, they will not be the same. Over the next 60 days we will be meeting with our Legislative Committee, our Government Relations team, our numerous partners, our Legislative Champions, and more. While our efforts going forward will include some of the same tactics, the overall strategy will need to be looked at. Some changes may be noticeable while other changes will be more nuanced but rest assured, there will be changes.

One thing is clear, any effort to pass a statewide program to attract more companies, projects, jobs and opportunities for the industry requires help from everyone. Sitting back and relying on others or waiting for someone else to do the work is not an option. Reaching out to us the week before the 2022 Legislative Session asking what you can do is not enough. Sending messages through social media half way through session wondering if anyone has spoken to this legislator or that legislator is not effective. The time to step up is now!

Since last legislative session Film Florida members held close to 200 meetings with legislators, and more than 90% of those meetings were on Zoom. You can meet with legislators without leaving your home or office. There is an absolute correlation between the volume of meetings industry professionals had with the amount of co-sponsors SB 704 and HB 757 received. The more meetings, the more conversations, the more education, the more support our industry receives.

We STRONGLY URGE you to get involved and engaged with your local legislators between June – September. Don’t wait until committee weeks and/or legislative session. Send your home address to info@FilmFlorida.org and we’ll look up your legislators. Or, find your State Representative HERE and find your State Senator HERE. Once you have found your local Rep and Senator, e-mail us at info@FilmFlorida.org and we’ll give you details about your local legislators, as well as help you contact them to set up a meeting to tell your story. Local constituents telling local stories and building local relationships are much more important than 100 e-mails from faceless people during legislative session. Meetings last about fifteen minutes and at most, each person will have four meetings. Can you spend one hour of your time over the next six months to help the industry?

We appreciate your ongoing support and engagement, and we look forward to continuing to spread the positive message about the entertainment production industry in Florida as we fight for the needs of our highly skilled, passionate workforce. We hope all of you, and your loved ones, continue to stay safe and healthy.