It’s no secret that the 2023 Legislative Session was one of the most difficult in recent memory. As many of you know, the day before the Legislative Session started, the Florida House filed HB 5. Among other things, the bill intended to close the Florida Office of Film and Entertainment (our State Film Commission) and end the Entertainment Industry Sales Tax Exemption Program. This was a very high priority for the Speaker of the House. We are happy to report that the Sales Tax Exemption Program was pulled out of HB 5 and has been preserved! The strategy from the very beginning was to present the elimination of the Sales Tax Exemption as a tax increase on small businesses. In fact, close to 85% of the Florida-based businesses that used the Sales Tax Exemption Program last year had 5 or fewer full-time employees. This wouldn’t just be a tax increase on small businesses but a catastrophic tax increase on micro businesses. While the Florida House continued to push this part of the legislation, the Florida Senate stood strong and did not take up this issue.
The Office of Film and Entertainment (OFE) is a bit more complicated. As of this moment, we expect staff members in the OFE to continue to provide similar tasks. However, the Florida Office of Film and Entertainment in name will no longer exist under the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, which is now renamed the Department of Commerce. HB 5 passed which, by definition, eliminated the OFE. However, HB 5 also stated that “it is the intent of the Legislature that the changes made by this act be accomplished with minimal disruption of services provided to the public and with minimal disruption to employees of any organization.”
As part of HB 5, there is a transition phase between now and December 1, 2023. Everyone involved, from the legislature to Leadership at the Department of Commerce acknowledge that the tasks and services that have been executed by the OFE are still needed. Preliminary discussions have been positive that while the name Florida Office of Film and Entertainment is going away, the services provided to our industry will still be provided under the Department of Commerce by those currently providing the services.
While not nearly as high profile, Film Florida was also focused on another legislative priority, referred to as the “Temporary Airport” bill. This legislation would streamline the process and reduce red tape in securing permits for landing a helicopter at a non-traditional landing area for non-emergencies. It had become increasingly cumbersome to get a permit to land a helicopter for production. The legislation proposed would reduce the time frame from 90+ days to 30 days. It’s important to note that this helps not just our industry but also construction, HVAC, transportation, etc. This was a very heavy lift that started last summer by Film Florida Board Member Tyler Martinolich from Film Tampa Bay. At one point just a few weeks ago, we received a text saying the effort was “dead” but through a great team effort, the bill was revived and we’re happy to report that it passed and is on its way to the Governor to be signed into law.
Last June at our Annual Meeting in Fort Lauderdale, we talked about being ready to defend the State Film Commission and the Sales Tax Exemption Program. We encouraged our members, and the industry as a whole, to get engaged with incumbents and candidates running for election in 2022. We received close to 100 responses to our new candidate survey, helping us gauge the level of support (or in some cases lack thereof) from new candidates. Our members conducted more than 250 meetings with legislators and candidates since last summer. We started collecting letters in support of the Sales Tax Exemption Program and the State Film Commission. Between last Fall and the efforts during session, we collected more than 1,000 letters that were organized, printed and hand delivered to numerous members of the legislature. Members of our Board of Directors were in Tallahassee in March to speak in opposition to HB 5 and to help educate legislators about the negative impacts of the bill.
While the Office of Film and Entertainment situation didn’t end exactly how we would have liked, there’s no question that our voices were heard and results certainly could have been much worse. We believe that’s a big reason the legislature realized that the services provided by the OFE are absolutely needed in Florida and we are optimistic that those services will remain. There’s also no question that the reason the Sales Tax Exemption Program still exists today, and will continue to save our industry money, is because of the efforts of our industry. Those wishing to eliminate the program tried very hard to spin the messaging, but there was no denying their efforts would have raised taxes on Floridians.
I am immensely proud of the effort put forth and for what we accomplished during the 2023 Legislative Session. We’ve heard the complaints from some that we shouldn’t be happy “only” maintaining the status quo. Sometimes playing defense and maintaining the status quo is needed to make gains later. HB 5 gave us an opportunity to talk about how important our industry is to Florida. Our Executive Director John Lux and Legislative Committee Co-Chair Paul Sirmons (photo) spoke in front of House members during committee meetings. It’s not often that we have the opportunity to speak to a captive audience of legislators that support and oppose our efforts. These committee meetings also gave our legislative supporters an opportunity to speak on the record about their support. While some members of those committees dismissed our industry, I was so proud to hear our supporters speak so eloquently about the history, jobs, economic impact, support of tourism, etc. that our industry provides. Without the efforts of many people, had HB 5 passed as it was originally intended, it would have been devastating for our industry.
As we put the 2023 Legislative Session behind us, we immediately look forward. The 2024 Legislative Session starts Tuesday January 9, 2024. Committee Weeks will begin in September, just four+ months from now. We believe we will have to defend our industry once again and justify the Sales Tax Exemption Program and more. As part of HB 5, there is a “transition period” for the new Department of Commerce where they will figure out how to handle tasks and responsibilities previously housed under the Office of Film and Entertainment. Depending on how that transition period goes, we may be advocating for changes and/or defending other aspects.
Film Florida is NOT a legislative organization. Our preference is to focus on marketing our industry and state, hosting and partnering on networking events so industry professionals can meet and further relationships, giving grants and scholarships to emerging filmmakers, and enhancing our professional development offerings like the Film Florida Podcast and Film Florida Friday. We would rather not spend time, energy, resources, etc. on legislative efforts. But if this session showed us anything, it showed if not us then who? We believe we need to do whatever is needed to help our industry. In this case it was a strong advocacy initiative. Film Florida was aggressive, coordinated and professional in our efforts to defend our industry while also managing to pass a bill to help reduce red tape.
As I mentioned, we received over 1,000 letters from people and companies that participated in our efforts to defend the State Film Commission and maintain the Sales Tax Exemption Program. Most letters were submitted from those not currently members of Film Florida, many of which asked if there was anything else they could do to help. Yes there is! If you’re not already a member, PLEASE JOIN FILM FLORIDA. Film Florida has the largest legislative/advocacy effort of any industry organization in Florida. Every survey or questionnaire that we do overwhelmingly shows people in the industry in Florida believe our top priority should be our legislative/advocacy efforts, both of the local and state levels.
Building relationships with other groups and organizations to help our efforts requires resources. Having a lobbying firm on retainer requires resources. Sending our Executive Director to Tallahassee multiple times a year requires resources. Hosting a legislative reception in Tallahassee so we can communicate our concerns and garner support requires resources. Film Florida is funded entirely by our members so our ability to work on behalf of the industry is completely dependent upon the support we receive through membership. If we don’t have enough ongoing support from the industry, there are no resources available to do EVERYTHING we need to fight for legislation that is needed and fight against legislation that will hurt the industry.
In the last six years, Film Florida has successfully fought off efforts to deregulate talent agencies twice and this was our second effort to fight off the elimination of the Entertainment Industry Sales Tax Exemption Program and the Florida Office of Film and Entertainment. We were there in 2017, 2019 and 2020 and we were in Tallahassee for 2023 defending our industry. But it takes people, effort and money. If you think it’s important that we continue all of our efforts, we need everyone to do their part in joining Film Florida. Student memberships are $25 per year, individual memberships are $75 per year, and full corporate memberships start at $500 per year. We know all of you care, we know all of you want better for our industry. We are in this together.
We hope everyone will remain engaged. Now is the time to reach out and meet with legislators and tell them why it’s important that they support you as a constituent. June through September is THE BEST time to meet with your local legislators, while they are at home. Click HERE to find your State Representative, click HERE to find your State Senator. Or email us at info@FilmFlorida.org and we’ll help you find your State Legislators and tell you where they stand on our industry. We say it every year – if you wait until the first day of session to ask for meetings or send emails it’s too late.
Thank you again for your continued support over the last few months of the Legislative Session. We hope we can count on your support going forward, not just for legislative issues but for everything Film Florida does. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions.
President, Film Florida