FRLA: COVID liability, alcohol takeout sales hot-button issues
As far as the restaurant and lodging industries are concerned, COVID liability protection and the legalization of restaurants selling alcohol to-go will be the top issues the Florida Legislature will undertake this session, said two Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association representatives.
On Feb. 24, they spoke at a “Hospitality Virtual Legislative Update 2021” in partnership with the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce and Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce.
“This will be a unique session like we have never experienced,” Richard Turner, senior vice president of government relations, said. “There are a lot of checkpoints we have to go through. It’s extraordinarily awkward to campaign on a lot of our issues. What we do is similar to playing chess on three boards at the same time — at the local, state and federal level.”
One of FRLA’s top legislative priorities is COVID liability protection, general counsel Samantha Padgett said. Legislation she expects to pass soon will require a physician affidavit for an individual to sue a company because of a COVID infection. The bill would also shorten the statute of limitations to one year on such suits.
“If a business made a good-faith effort to comply to standards and laws, it is immune from a suit,” Padgett added.
As an added source of income for restaurants during the pandemic, takeout sales and delivery of alcohol comes before the Florida Legislature, supported from the beginning by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“If this would have been done without the pandemic, there’s no way it would have passed,” said Padgett, who is confident it will pass now. “No states were allowing it before the pandemic, now 33 states are doing it in some fashion.”
Other state-level issues impacting the hospitality industry include Visit Florida funding, which looks to be supported beyond its previously set 2023 sunset date; state short-term rental legislation versus home rule; and restaurant rating. On the federal level, legislation concerning third-party restaurant delivery services, tax credits, minimum wage and COVID stimulus funds are most likely to impact restaurants and accommodations, the speakers said.
“These are important issues for our local businesses, and we thank the FRLA for bringing us up to date on how things stand in Tallahassee and beyond,” San-Cap chamber President John Lai said. “Here at the chamber, we have set our legislative priorities on water quality issues, and we continue to monitor activity where they are concerned. We will keep our members updated on our efforts in their behalf for clean water and the Everglades projects that support it.”