Government Affairs & Lobbying Update: COVID-19

Our state and federal lobbying teams continue to closely monitor developments associated with the COVID-19 outbreak. Please reach out to us with any questions regarding the information presented below. 

STATE UPDATES

Executive Orders
This past week, Gov. DeSantis issued three executive orders related to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The first order, issued April 6, directs the Florida Department of Revenue to suspend document stamp taxes for loans issued under the Paycheck Protection Program, a program included in the federal coronavirus relief package and aimed at providing businesses with forgivable loans to cover payroll and other expenses. Without the order, the PPP would have been taxed at 35 cents per $100 of principal, or 0.35%, with a maximum charge of $2,450.

The second, issued April 8, delayed Pasco County municipal elections scheduled for April 14 “in order to ensure maximum citizen participation in the electoral process and provide a safe and orderly procedure for persons seeking to exercise their right to vote.” The elections were to be held in San Antonio, Dade City and Zephyrhills. The order was issued at the request of the Pasco elections supervisor. A future date was not set in the order.

The third, issued on April 10, extends the Governor's previously issued Order 20-87, pertaining to vacation rental closures. Order 20-87 directed all parties engaged in the renting of vacation rental properties, as defined in section 509.242(1)(c), Florida Statutes, to suspend vacation rental operations through April 10. The Order issued on Friday, April 10, extended the deadline through April 30. 

Also this week, Florida Supervisors of Elections President Tammy Jones sent a letter to DeSantis and Secretary of State Laurel Lee requesting an executive order to allow county elections supervisors to designate additional early voting sites; allow up to 22 days of early voting; suspend the law requiring at least one polling location per precinct; and give supervisors three days, instead of two, to send voter-requested mail ballots.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) announced on Friday that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) approved the State of Florida’s action plan for the $633 million in first-of-its-kind federal funding for disaster mitigation. DEO will be launching new Rebuild Florida mitigation programs over the next few months. The funds are allocated through HUD’s newly created Community Development Block Grant – Mitigation program that was formed in response to the 2016/2017 presidentially declared disasters.

Judicial
On April 6, Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady extended his prior emergency order suspending jury trials and speedy trial rules. The order also authorizes telepresence to satisfy most witness and notary requirements, such as putting a witness under oath or swearing in new attorneys to The Florida Bar.

Courts may still hold “essential proceedings,” which include first appearances, arraignments and bail hearings. County and circuit courts are also compelled to perform proceedings in cases directly related to the pandemic, such as violations of curfew or stay-at-home orders.

Additionally, Canady’s order states that only proceedings critical to the state of emergency or the public health emergency be held in person. The order expires on May 29, though it may be extended.

Legislative
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed seven bills into law this week, including the tax cut package and reauthorization for VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing agency.

The tax cut package was trimmed down significantly in the final days of the 2020 Legislative Session as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, but it still includes back-to-school and disaster preparedness sales tax holidays. The latter could be especially important as weather experts predict an active 2020 hurricane season that could compound the impacts of COVID-19.

The VISIT FLORIDA bill extends the agency's authorization through Oct. 2023. The agency was set to expire this year before the pandemic convinced lawmakers to renew it to help the state bounce back from the loss of tourism revenues. The tourism and hospitality industries have been particularly hard hit, with theme parks, bars and restaurant dining rooms forced to close to slow the spread of the virus.

FEDERAL UPDATES

Tax
The Internal Revenue Service has expanded its tax filing deadline extension to include other taxable entities. The extension now applies to individuals, trusts, estates, corporations and other non-corporate tax filers. Additionally, second quarter estimated tax payments are now due July 15 rather than June 15 and taxpayers have been given an extra 90 days to claim refunds from the 2016 tax year. Separately, the service has launched a web site for Americans who normally don’t file tax returns to register for the economic impact payments included in the CARES Act. The IRS will begin to distribute those payments electronically next week, and announced that a “Get My Payment” web tool should available next Thursday to allow everyone to check the status of their payments.

Finance
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin authorized programs aimed at getting loans to businesses and municipal governments. The department will use $75 billion in CARES Act funding to make an equity investment in the Main Street Business Lending Program, which will enable up to $600 billion in new financing for businesses with fewer than 10,000 employees. An additional $35 billion will be sent to the Municipal Liquidity Facility to provide additional financing to states, counties, and cities.

The Federal Reserve System will use those Treasury backstops to guarantee up to $2.3 trillion in loans to support the economy. Federal Reserve Banks will provide funding for financial institutions to make loans under the $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses, and the federal banking agencies issued an interim final rule this week to encourage that lending. The Federal Reserve Board announced that it will fund up to $600 billion in loans through the Main Street Lending Program. It expanded the size and scope of its Primary and Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facilities (PMCCF and SMCCF) as well as the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF), to support a total of $850 billion in credit with an $85 billion Treasury backstop.

To help state and local governments manage cash flow strains, the Federal Reserve created a Municipal Liquidity Facility to offer up to $500 billion in loans to states and municipalities, with the $35 billion Treasury guarantee.

Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell said this week that the Fed will continue to use its powers “forcefully, proactively, and aggressively” until they are confident that the nation is solidly on the road to recovery.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has extended the deadline for farmers to repay Marketing Assistance Loans crop years 2018, 2019 and 2020 as part of the CARES Act. The loans now mature at 12 months rather than nine. The USDA said the extension is available for most commodities.

Also, last weekend, the Small Business Administration issued guidance on the Paycheck Protection Program clarifying that faith-based organizations are not excluded from receiving PPP funds, so long as they meet all other eligibility requirements.

Health Care
On Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services said it had started delivering $30 billion in CARES Act relief funding to health care providers. The funds are intended to offset revenue lost from the testing and care of coronavirus patients. A total of $100 billion in funding is available.

Earlier in the week, HHS issued guidance authorizing pharmacists to administer COVID-19 tests under the federal Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act. The department also announced it had entered into ventilator production contracts with Philips and General Motors. The contracts, invoked by the Defense Production Act, call for the companies to manufacture a combined 8,632 ventilators.

Housing
On Thursday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced it was suspending rent payments for individuals living in FEMA-sponsored temporary housing in four states, including Florida. Rent collections will resume July 1.

Testing
FEMA also announced it was giving states the option to assume control of federal COVID-19 testing sites. Gov. DeSantis has announced the state will take control of three federal testing sites: TIAA Bank Field site in Jacksonville, the Orange County Convention Center, and Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. The Governor said the transition will allow the state to provide more tests and alter testing criteria so more people can qualify.

Travel
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) extended its order prohibiting cruise ships from operating in U.S. waters by 100 days. The order blocks cruise ship passengers and crew from disembarking at U.S. ports without the express permission of the U.S. Coast Guard and coordination with state and local authorities.

WE ARE GRATEFUL FOR YOU

This week, we are GRateful for our client Allergan, who's Foundation has awarded approximately $13 million in charitable grants in 2020 as part of its commitment to providing a lasting and positive impact in the communities in which they live and work. The donations include a total of $2 million dedicated to more than 70 organizations responding to the local impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

COVID-19 Task Force

GrayRobinson launched a COVID-19 Task Force aimed at helping businesses and local governments address evolving legal and regulatory challenges and emerge stronger from the pandemic.

Keep up with our Task Force updates here