FILE - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

(The Center Square) – Gov. Ron DeSantis signed seven bills into law, resisting calls to veto a tax relief package that includes $543 million in corporate refunds and a controversial law imposing restrictions on citizen-initiated petition sponsors.

The measures are among 210 bills passed during the 2020 legislative session, which saw 3,517 bills introduced, and among the first DeSantis has signed since endorsing two bills before the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the transmittal of bills to his desk.

Among the seven bills signed Wednesday evening is legislation to:

• Fund the state’s tourist marketing agency for three years (Senate Bill 362);

• Allow Floridians to legally shoot fireworks (Senate Bill 140);

• Remove the lifetime maximum cap on Florida Healthy Kids program enrollees (Senate Bill 348);

• Exempt “structural elements of certain 911 emergency radio communications” from public disclosure laws (Senate Bill 1060);

• Retain Florida ABLE, a direct-support organization for the Florida Prepaid College Board (Senate Bill 828).

The tax package and petition restrictions were the two most notable bills signed into law.

TAX PACKAGE: When the House adopted House Bill 7097 on March 6, it offered $120.5 million in tax relief, $193 million in business tax cuts/credits and $543 million in one-time corporate tax refunds.

After the bill left the Senate on March 13, within hours of the session drawing to a close, tax relief was pared to $47.7 million and most of the tax credits were eliminated, but the $543 million in corporate tax refunds remained.

Democrats and advocacy groups lobbied DeSantis to veto the discretionary corporate income tax refunds, to be issued between April 15 and May 1.

According to HB 7097, the $543 million represents corporate income taxes the state “over-collected” after the adoption of the 2017 federal Tax Cuts & Jobs Act.

DeSantis said last week he would retain the tax refunds because lawmakers committed two years ago to issuing them by May 1 and “corporate taxpayers have anticipated these refunds and have likely made business decisions around them.”

“Folks, there are so many deep priority needs for our state when it comes to funding. Meanwhile, the governor is set to give away these checks to the biggest businesses in the state of Florida,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, who called for the refunds to be funneled into boosting the state’s unemployment benefit beyond $275 a week, among the nation’s lowest.

Tax relief retained in the bill includes a seven-day disaster preparedness tax holiday from May 29-June 4 and a three-day school shopping tax holiday from Aug. 7-9.

PETITION RESTRICTIONS: Senate Bill 1794 was opposed aggressively by critics who called it “Ballots for Billionaires.” Its last hearing included 61 speakers from 40 organizations who opposed it.

SB 1794 raises the threshold for a prospective ballot measure’s Supreme Court review from 10 percent of registered voters from one-third of the state’s 27 congressional districts to 25 percent in at least half (14) of the state’s congressional districts.

The new law requires sponsors to pay actual cost for validating signatures, between 42 cents and $1.05 each rather than the 10 cents they were being assessed; signatures to be re-validated Feb. 1 of even-numbered years rather than two years from the date signed; and to obtain signatures from at least 8 percent of voters in 18 congressional districts rather than 8 percent from 14 districts to qualify for the ballot.

A coalition of organizations, including the Florida League of Women Voters, sent a letter to DeSantis urging him to veto the bill.

“Constitutional amendments that pass do so with almost always a higher threshold than elected leaders,” the letter said. “Why should we want to limit a citizen’s ability to enact change? SB 1794 does exactly that.”