State Capital briefs, Feb. 5

As Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders look to cut $500 million in taxes and fees this year, a Senate panel Tuesday approved a plan that would trim taxes on communications services. Major business groups and communications companies support the bill (SB 266), which is sponsored by Senate Finance and Tax Chairwoman Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, and was approved Tuesday by the Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee.

Brewster Bevis, a lobbyist for Associated Industries of Florida, said the bill would reduce taxes for consumers and businesses on such things as phone and cable services.

The bill would reduce a general tax rate from 6.65 percent to 4.65 percent. Analysts estimated it would reduce state general revenue by $90.8 million during the upcoming 2014-15 fiscal year, with the cuts taking effect mid-year.

Amber Hughes, a lobbyist for the Florida League of Cities, said her organization has concerns about the bill because it would reduce state revenue sharing to cities and counties. Those revenues would be reduced about $11 million during 2014-15 and would later total about $31 million annually, when the cuts are in effect for the full year.

State regulators Tuesday approved a proposal that will give Florida Power & Light more flexibility in negotiating electricity rates with some large commercial and industrial customers, saying the move will help with economic development.

The Florida Public Service Commission said it had earlier approved similar plans for Gulf Power Co., Tampa Electric Co. and Duke Energy Florida.

“New and existing industrial investment is critical for Florida’s economic development, and all FPL customers benefit when a large-volume customer joins or stays on a utility’s system,” Public Service Commission Chairman Art Graham said in a prepared statement.

The plan will require companies to meet certain criteria, including showing that they could find lower-cost electric service elsewhere. A commission staff recommendation said an example of the type of customer that could qualify for negotiated discounts would be a large data center.

A Senate committee Tuesday approved a bill that could help crack down on broader types of computer hacking and also target people who might try to gain access to utility computer networks.

The Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee unanimously approved the proposal (SB 364), which sponsor Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said is needed to modernize the state’s computer-hacking laws.

–source: The News Service of Florida

As an example, it would add to a list of offenses unauthorized audio and video surveillance through computers or other types of electronic devices. Also, it would add language to state law aimed at preventing hackers from tampering with public-utility computer systems or gaining access to them.