A state Senate committee has significantly altered a bill that would have weakened local government regulation of vacation rentals, apparently clearing the way for Florida cities to maintain their local control.
But Anna Maria Island residents aren’t celebrating until the state Legislative session is over.
“We feel that it’s a good thing in a way because it still leaves us our ordinance, our ability to manage the properties, but we just don’t know what’s going to happen,” Anna Maria resident Ruth Uecker said. “That’s what we are being cautious about.”
Uecker and others on Anna Maria Island have been closely watching proposed legislation with respect to vacation rentals that opponents say threatens home rule. But the most recent version of the bill has largely deviated from the original bill filed by Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota.
Essentially, the amendment by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-Pinellas, would allow cities to keep their existing regulations intact. But it adds provisions that if they want to be less restrictive, they can be, and if the vacation rental is owned by an active-duty service member or disabled veteran, the local regulatory burdens would be reduced.
But a companion bill in the Florida House is still making its way through committees, and wording in that bill does not appear to have any substantial changes.
“I’m not sure how they reconcile with what’s going on in the House,” Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson said Wednesday.
Sixty percent of the residences in the city of Anna Maria are vacation rentals, according to Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy.
“I’m pleased with the current (Senate) amendment because it gives us back our home rule,” Murphy said Wednesday. “I’m obviously pleased because it gives us ability to regulate.”
In Anna Maria, there is a Vacation Rental Ordinance, which “provides a general framework for the regulation of vacation rentals in the City of Anna Maria,” according to a city resolution.
Under the original version of Steube’s bill, Anna Maria would have lost that ability to locally regulate, Murphy said.
“If this bill had passed, we wouldn’t have been able to regulate that occupancy and we wouldn’t have a registration process,” he said.
But in Holmes Beach, Johnson stressed that “it ain’t over until the lady sings.”
“It may appear to be great for us,” Johnson said. “There’s just still several weeks to go here and who knows what will happen in that process and period of time. I’m hoping it’s a turn for the better for local government. If it stays that way, it’s certainly a lot better than what was proposed.”
For Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon, it is important for the cities to maintain home rule.
“That’s key and that’s not just for rentals, that’s for everything,” he said.
The city has been working on having some regulations to maintain the quality of life that has been threatened by the so-called “party houses,” Shearon said.
“We are trying to come up with ways to restrict that activity,” he said.
Claire Aronson: 941-745-7024, @Claire_Aronson