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Flagler County legislators aim to repeal vacation rental bill

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of October 24, 2013)

While Sen. Joe Negron has stayed silent on the vacation rental issue facing Vero Beach, and Rep. Debbie Mayfield responded by touting owners’ rights to do anything they want with their property, two legislators from Flagler County 175 miles up the road have taken up the issue on behalf of Florida’s neighborhoods.

Sen. John Thrasher of St. Augustine and Rep. Travis Hutson of Elkton, both Republicans, said they would file bills to repeal the 2011 law stripping local governments of their ability to regulate short-term rentals, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported.

The law allows the enforcement of whatever ordinances cities, counties and towns had on the books as of June 1, 2011, but prohibits elected boards like the Vero Beach City Council from strengthening those ordinances or passing new ones.

“This was passed ... when the economy was down and it sounded like the fair thing to do,” the News-Journal quoted Thrasher as having said at an Oct. 16 legislative delegation meeting in Flagler County.

“I’m going to give it a shot,” the article quoted Thrasher as saying. “I really think we made a mistake when we passed this law.”

The newspaper reported that Hutson, too, hopes to bring the two sides together in a compromise solution. Local governments, neighborhood associations and the Florida League of Cities are opposed to the law, while the Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association lobbied for it and big-dollar tourism interests including Disney and its vacation ventures seem to have pushed for it.

"The vacation rental issue is one that is very important to our members and could very well end up as one of our priorities,” said Casey Cook, liaison to the Florida League of Cities Urban Administration policy committee. "I hope to meet with (them) about their bills when the legislature comes back to Tallahassee next week."

The 2011 law’s champion, former Rep. Mike Horner of Kissimmee, is no longer in the legislature as the former president of the Kissimmee-Osceola County Chamber of Commerce resigned his House seat in September 2012 after his name was found in the client list of an Orlando brothel.

According to the paper, the legislators “cautioned that it might not pass.” It’s reasonable to expect that, with lobbying dollars being spent to defend the law, someone will emerge to oppose the repeal.

“I think it (current law) took the power out of the locals’ hands,” Thrasher reportedly said. “I’ll also file a repealer bill in the house. In the meantime, try to get together to work it out.”

Vero’s ordinance was ruled as too vague on Aug. 14 by the city’s Code Enforcement Board when Vice Mayor Tracy Carroll and her husband John challenged a $50 fine for renting out their Camelia Lane home by the week. The city council appealed that decision and the matter is currently in the hands of the 19th Judicial Circuit, with the first proceedings expected near the first of the year.

Thrasher and Hutson both represent the seaside community of Ocean Hammock in the city of Palm Coast, which is faces a vacation rental issue.

Neither Mayfield nor Negron responded to email requests for a comment as to whether they would co-sponsor or support the bills being proposed by Thrasher and Hutson.

The Indian River County Legislative Delegation meets each December to get input on issues the local community wishes its representatives to bring before the Florida legislature.