Florida tax policy and “family friendly” filming

HB 697 is a new bill being considered by the Florida legislature, which includes a $75 million incentive package designed to lure entertainment companies to produce movies and television shows in the Sunshine State. The bill greatly increases the tax savings if you film in the state.

Unless your definition of entertainment includes gay characters or other topics that aren’t “family friendly” according to the bill’s Republican proponents.

The state’s current tax code allows for a 2% tax break, but this bill would increase that to 5%. On a big budget television or movie production, that could mean serious savings to the producers… But to qualify, the production will have to meet a blurry definition of “family friendly” which even the bill’s sponsors cannot define.

The bill’s provision blocking productions with “nontraditional family values” from receiving the credit is what’s driving the growing controversy on the subject. The sponsor of the bill himself, state Rep. Stephen Precourt (R-Orlando) had this to say, when asked how to define “nontraditional family values” for purposes of this tax credit:

“Think of it as like Mayberry. … That’s when I grew up — the ’60s. That’s what life was like. I want Florida to be known for making those kinds of movies: Disney movies for kids and all that stuff. Like it used to be, you know?”

That the tax credit is limited to movies which are “family friendly” is nothing new… The current tax law defines movies and television shows as “family friendly” if they are appropriate for audience members as young as 5 years old. More specifically, the show should have “cross-generational appeal” and include “a responsible resolution of issues.”

There are certain “hot button” items that must be avoided, such as smoking, nudity or sex, profane language, and so on. Also on the chopping block are productions that meet the definition of “obscene” according to the state’s sex crime laws.

Of course, nothing in the language of the bill specifically targets gay people, but when asked if shows or movies with gay characters would be eligible for the credit, he said, “That would not be the kind of thing I’d say that we want to invest public dollars in.”

Republican Governor Bill Crist added, “Let me define it in the positive. … A traditional family is a marriage between a man and a woman. That’s traditional.” I think the governor’s message is pretty clear, don’t you?

Rep. Joseph Abruzzo (D-Wellington) has an interesting approach in mind for skipping the controversy and avoiding the “broad wording” in the bill. At the bill’s next committee stop, he recommends changing the language to be less ambiguous. “To avoid a social argument, I think we can truly simplify that by simply saying a G-rated production,” Abruzzo said. “That would be family friendly and good for all ages.”

What do you think? Should controversial subjects like human sexuality and “non-traditional families” (such as the gay couple with an adopted daughter in ABC’s Modern Family) exclude a production from being considered “family friendly” and thus make it ineligible for tax credits from the state government? Where do we draw the line? Reply below!

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