Movies and TV shows with gay characters could be ineligible for a "family-friendly" tax credit in Florida under a little-noticed provision tucked into a $75 million incentive package that Republican House leaders hope will attract film and entertainment jobs to the state.
The bill would prohibit productions with "nontraditional family values" from receiving a so-called family-friendly tax credit. But it doesn't define what "nontraditional family values" are, something the bill's sponsor had a hard time doing, too.
"Think of it as like Mayberry," state Rep. Stephen Precourt, R-Orlando, said, referring to The Andy Griffith Show. "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?"
But the head of a coalition of 80 groups that advocate for equal rights said Precourt's bill would "subsidize discrimination" and marginalize gay and single-parent families.
"Instituting 1950s-style movie censorship does nothing to support real-life families or help Florida's struggling economy," said Ted Howard, executive director for Florida Together.
Precourt, whose district includes Walt Disney World, said he was not targeting the gay community by including the term "nontraditional family values" in his bill. But when asked if shows with gay characters should get the tax credit, he said, "That would not be the kind of thing I'd say that we want to invest public dollars in."
The bill (HB 697) is a priority for the Republican House majority, whose leaders have identified tax cuts as the means for achieving their top goal of the 60-day legislative session: job creation.
It was approved unanimously on Wednesday in the first meeting this session of the House Economic Development Policy Committee. If it passes the House Finance and Tax Council, the bill would consume almost all of the $88 million that House Speaker Larry Cretul gave the council to spend on tax cuts this year.
State tax laws allow for a tax credit worth 2 percent of a movie's production costs if it is "family friendly." That is defined as a movie suitable for a 5-year-old: It has "cross-generational appeal" and includes "a responsible resolution of issues." Smoking, sex, nudity and profane language are prohibited, as are "obscene" productions as defined by the state's sex crime laws.
Precourt's proposal would boost the credit from 2 percent to 5 percent and expand the list of taboos to include any "exhibit or implied act" of nontraditional family values and gratuitous violence.
Florida Family Policy Council President John Stemberger said nontraditional family values could include anything from "drug abuse to excessive drunkenness to homosexual families."
"It's a good concept to encourage people to produce more quality family entertainment in the state," Stemberger said. "It's a good thing."
But gay rights advocates said major networks, including Disney-owned ABC, support many shows with gay characters.
"If they're not able to define what they intend by nontraditional family value, then it probably has no place in law," Equality Florida spokesman Brian Winfield said.
Several Republican leaders declined last week to define the term.
"Let me define it in the positive," said Gov. Charlie Crist, who wants lawmakers to approve a $55 million corporate income tax cut he has proposed. "A traditional family is a marriage between a man and a woman. That's traditional."
Attorney General Bill McCollum, a Republican candidate to replace Crist, said he didn't want to get into a "word game."
"You'll have to ask the bill sponsors," McCollum said. "They've got something in mind, I'm sure."
But that may not have been made clear to the committee members, including at least two co-sponsors, who voted for the bill last week.
During the meeting, Chairwoman Jennifer Carroll, R-Fleming Island, praised the bill for promoting "positive social aspects." But she said later she didn't know about the prohibition on family-friendly credits and the language should be changed.
"What someone could see as a traditional family value could be different for another person," Carroll said. "We'll have to delve into that."
Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington, voted for the bill but also said later he didn't know the "broad wording" was included and would try to change the language at its next committee stop.
"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."
Identical language is included in a draft of an omnibus "jobs bill" in the Senate, but that bill's sponsor said it was a placeholder.
"Don't assume that language will be in the Senate bill," said Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. "There's been zero discussion about that."
The state officials responsible for determining which family-friendly movies qualify for tax breaks also weren't looking for changes.
"We were fine with the language we had," said Florida Film Commissioner Lucia Fishburne, who with the state Film and Entertainment Advisory Council has awarded six productions a total of $165,111 in "family friendly" tax credits since the credits were created in 2007.
One movie has been turned down: the 2008 film Bait Shop with comedian Bill Engval, which Fishburne said included too much drinking to be considered appropriate for a 5-year-old.
"It's fairly subjective now," Fishburne said, pointing to the requirement for responsible issue resolution. "This would make it slipperier. I would need someone to give me direction on what these things mean."