Florida’s tax agency drawing fire from gun supporters

Author: Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – The state agency responsible for enforcing Florida’s tax laws is drawing ire from gun supporters as well as from some elected officials.

The Department of Revenue announced in March that fingerprinting services, including those done digitally, are subject to the state’s six-percent sales tax.

That has drawn the ire of gun advocates and gun show operators who use the services to help people obtain concealed weapons permits. Anyone seeking a permit must submit their fingerprints as part of a criminal background check. Florida currently has more than 1.5 million people with a concealed weapons license.

Renee Watters, a spokeswoman for the agency, said the law has been on the books since 1992 and that the agency just sent out a reminder about it.

“The department’s administration of this law has not changed,” Watters said in an email response.

But other state officials say this isn’t true.

They said that the agency has not been requiring those who offer fingerprinting services to collect and pay sales taxes. One state senator got a complaint from a gun show operator who estimated he would wind up paying as much as $100,000 a year due to the tax.

“I’m not sure how the department can say this tax has been on the books for over two decades and not be able to give me an answer as to what’s sparked an interest in enforcing it all of a sudden,” said State Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Republican from Trilby. “It’s ridiculous. The right to bear arms was not created so that government could use it as just another method for taxation.”

The department reports directly to Gov. Rick Scott and three state elected officials including Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. Putnam, whose office is responsible for running the state’s concealed weapons permit program, said he was unaware until recently the agency planned to tax fingerprinting services.

Scott and the Cabinet late last month appointed a new executive director at the Department of Revenue after Marshall Stranburg resigned to take a job in Washington, D.C. The department sent out the notice to vendors before Leon Biegalski started his new job.

“I am profoundly troubled that they made a policy decision of this magnitude without briefing the Cabinet and while their executive director had one foot out the door,” Putnam said in a statement. “Given the new leadership at the agency, this is an opportunity for DOR to practice openness, transparency and commonsense rather than move forward with imposing an additional tax on Floridians behind closed doors.”

Simpson said he would sponsor a bill during the 2017 session to repeal the law the department is citing to impose the tax.

This story has been corrected with the hometown of Sen. Wilton Simpson. A previous version used the location of his home office.

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