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Brandes, Florida legislators back crypto bill

Mark Parker

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Florida lawmakers have reintroduced legislation to set up a regulatory framework for cryptocurrency. The original bill was sponsored by St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes. Photo: wusfnews.wusf.usf.edu.

Fueled by efforts out of Miami and the Tampa Bay area, Florida is quickly becoming a destination for the blockchain and financial technology industries; however, state legislation relating to cryptocurrency is still in its infancy.

While much of the recent attention on the state legislature has focused on the anti-vaccination bills emerging out of the Special Session, Republican lawmakers have also filed legislation to establish a regulatory framework for cryptocurrency in Florida. St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes filed a nearly identical bill earlier this year, which unanimously passed through the House before ultimately dying in the Senate.

Sen. Jason Brodeur took up Brandes’ cause for this session’s Senate bill (SB 486), and Rep. Vance Alouopis will once again sponsor the House version. Brandes told the Catalyst the legislation essentially starts with the basics and seeks to establish fundamental definitions to help create a clear path for further rules and regulations.

“People in the legislature have a hard time understanding cryptocurrency,” said Brandes. “So, we’re trying to get them to at least establish basic definitions.

“Cryptocurrency already exists in Florida. We already use it; we already invest in it; people already do transactions based on it. We’re just trying to define what cryptocurrency is, so as we make laws going forward, we have common definitions.”

Much of the confusion in the state legislature emanates from a 2019 ruling in Florida v. Espinoza in which the court disregarded guidance from the Office of Financial Regulation and found that individuals holding bitcoin cannot sell their personal cryptocurrency without a license. In essence, this would treat private owners like brokers.

That ruling was based on an interpretation of what defines a “money transmitter.” The new legislation would narrow the definition to “an intermediary that has the ability to unilaterally execute or indefinitely prevent a transaction.” That would include platforms such as Coinbase that enable cryptocurrency transactions while excluding private individuals from licensing requirements.

Brandes also believes that licensing requirements should only extend to institutions, and noted how the court’s ruling did little to stop people from selling their bitcoin.

“I can guarantee you that most Floridians selling bitcoin are selling it without a license,” stated Brandes. “And most of them are never prosecuted.”

Brandes declined to give his personal opinion on cryptocurrency, instead saying that “whether I think it’s good or not, it’s there. It’s going to change the world.”

The senator adds that people obviously see crypto as an investment or hedge against inflation, and as long as people believe something has value and it is easily transferable, then it is a viable form of currency.

Brandes is far from the only local elected official who believes in the power and utility of blockchain and cryptocurrency. Earlier in November, at the Florida Bitcoin & Blockchain Summit, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor joined Miami Mayor Francis Suarez in announcing she will accept some of her salary in bitcoin.

Not long after Castor’s announcement, Tampa City Councilman Guido Maniscalco took the stage and also expressed the need for legislators to recognize the new currency and embrace the future economy.

“We hear about bitcoin is the future, crypto is the future, I heard that 10 years ago,” said Maniscalco at the summit. “The future is now; the future is here. This is the way the world is going.”

Brandes said crypto and blockchain will help propel both the local and the world economy. He added there is a reshaping of the financial world occurring, and Florida is an ecosystem in which large financial firms want to thrive. He credits the tax environment and quality of life for attracting leaders in the fintech industry to the area and believes establishing a framework for cryptocurrency is integral for keeping the momentum.

“That’s why we’re doing it,” said Brandes. “To acknowledge and to help drive the conversation and encourage businesses to redomicile here. The definitions and getting the basics right help because then they know what the rules are.”

Brandes explained Brodeur’s bill is not much different from the one he filed in January, and said the only reason his legislation never made it out of the Senate was due to political posturing.

“I got sideways with leadership last year, and most of my legislation fell away,” he said. “They tend to like compliance, and when somebody stands up and has a different perspective on it and is willing to call them out on it, they get upset.”

Brandes expects the legislature to vote on SB 486 in early December or at the beginning of the new year. He also envisions further legislation regarding blockchain and crypto emerging in the coming years, “but for right now, we need to establish the baseline definition that we’re all going to use going forward.”

The new bill’s sponsor believes it is time for the state to catch up and establish itself as a leader in the space.

“States like Wyoming and Delaware have already taken the initiative and codified how this type of currency can be used,” said Brodeur in a statement announcing the filing. “Now it’s time for Florida to step up and join the 21st Century.”

 

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