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Laws take effect today affecting everything from prayer to poker to pythons

As the clock struck 12:01 a.m. Thursday, gamblers grinned, kids frowned and the faithful said a prayer of thanks.

With a host of new state laws going into effect, children may be forced to eat healthier food. Horses may be a little safer. And blowing through a red light at an intersection in some cities will make the state's coffers a little healthier.

Those are just some of the repercussions of the 247 laws Florida legislators passed this session, along with the state's $70.2 billion budget.

Replacing the traditional end-of-year Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests with tests in individual categories for high school students is one measure that has been well publicized.

But did you know local casinos are probably packed with professionals from all over the world right now, because $100 limits for poker games have been raised to no limit? On the other end of the spectrum, teachers can now pray with students in group settings, provided it isn't during class time.

There's more: The state is helping fight child obesity by urging public schools to buy fresh local foods for students.

Also, a new measure will allow local governments to install those ubiquitous red-light cameras to bust drivers who illegally breeze through intersections. The law clears up an issue for local governments that had been using photo enforcement but faced legal challenges.

Violators will get a $158 fine in the mail from Tallahassee. The proceeds will be split between the state and the municipality where the offense occurred. Previously, the company that operated the camera received a cut of the penalty.

State Rep. Julio Robaina, R-South Miami, said it's not unusual to see lots of laws sponsored during big elections years like 2010.

"That's why they say during the 60 days the legislature is in session, nothing is safe in Florida," he said.

Gamblers are rejoicing that in a deal the state made with the Indian tribes, Florida's 23 other poker facilities can lift their $100 buy-in limit, to no limit at all.

What used to be a friendly game of cards — if it's possible to consider someone's attempt to take all your money friendly — is about to become all-out war. Gary Bitner, a spokesman for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, said there's been quite a bit of chatter among players, locally and out of state.

"People are asking if we can hold cash for them," Bitner said of gamblers not wishing to carry around large wads of money. The casino hasn't decided yet.

Another law that most people probably aren't familiar with comes out of the better-known FCAT measure: the Justice Sandra Day O'Connor Civics Education Act, which requires public middle schools to teach and test civics, a pet topic of O'Connor's that she has pushed since leaving the Supreme Court in 2006.

Religion, always a controversial issue, took a front seat this session. Lawmakers who disagreed with a Santa Rosa County case in which teachers were banned from participating in prayer at school events passed the school prayer bill, which says school boards can't do anything that violates the First Amendment rights of teachers or students.

And, taking a cue from the snake-hunting free-for-all in the Everglades, lawmakers chose to make it illegal for a person to own a Burmese python and six other large exotic reptiles.

Then there's the Ivonne Rodriguez and Victoria McCullough Horse Protection Act, which says if someone selling horse meat did not acquire it from a licensed slaughterhouse, he can be charged with a third-degree felony punishable by a $3,500 fine and a year in jail.

As far as anyone knows, there are no licensed horse slaughterhouses in Florida.

"Nope, there's nothing like that in Florida," said Robaina. The law had to be crafted that way to make it enforceable, he said.

Miami Herald staff writers Marc Caputo and Kelly House contributed to this report.

Laws take effect today affecting everything from prayer to poker to pythons 06/30/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 30, 2010 11:44pm]
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