TALLAHASSEE — Florida became the latest Republican-controlled state to pass new restrictions on abortion on Friday as Gov. Rick Scott signed 94 bills covering a wide range of topics.
House Bill 1047 bans abortions once a fetus is considered viable, which is typically at 23 weeks of gestation. The new law, which passed with a partisan vote in the Legislature, replaces Florida's existing ban on abortions starting in the third trimester, which is about two weeks after the new standard.
The shorter time frame for a legal abortion puts women's lives at greater risk if they're experiencing complications from pregnancies, said Dr. Sujatha Prabhakaran of Planned Parenthood.
"By signing this bill into law, Gov. Rick Scott is taking Florida two steps backwards," Prabhakaran said in a statement. "This law limits health exceptions and could risk women's health and lives."
Scott spokesman John Tupps wrote in a statement: "Governor Scott is pro-life and was glad to sign this bill that protects the lives of children."
It's likely the measure will have more symbolic than practical impact. According to state figures, 90 percent of all Florida abortions occur in the first trimester, and only 10 percent in the second trimester. It's not known how many are done at the very end of the second trimester — the period in question.
But any effort to limit abortion is bound to appeal to conservative voters. The new law is part of a wave of additional abortion restrictions in Republican-controlled states. On Thursday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law new rules including a requirement that doctors who perform abortions must be able to admit patients to a hospital within 30 miles of where the procedure is performed. Requiring abortion doctors to have nearby admitting privileges will close at least three of that state's five abortion clinics, say abortion-rights groups.
Last year, 22 Republican-controlled states adopted 70 different restrictions on abortion, and Texas followed suit earlier this year.
HB 1047 was by far the most controversial of the batch Scott signed Friday. Other noteworthy measures that will become law involve charities, electronic cigarettes, parasailing and nursing homes.
Pushed by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who oversees charitable solicitations in Florida, HB 629 bans charitable groups that have violated certain laws in other states from doing business here. Under the new law, paid telemarketers hired by charities will have to undergo background checks. Charities collecting more than $1 million a year, but spending less than 25 percent of the money on their stated cause, must make detailed reports to the state, including family relationships among board members.
Last year, the Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting published a series of stories called "America's Worst Charities" that exposed deceptive nonprofit organizations that raised money for private gain unrelated to their purported causes.
"Recent reports of fraud and deception among charities in Florida severely damaged our state's reputation of goodwill," Putnam said in a Friday statement. "This law will weed out the bad actors who are defrauding generous givers and thus bring integrity back to Florida's network of reputable charities."
With SB 224, Scott entered the debate over electronic cigarettes, siding with those who warn that the devices lead to tobacco addiction. Though advocates say the devices are safer than conventional cigarettes, critics say that doesn't mean they actually are harmless, particularly for the young. The new law bans the sales of "e-cigarettes" to minors, just as sales of other tobacco products to youths are restricted.
Scott also signed SB 320, which aims to better regulate the parasailing industry. Between 1982 and 2012, 73 people died and 431 were injured nationwide in parasailing accidents, including several in Pinellas County. The new law would require commercial parasail operators to have $1 million in liability insurance and be licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard to carry passengers.
"This law will hopefully prevent parasailing tragedies such as we've seen," said Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, a sponsor of the bill.
Scott signed two bills that make investing in nursing homes more attractive. Opposed by elder advocates and Tampa trial lawyer Jim Wilkes, SB 670 shields investors in Florida nursing homes from lawsuits when residents are abused or neglected, while making it harder for plaintiffs to collect punitive damages. HB 287 repeals a moratorium on adding nursing home beds put in place in 2001 to control Medicaid costs.
Other bills signed Friday include:
• SB 450 adds unsolicited text messages to the state's "Do Not Call" program barring sales calls to people who sign up for the program.
• HB 9 starts the annual legislative session in January in 2016, about two months earlier than its regular start date, allowing lawmakers to raise money earlier for reelection campaigns.
• HB 635 allows Clerks of Courts to audit backgrounds of court-appointed guardians.
• SB 542 aims to make it easier for private companies to sell flood insurance in the state as a way to curb rising premiums.
• SB 708 provides homeowners a one-page bill of rights when they file insurance claims, a measure pushed by Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater as a way to improve transparency for policyholders.
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at [email protected]