Thursday, December 14, 2017
Politics

New Florida laws take effect Tuesday

TALLAHASSEE — Florida's record-setting $77 billion election-year budget goes into effect today, along with 157 bills approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

The laws range from the "Florida GI Bill," which is intended to make Florida the most military-friendly state in the nation, to lowering college costs and banning the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors.

For the year, lawmakers sent 255 bills to Scott. Just one was vetoed: the measure that would have allowed the state Department of Transportation to raise some highway speed limits by 5 mph.

Budget

• HB 5001, the largest spending plan in state history, spreads around a hefty surplus, adding new money to public schools, state colleges and universities, environmental projects and child welfare while leaving room for about $500 million in tax and fee cuts that are already being used as a centerpiece for Scott's re-election campaign.

Military

• HB 7015, called the "Florida GI Bill," provides university tuition waivers for veterans, pays for military and guard base improvements, is expected to help increase employment opportunities for veterans and allocates $1 million a year to sell the state to veterans. The more than $30 million package requires Visit Florida to spend $1 million a year on marketing aimed at veterans and allocate another $300,000 to a new nonprofit corporation, Florida Is For Veterans Inc., which would be used to encourage veterans to move to Florida and promote the hiring of veterans.

Education

• SB 864 requires school districts to set up a process through which parents can contest the selection of certain textbooks and classroom materials.

• SB 1642, related to the new tests from American Institutes for Research set to begin in the 2014-15 school year, would simplify the formula for grading schools. It would also do away with the penalties schools could currently receive for the grades assigned in the 2014-15 school year — a plan meant to provide a transition year as schools adjust to the new standards and tests.

• HB 732 aims to reduce the cost of college by revamping the formula that determines how much families pay for the Florida Prepaid College Program.

• HB 851 allows students who attend secondary school in Florida for at least three years prior to graduation to qualify for in-state tuition, regardless of their immigration status. The law also rolls back the ability of state universities to increase tuition without the approval of the Legislature.

Health care

• SB 224 bans the sales of electronic cigarettes to minors, similar to bans on sales of cigarettes and other tobacco products.

•HB 5203 creates the Florida Consortium of National Cancer Institute Centers Program at the Department of Health to distribute about $60 million a year to cancer centers.

• HB 709 requires the Division of Emergency Management to develop a shelter program for people with Alzheimer's and other memory-related diseases.

• HB 1131 expands the availability of emergency allergy treatment — epinephrine auto-injectors, emergency medication — to more public places, such as restaurants, sports arenas, theme parks, youth sports leagues and camps.

• HB 1047 defines viability as the stage of development when the life of a fetus is sustainable outside the womb via standard medical measures. It would require physicians to conduct exams before performing abortions to determine if fetuses are viable, and if so, abortions generally wouldn't be allowed.

Guns

• SB 424 prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage or increase rates based on customers owning guns or ammunition.

• HB 523 allows tax collectors' offices to handle concealed-weapon license applications.

• HB 525 expands a public-records exemption that shields the identities of people who apply for and receive concealed-carry licenses from the state.

Charities and marketing

• HB 629 gives consumers more information about what charities are doing with their contributions — especially those that raise large amounts of money. The law bars groups that broke laws in other states from soliciting money in Florida, bans felons from raising money for charity, increases reporting requirements for larger charities and requires information from companies that solicit donations for charities by phone.

• SB 450 adds unsolicited text messages to the "Do Not Call" program designed to prevent Floridians from receiving unwanted calls from salespeople.

On the road

• HB 7175, a wide-ranging transportation measure, includes a one-year ban on local governments installing new parking meters and time-limit devices along the right-of-way of state roads. The law also authorizes a study to determine if the state can get revenue from such devices installed along state roads.

• HB 7005 adds sanitation vehicles and utility service vehicles to the requirements of the Move-Over Act; requires non-school buses to use "reasonable means" to not impede or block traffic when picking up or dropping off passengers; requires the words "Sexual Predator" be marked on the front of driver's licenses and identification cards of people designated as a sexual predator; and allows judges to order twice-daily breath tests instead of ignition interlock devices for repeat DUI offenders.

Law enforcement

• SB 102, the Aaron Cohen Act, increases penalties for drivers who leave the scenes of serious accidents. Cohen, a 36-year-old bicyclist, was killed in a 2012 hit-and-run accident on the Rickenbacker Causeway in Miami-Dade County.

• HB 227 allows James Joseph Richardson, 78, to finally receive a $1.2 million payment for the 21 years he wrongly served in prison after his seven children died of poisoning.

• HB 955 allows a person required to take a safety course due to a boating violation to do so online, and specifies that those who must take the course because they were convicted of operating a vessel after consuming alcohol under the age of 21 must take the course at their own expense.

Ethics

• SB 846 requires lobbyists at Florida's five water management districts to register and disclose their clients and elected municipal officials to take annual ethics training courses. It also allows the state ethics commission to open an investigation when an official fails to file financial disclosure reports.

Public record exemptions

Lawmakers provided shade over a number of areas. Among the items removed from public access: personal information of people involved in animal research (HB 993); information relating to security breaches when commercial entities provide notice to the Department of Legal Affairs (SB 1526); certain personal contact information contained in motor vehicle crash reports (HB 865); business information from promoters regarding post-match reports to the Florida State Boxing Commission (HB 775); and forensic behavioral health evaluations filed with the court confidentially (SB 256).

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