TALLAHASSEE -- A trio of constitutionally questionable measures and legislation designed to crack down on no-fault auto insurance fraud are among about 150 new Florida laws going into effect Sunday.
A law that bans state and local governments from hiring companies that do business in Cuba and Syria already has been challenged in court and a federal judge has at least temporarily put it on hold.
Gov. Rick Scott’s administration earlier announced it would not put into effect a second new law allowing random drug testing of state employees until a legal challenge to a similar executive order issued by Scott is resolved.
Another statute that permits inspirational messages, including prayers, in public schools has drawn threats of lawsuits. Legal action, however, may not be necessary to negate the law because it gives local school boards the option of implementing it.
"Nobody’s going to do it," said Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association. "We are telling them it will be costly and not worth the effort."
Some of the other laws with July 1 effective dates would enlarge Scott’s power over state rule making, restore tax credits for renewable energy and expand online learning for elementary school students.
There are also tax breaks for businesses and new laws that increase penalties for human trafficking and video voyeurism. Another law will require student-athletes who suffer head injuries to be pulled from competition until cleared by doctors. The state’s new $69.9 billion budget also goes into effect.
The changes to auto insurance affect the state’s personal injury protection — or PIP — coverage. Since 1972, Florida motorists have been required to buy such coverage to make sure anyone injured in a crash gets money to treat their injuries without delay. A driver’s insurance company is required to pay up to $10,000 for medical bills and lost wages no matter who is at fault.
Bogus claims and faked accidents, though, are largely responsible for a $1.4 billion increase in PIP costs since 2008, state officials say.
The new law puts a 14-day limit on seeking treatment after a crash. Benefits also are capped at $2,500 unless a doctor, osteopathic physician, dentist or a supervised physician’s assistant or advanced registered nurse practitioner determines there’s an "emergency medical condition." Chiropractors cannot make that determination.
After the inspirational messages law was adopted, local school districts were warned by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida that adopting policies permitting student-led inspirational messages would "very likely lead to prolonged litigation." Any district that adopted the measure could be on the hook for hundreds of thousands in legal fees.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State also is prepared to take legal action, said Alex Luchenitser, the group’s associate legal director. The law doesn’t use the word "prayer" but it still invites government-controlled prayer, Luchenitser said.
"I don’t think it’s going to happen," said the ACLU’s Florida executive director, Howard Simon. "For all of the efforts of our Legislature to try to entice school officials into joining their religious crusade, school officials are smarter than legislators."
The law’s sponsors, though, remain confident it will be implemented. Rep. Charles Van Zant, a Keystone Heights Republican who carried the bill in the House, said some school officials have told him they’ll push for allowing inspirational messages but he declined to identify them.