TALLAHASSEE -- An attempt to curb drivers from texting while driving goes into effect Tuesday, along with laws that put limits on funeral protests, late-night massages and the use of tax dollars at strip joints and liquor stores.
Also, a new law creates another specialty license plate, this one the 121st offered by the state for the Freemasons.
While the majority of the nearly 200 bills approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott this spring hit the books July 1, another round of new laws goes into effect Oct. 1.
The new laws include measures that increase penalties on those who recruit minors into gangs (HB 407) and distribute harmful material to minors at school (HB 113), as well as measures that give people the chance to speak at government meetings (SB 50) and provide protections against the theft of plastic pallets used to transport agriculture (HB 1393).
The new law getting the most attention is the long-sought texting-while-driving ban (SB 52).
The law makes texting while driving a secondary offense, which means drivers may only be ticketed if they are pulled over for other infractions. Also, the measure provides exemptions for the use of GPS devices, talk-to-text technology and for reporting criminal behavior. It also allows texting while stopped, such as at red lights.
While the measure has faced criticism for being too weak, lawmakers and the Florida Highway Patrol say the important thing is to simply have such a rule on the books.
Over half of all teens self report they have used a cellphone while driving, FHP spokesman Lt. Jeff Frost said. Eleven percent of fatal crashes, where the driver was under 20, were the result of distracted driving.
FHP has been conducting educational outreach at high schools across the state about the new law. The aim is to reduce the use of cellphones and other electronic devices while driving, as one in five of those distracted teens involved in fatal crashes were using cellphones or texting, Frost said.
For lawmakers, the law, which was more than five years in the making, is just the first step to reduce texting while driving.
Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, is expected to announce Tuesday that she will file a bill for the 2014 session that seeks to strengthen the texting-while-driving ban.
The texting law isnt the only one coming into practice with some buzz.
A couple of vice-tied measures go into place Tuesday.
A new law (HB 701) prohibits state-issued Electronic Benefits Transfer EBT Cards, formerly known as food stamps, from being used at strip clubs, liquor stores and gambling establishments.
During the 2013 session, several Democrats called the Republican-backed proposal political posturing, noting that the state Department of Children & Families already had the ability to shut off state EBT cards from being used at such facilities.
Another new law (HB 7005) is the latest effort to crack down on human trafficking by targeting shady massage businesses that are fronts for prostitution.
The law prevents the operations of massage establishments between midnight and 5 a.m. and in most cases prohibits people from living in the businesses. The law has exceptions for businesses such as health spas and hotels that offer massage services.
Also, the never-popular field of funeral protesting will now have some state backed guidelines.