LEGISLATURE 2014

New laws in Florida cut cost of vehicle tags, aid veterans

 

A new state budget and more than 150 bills, including a ban on e-cigarette sales to minors, take effect Tuesday.

News Service of Florida

On Tuesday, Florida’s record-setting, $77 billion election-year budget goes into effect, along with 157 other 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.

Also, starting July 1, private information about people involved with animal research at public facilities will no longer be public, insurance companies will be prohibited from denying coverage or increasing rates based on a customer’s gun ownership, and the state’s unpaid poet laureate position will no longer be a lifetime appointment.

A measure to reduce the cost of motor vehicle registration fees goes into effect Sept. 1, while 34 other bills — including one that creates new penalties for those who harm an unborn child at any stage of development — will become law Oct. 1.

For the year, lawmakers sent 255 bills to Scott, who vetoed just one: A measure that would have allowed the Florida Department of Transportation to raise the speed limits on some highways by 5 mph.

Here are highlights of the laws taking effect July 1:

THE BUDGET

The spending plan, the largest 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 reelection campaign.

MILITARY

• The “Florida GI Bill” provides university tuition waivers for veterans, pays for military and National 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 allocates an additional $300,000 to a new nonprofit corporation, Florida Is for Veterans Inc., that would be used to encourage veterans to move to Florida and promote the hiring of veterans.

• Another bill redesigns 11 military-related specialty license plates and adds a new tag — the Combat Medical Badge plate — to the inventory. The law also changes all references of the Korean Conflict to the Korean War and the Vietnam Era to the Vietnam War.

EDUCATION

• School districts will be required to establish a process through which parents can contest the selection of certain textbooks and classroom materials.

• New grading standards related to tests from American Institutes for Research will be instituted in the 2014-15 school year. The plan, modeled on a blueprint developed by Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, would simplify the formula for grading schools. It would also do away with the penalties schools could face 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.

• Reducing the cost of college by revamping the formula that determines how much families pay for the Florida Prepaid College Program.

• Students who attend secondary school in Florida for at least three years prior to graduation will 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.

• Creation of a pilot program that would lead to some public elementary school students being separated into single-sex classes.

HEALTHCARE

• A ban on the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors, similar to the ban on the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products.

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

• The Division of Emergency Management will be required to develop a shelter program for people with Alzheimer’s and other memory-related diseases.

• Expanding the availability of emergency allergy treatments — epinephrine auto-injectors, emergency medications — to more public places, such as restaurants, sports arenas, theme parks, youth sports leagues and camps.

• Defining 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 whether fetuses are viable, and if they are, abortions generally would not be allowed.

GUNS

• Insurance companies are prohibited from denying coverage or increasing rates based on customers’ ownership of guns or ammunition.

• Tax collectors’ offices are allowed to handle concealed-weapon license applications.

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

CHARITIES AND MARKETING

• Consumers will get 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.

• Unsolicited text messages are added to the “Do Not Call” program designed to prevent Floridians from receiving unwanted sales calls.

ON THE ROAD

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

• Sanitation vehicles and utility service vehicles are added 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 driver licenses and identification cards of people designated as sexual predators; and allows judges to order twice-daily breath tests instead of ignition interlock devices for repeat DUI offenders.

FOOD SAFETY

• A wide-ranging measure further outlines the duties of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, specifies that food permits are not transferable to a different location or owner, and authorizes the state agency to close a food facility if the department finds it poses an immediate danger or threat to public health.

CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTIONS

• A framework is created for how Florida would select delegates to an Article V Constitutional Convention.

LAW ENFORCEMENT

• Notification of the county sheriff is required when a sexual offender is released from the Civil Commitment Center; and colleges and universities are required to notify students when a sexual predator is on campus. Two related bills take effect Oct. 1, increasing sentences for adult-on-minor sex offenses and registration requirements for sex offenders.

• 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 to Key Biscayne.

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

• A person required to take a safety course due to a boating violation may do so online. The law 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.

JUVENILE JUSTICE

• A bill intended to help foster children get driver’s licenses and auto insurance requires the Department of Children & Families to contract with a nonprofit organization that will set up a three-year statewide pilot program to help such children take driver’s education courses and get licenses and insurance.

• Criminal penalties are introduced for abusing or neglecting teens of all ages in the Department of Juvenile Justice’s custody and requires DJJ to provide the Legislature with annual reports on the outcomes for all of its programs.

HUMAN TRAFFICKING

• The Department of Children & Families is directed to inspect and certify “safe houses,” where human-trafficking victims can find shelter and services, and establish services in parts of the state where none exist. Another measure, which increases criminal penalties when children are victims of trafficking, takes effect Oct. 1.

• A new law creates guidelines for suspending licenses or denying applications and sets up background screening for people involved with massage establishments.

ETHICS

• Lobbyists at Florida’s five water management districts will be required to register and disclose their clients, and elected municipal officials must take annual ethics-training courses. The law also allows the state ethics commission to open an investigation when an official fails to file financial-disclosure reports.

SPORTS

• Major League Soccer all-star games gain an admissions-tax exemption that already applies to events such as all-star games hosted by Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and the National Football League.

• A wide-ranging measure amends regulations regarding boxing, kickboxing and mixed martial arts. For example, a participant would have his or her license immediately suspended for failing a urine test or failing to provide a sample.

PUBLIC RECORDS EXEMPTIONS

Lawmakers provided shade over a number of areas. Among the items removed from public access:

• Personal information of people involved in animal research.

• Information relating to security breaches when commercial entities provide notice to the Department of Legal Affairs.

• Certain personal contact information contained in motor vehicle crash reports.

• Business information from promoters regarding post-match reports to the Florida State Boxing Commission.

• Forensic behavioral health evaluations filed with the court confidentially.

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