New laws: The good, lousy, the overdue

On the day he announced many of the new laws, Florida Gov. Rick Scott attended the Republican presidential debate in Miami.
On the day he announced many of the new laws, Florida Gov. Rick Scott attended the Republican presidential debate in Miami. AP

With Florida’s legislative session over, the bills that made it out alive are making it to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.

The governor has signed more than 40 bills so far, transforming them into law. In the mixed bag are some that will please, anger or make Floridians scratch their heads.

Among the most controversial is the Pastor Protection Act. It gives churches and clergy immunity from litigation if they refuse to perform a marriage. Not surprisingly, the measure was pushed by religious groups in the wake of same-sex marriage being legalized statewide. Another governor might have said: The law is the law, leave it alone. Gov. Scott did not.

Some are practical common-sense laws. One will give a new name to an increasingly popular voting tool. Gov. Scott signed into law legislation that will replace the well-known term “absentee ballot” with “vote-by-mail ballot.” OK.

Another law that will have an impact on local governments: increased oversight and accountability on money-generating special districts. In Miami-Dade, the use of special-district funds has been questioned recently.

A health-conscious law will allow SNAP money, state assistance given to low-income residents, to be used to buy fresh food. Good move.

Floridians unable to perform jury duty for physical reasons can be permanently excluded upon request. This makes sense as long as it doesn’t give reluctant potential jurors a life-long pass because they stubbed their toe.

And now it’s a felony to remove or tamper with an electronic monitoring device required by a court order. That wasn’t already a law?

A Good Samaritan law gives civil immunity to rescuers who enter a locked vehicle to save vulnerable individuals or animals. In other words, if one sees a child or an animal trapped in a hot car and smashes a window to save them, the hero can’t be charged or sued, according to the state. Not bad.

A veteran’s complaint that he was denied free parking at Tampa International Airport triggered a new law granting free parking at all state public airports to vehicles with a Disabled Veterans or a Paralyzed Veterans of America designation. That’s only fair.

Other new laws will:

▪  Subject professional guardians of the elderly to greater regulation. Good law. Too many seniors have been left to the devices of unscrupulous caretakers.

▪  Allow minors to have their criminal records sealed sooner. This law is part of a larger effort to overhaul the juvenile-justice system and decriminalize many adolescent offenses.

▪  Prohibit the State Board of Administration from investing in companies that boycott Israel. Another good measure.

And showing social sensibility, a new Florida law allows the statue of Edmund Kirby Smith, a Confederate general, to be replaced in Washington, D.C. The statue has been on display in the U.S. Capitol Building since 1922, one of two figures that represent Florida in National Statuary Hall, a regular stop for tours. Lawmakers wisely acknowledged that this general no longer represents 21st-Century Florida.

New day, new statue. Marjory Stoneman Douglas, anyone?