Local Breaking News
State budget, new laws take effect today
TALLAHASSEE - The state's $74.1 billion budget, which will fund 114,481 positions, 3,955 more than in the current fiscal year, kicks in today. The fiscal package also includes the first raise those workers will see in seven years. At the same time, nearly 200 new laws approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott hit the books. The bills range from a limit on the law enforcement use of drones, to a bill spelling out how money is raised to build nuclear power plants to new rules for Citizens Property Insurance Corp. There also will be a crackdown on "cyberbullying," conversion of low speed vehicles into golf carts and a prohibition on the sale of bongs.A new law against texting while driving (SB 52) doesn't take effect until October 1, while changes to campaign fundraising (HB 7013) go into place next year. Here are highlights of some of the bills taking effect today: Education HB 21: Requires the Department of Education to conduct background screening for non-instructional contractors that will be on school grounds, and creates a statewide identification badge for the contractors. SB 284: Allows private schools to be notified by first responders about emergencies and makes sure public schools spell out which agencies are supposed to contact them. HB 609: Cracks down on "cyberbullying" in public schools by expanding what school districts are allowed to punish at school and when children are not at school - if the non-school bullying affects education. HB 801: Changes guidance counselors to certified school counselors. SB 1664: Requires that at least 50 percent of a classroom teacher's or school administrator's performance evaluation be based on the growth or achievement of the students under their charge. The other half would be based on district-determined plans. Teachers with less than three years experience would only be judged on 40 percent of their students' performance. SB 1388: Allows school districts to create their own instructional material adoption process. HB 7009: An omnibus education package that adds both new accountability measures and new flexibility for charter schools. High-performing charters would be allowed to boost their enrollment annually, and the Department of Education is charged with proposing a standard contract for charter schools. Allows school boards the ability to set up a public "Innovation School of Technology" that could get much of the same flexibility as charter schools get if they use new technology in instruction. And bars students from being taught by low-performing teachers in the same subject two years in a row, though parents could allow districts to ignore that rule in the case of extracurricular courses. HB 7165: Moves the state's voluntary pre-kindergarten and school readiness programs to the Department of Education and tighten accountability. Transportation HB 55: Could help head off lawsuits alleging that auto dealers have engaged in deceptive and unfair practices by requiring customers to provide a demand letter before they can sue auto dealers. If dealers pay the claims and related surcharges within 30 days, they could not be sued. SB 62: Allows street-legal, "low-speed vehicles" to be reclassified as golf carts, a move to reduce registration and insurance costs. HB 93: Let's people voluntarily contribute to the homeless when renewing a driver's license. HB 4001: Abolishes the state law requiring most gasoline to include nearly 10 percent ethanol by repealing the 2008 Renewable Fuel Standard Act. Because of federal ethanol mandates the state action is mostly symbolic. HB 7125: An omnibus transportation package that: prevents ticketing motorists as long as vehicles come to a stop, even after crossing the stop line, before making legal right turns on red; creates specialty license plates for the American Legion, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Lauren's Kids, which is a program aimed at preventing sexual abuse of children; and bars left-lane drivers from going more than 10 mph below the speed limit if they know they are being overtaken from behind by faster-moving vehicles. Insurance and banking HB 157: Allows insurers to electronically transmit insurance policy to the insured. HB 223: Lets property and casualty insurance policies and endorsements be made available on an insurer's Internet website rather than being mailed, if agreed to by the customer. SB 468: Exempts medical malpractice insurance from the state rate filing and approval process for some facilities and practitioners and continues the exemption of med mal insurance from the CAT Fund assessment program. SB 1770: The Citizens Property Insurance Corp. overhaul, less imposing than initially proposed, still prevents coverage for new homes in high-risk, environmentally sensitive coastal areas, creates an internal inspector general position, and a clearinghouse intended to shift at least 200,000 policies into the private market. Environmental and agriculture HB 203: Prohibits local governments from regulating or charging fees on certain farm land under certain circumstances. SB 244: Allows water-management districts to enter into cooperative agreements. SB 336: Allows tourist development tax dollars to be used for the benefit of certain not-for-profit run museums or aquariums. SB 674: Requires animal shelters and animal control agencies keep more records on euthanasia and make them available to the public. SB 948: Expands the role of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services with local utilities in water supply planning. Law enforcement HB 49: The "bong ban" prohibits the sale of metal, wooden, acrylic, glass, stone, plastic, or ceramic smoking pipes, chillums or bongs. SB 92: Restricts the use of unmanned aerial drones by law enforcement unless a judge issues a warrant, there is a "high risk of terrorist attack" or officials fear someone is in imminent danger. HB 95: Declares that money given to charities by Ponzi schemers wouldn't have to be later returned to victimized investors if it was accepted in good faith. SB 390: Prohibits organizations from holding themselves out as veterans service organizations if they're not. SB 454: Allows police departments at state colleges to enter into mutual aid agreements with local law enforcement. HB 489: Requires railroads to cover cost of continuing education for railroad police officers and adds penalties for assaulting the officers. HB 875: Makes it a crime to impersonate a security officer and allows authorized security officers to detain trespassers in some cases. HB 1355: Blocks gun sales to some people who voluntarily admit themselves for mental-health treatment. Medical SB 56: Replaces the concept of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) with Sudden Unexplained Infant Death, while altering requirements for training first responders and protocols for medical examiners. SB 160: Requires the Department of Health waive certain licensure fees for veterans. HB 239: Allows optometrists to prescribe certain types of drugs. HB 365: Allows pharmacists to offer certain types of complex drugs known as "biologics" for illnesses such as cancer. SB 662: Allows doctors to charge 112.5 percent of drugs' average wholesale prices --- a measuring stick in the pharmaceutical industry --- and $8 dispensing fees. Those amounts are higher than what pharmacies can charge for providing medications to workers-compensation patients. HB 1129: Intends to protect infants born alive after attempted abortions by requiring health-care professionals to "humanely exercise the same degree of professional skill, care and diligence to preserve the life and health of the infant" as would be the case in a natural birth. It also requires that infants born alive after attempted abortions be immediately taken to hospitals. SB 1844: Is intended to bolster the Florida Health Choices program, a long-planned online health marketplace, by increasing funding and eligibility standards. Housing HB 77: The "Florida Residential Landlord and Tenant Act" allows a landlord to accept partial rent without waiving the right to evict, clarifies that weekends and holidays do not stay a sheriff's 24-hour eviction notice, and prohibits landlords from retaliating against a tenant who lawfully pays a landlord's association dues or complains of a fair housing violation. HB 179: Allows certain interest on deposits collected in eminent domain proceedings to go to property owners rather than the government. HB 217: Requires check-cashing companies to report checks worth $1,000 or more to a new state online database. The check cashing database, intended to prevent workers' compensation fraud, is not expected to be funded until 2014. SB 342: Allows someone with a homestead exemption to rent their property out for 30 days without losing their homestead exemption.