BEER AND ALCOHOL It looks like craft beer aficionados may be able to purchase their beer in the preferred 64 ounce containers, known as growlers. It is already legal for the craft industry to sell 32 and 128 ounce containers. Another bill that would allow craft distilleries to sell more of their products directly to consumers is moving forward. Previously, distilleries were only permitted to sell two individual containers to consumers; the bill would allow them to sell two individual containers of each branded product per person.
Despite opposition from independent liquor stores, some sheriffs and Publix, a bill is advancing that would change package store restrictions on grocery stores. Stores with a stand-alone liquor store would be allowed to physically connect the properties for alcohol sales. Additionally, the Legislature seems poised to ban, for two years, the sale of powdered alcohol in the State. Sales of powdered alcohol, or Palcohol, are set to begin this summer. Six other states have already banned its sale and the hope is the temporarily ban its sale in Florida until further research on the product and its effects can be made.
TELEHEALTH After an unsuccessful attempt in 2014, bipartisan proponents of telehealth legislation have presented this year’s versions of the bills, which allow doctors and medical professionals to consult with patients via video. Representatives Mia Jones (D- Jacksonville) and Travis Cummings (R-Orange Park) are sponsoring HB 545 and Senators Aaron Bean (R-Jacksonville) and Arthenia Joyner( D-Tampa) are sponsors of SB 478.
HIV TESTING Senator Geraldine Thompson (D-Orlando) and Representative Bryan Avila (R-Miami) are sponsoring bills which would change requirements for HIV testing. Hospitals would be authorized to release HIV test results contained in their medical records; not be required to obtain informed consent before releasing these records; and report significant exposure occurrences in medical and non-medical personnel records. Informed consent is still required in non-healthcare settings.
EMERGENCY HEALTH CARE COSTS A top priority of Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, SB 516 and HB 681 make sure that consumers do not pay high amounts for emergency medical care. The bills require preferred provider organizations to work directly with medical providers to set reasonable out-of-network care payments.
ONLINE VOTER REGISTRATION The Department of State would be required to develop an online voter registration system by 2018 if a bill makes its way to the Governor’s desk. The measure has the support of the state’s 67 supervisors of election. Other voting changes discussed this session include opening up the state primary elections to non-party affiliated voters and adding three forms of identification that voters can use at the polls: a passport, a veterans’ health identification card and a concealed weapon license.
JUVENILE JUSTICE Changes to the way juveniles are direct filed into the adult prison population are being considered. Direct file allows a prosecutor to place a juvenile directly into an adult facility without the benefit of a judge’s intervention. The bill would allow prosecutors to direct file minors over the age of 15 for certain offenses as well as 14 and 15 years olds for murder, manslaughter, or sexual battery cases.
HUMAN TRAFFICKING Bills are being introduced that will toughen penalties for human traffickers and suspend licenses of massage therapists engaging in human trafficking. Additionally, there is a bill that would mandate that certain areas of the state, such as airports, rest stops and truck stops, post signs to raise awareness of human trafficking.
GUNS Several gun rights bills are under consideration this year: 1) One such bill would allow legal gun owners who do not have a concealed weapon license to carry a concealed weapon for 48 hours following a state of emergency declaration and during evacuation in such an emergency. Similar legislation failed to pass the 2014 session. 2) Another bill would allow individuals, aged 21 and over, who have a concealed weapon permit to carry a weapon on college campuses. College and University presidents, staff and student groups, as well as police chiefs around the state, oppose the bill. 3) A third bill would allow a designated individual, assigned by the school district superintendent, to carry a gun on K-12 school grounds. The individual must be a current or retired law enforcement officer or former member of the military.
SALES TAX HOLIDAYS Dubbed the Small Business Saturday Tax Holiday, a bill would designate November 28, 2015, the Saturday following “Black Friday,” as a one-day sales tax holiday for purchases made at a recognized small business. The House has included two other sales tax holidays in its budget; the popular 3-day “back-to-school holiday” and a sales tax holiday on July 4th for camping gear, including rifles, shotguns and ammunition. The House is also proposing a tax cut package which would exempt gun and skeet shooting club membership from sales tax.
TRANSGENDER BATHROOM USE A highly controversial bill making its way through the Legislature would make it a second-degree misdemeanor for transgender Floridians to use single sex restrooms that do not match the gender of their birth. Maximum penalties would be 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
BICYCLE AND PEDESTRIAN SAFETY Senator Thad Altman (R-Cape Canaveral) and Representative Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples) are sponsoring a bill that would prohibit passing and turning in front of a pedestrian or cyclist in an unsafe manner; allow drivers to cross the centerline in a no-passing zone when passing a pedestrian or cyclist; and would prohibit harassing, taunting, or throwing an object at a person riding a bicycle.