Below is a sampling of some of the 1,210 bills that have been filed as of Tuesday, February 26th.
WATER Florida voters overwhelming approved Amendment 1 last fall requiring the State to set aside a portion of funds collected from real estate sales to protect Florida’s natural resources. The Legislature is now tasked with how best to utilize these funds. A 100-page comprehensive water bill passed out of the House State Affairs Committee last week that tackles issues such as the establishment and implementation of minimum flows and levels; improvements on private agriculture lands; funding of the Central Florida Water Initiative; select projects of the South Florida Water Management District; and protection of springs and the aquifer. The bill passed 22-3, with three dissenting Democrats on the committee saying the bill does not do enough. This legislation may see a vote on the House floor during the session’s first week.
A comparable bill in the Senate, sponsored by Charlie Dean (R-Inverness) would, among other things, identify the thirty-three largest springs along with five others for safeguarding by the Department of Environmental Protection; require the State to identify septic tanks within springs protection zones; and develop remediation plans for those causing pollution. The Senate bill also creates the Florida Water Resources Advisory Council to annually evaluate and recommend to the Legislature water projects which have been prioritized by state agencies, water management districts or local governments.
FIREARMS ON COLLEGE CAMPUSES Apart from the opposition of students, faculty, presidents and campus police chiefs, SB 176 and HB 4005 authorizing the carrying of concealed weapons with a permit on twelve state universities moved forward in committee. Should the measure pass and become law, Florida would become the ninth state allowing concealed weapons on university campuses.
TEXTING WHILE DRIVING Several bills have been filed which would: increase the penalties for texting while in a school zone; make it a primary offense instead of a secondary offense; prohibit those under 18 from using a wireless communication device while driving; or ask drivers to voluntarily contribute to a traffic safety fund when renewing registrations.
TELEMEDICINE A bipartisan group of legislators is again introducing a bill which would allow the use of video technology to treat patients remotely. Bill sponsors Senators Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach) and Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) believe it would increase the level of care in rural or remote areas of the State, increase Medicaid reimbursements once approved, and hopefully drive down costs.
DIGITAL ASSETS Senator Dorothy Hukill (R-Port Orange) filed a bill that would protect digital assets after death or in the case when a person can no longer manage them. The “Florida Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act” would authorize a personal representative to have access to specified digital assets of a deceased person. Protected assets include emails, text messages, online photographs, documents stored in the cloud, electronic bank statements, and social media accounts.
MEDICAL MARIJUANA EXPANSION SB 528 and HB 683 seek to expand the medical marijuana legislation that passed in 2014 by opening up medical treatment to higher-THC marijuana strands. The Florida Sheriffs Association is opposing the legislation.
PRISON REFORM EFFORTS The Senate Criminal Justice Committee advanced committee bill SPB 7020 to reform the Department of Corrections. The bill would create a Criminal Justice Commission with the power to inspect state-run and private prisons, monitor inmate healthcare, and independently investigate allegations of abuse. Some senators have stated the proposal does not go far enough, and that reform must come from within, rather than through a new outside commission.