|ELECTIONS Although considerably watered down from the original bills, both chambers passed legislation which will restrict voting largely along party lines. Described by supporters as putting “guardrails” on Florida’s election process, the legislation restricts when ballot drop boxes can be used, who can collect and return the ballots and how many they may collect. The legislation also adds a 150-foot perimeter around voting sites as a “no influence zone” and requires, after the 2022 election, for voters to request a vote-by-mail ballot for each two-year election cycle, among other things. The Governor signed SB 90 on May 6th. |
PUBLIC DISORDER The Combating Public Disorder Act or riot bill, HB 1 sponsored by Cord Byrd (R-Jacksonville Beach) and Juan Fernandez-Barquin (R-Miami), passed the Legislature on April 16th and was signed into law by the Governor on April 19th. It creates several new felonies, including aggravated rioting, aggravated inciting a riot and mob intimidation. If a person is arrested for any of the above, that person must remain in jail until their first appearance and bond hearing. Further, should a municipality reduce their law enforcement budget, the state attorney’s office can appeal to the state Administration Committee. A municipality will be liable for damages caused by a breach of duty to protect persons and property during a riot. The law increases penalties for actions committed during a riot. It provides for a mandatory six-month prison sentence for battery on a law enforcement officer. It requires full restitution in the event a statue or monument is damaged or destroyed in the course of a riot. And, it creates a new cyber-intimidation by publication offense, which will punish those identifying individuals with the intent of inciting violence against that person.
WAYFAIR SB 50 regarding taxation by Senator Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) and Representative Chuck Clemons (R-Jacksonville) was approved by the Governor on April 19th. Out-of-state retailers with no physical presence in Florida and $100,000 or more in sales are now required to collect sales tax on taxable items. Florida anticipates $938 million to be collected this upcoming fiscal year and about a billion dollars in subsequent years.
RIGHT TO FARM ACT Signed by the Governor the day before session ended, SB 88 by Senator Jason Brodeur (R-Lake Mary) and Representative Jayer Williamson (R-Pace) updates and expands the existing 1979 statute to protect farmers and ranchers from nuisance lawsuits. Agritourism operators will also benefit from this legislation with the definition of farm operations now including agritourism.
EARLY LEARNING House Bill 419, sponsored by Representatives Vance Aloupis (R-Miami) and Erin Grall (R-Vero Beach) and House Bill 7011, sponsored by Representative Aloupis, will expand school-readiness and voluntary pre-kindergarten early learning programs and will set new minimum training standards for pre-kindergarten instructors.
RESILIENCY A new grant program for local governments and water management districts to apply for funding to address flooding and sea level rise will be launched by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Over $520 million in federal and state dollars will be available for these projects.
VOUCHER EXPANSION/CONSOLIDATION The Gardiner and McKay scholarship programs, which serve students with special needs, were merged with the Family Empowerment Scholarship program, which serves low- to middle-income families. It increases the maximum income eligibility to receive vouchers to 375 percent of the federal poverty level, meaning a family of four making nearly $100,000 a year would qualify. The change could cost state taxpayers up to $200 million as it may add 60,000 more students. More than 160,000 students now use state scholarships at a cost of about $1 billion.