TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — In what seemed like a sprint to the finish line, Florida lawmakers have concluded their legislative session for this year.
Lawmakers passed a wide range of bills during this session. From controversial bills impacting future protests, mail-in voting and transgender athletes to widely agreed-upon bills such as alcohol-to-go, the legislature eventually came to some consensus, whether it was party line or bipartisan. It's now up to Gov. Ron DeSantis to sign them into law.
Here are the highlights of the bills you need to know about:
The "Combating Violence, Disorder, and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act," or HB 1, expands who can be charged as a felon during protests and gives law enforcement broader arresting powers. It also makes it harder for local governing bodies to “defund” the police.
Transgender athlete ban
Florida Republican lawmakers approved a controversial ban on transgender girls from participating in school sports in a sudden development as the state's legislative session came to a close.
State Rep. Kaylee Tuck, R-Lake Placid, on Wednesday introduced an amendment featuring the ban to a broader charter schools bill, which was approved in the House by a 77-38 vote. It wasn't before long senators approved the bill by a 23-16 vote, sending it -- and the amendment -- to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature to become law.
After hours of debate on a slew of amendments in both the House and Senate, Florida lawmakers on Thursday passed a piece of GOP-backed legislation that would place new limits on ballot drop boxes, among other things.
Critics of the bill have called the measure a piece of voter suppression. Democratic lawmakers have said SB 90 would make it harder for seniors, people of color, and individuals with disabilities to vote.
House Democrats were united in opposition to the bill, but it passed on a 77-40 House vote. It now heads to Gov. Ron DeSantis' desk for his signature.
If signed into law, the bill would change the state's vote-by-mail system. Some of those changes include restricting drop box use to a county's early voting hours rather than allowing ballots to be dropped off 24/7, making in-person monitoring of all drop box locations mandatory as well as a whole host of other security measures for vote-by-mail. Voters would also be required to submit vote-by-mail requests every election cycle instead of every two cycles.
COVID-19 vaccination "passport" ban
As the pandemic persists, it remains a question and debate as to whether so-called vaccine passports will be needed to travel, enter a business, or enroll in school.
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis took a strong stance on the issue when he signed an executive order to ban anything that forces people to prove they've been immunized.
Florida lawmakers may have made his order permanent with SB 2006, which just passed the Florida House Thursday. The legislation would not allow businesses, schools or government entities to require proof of the COVID-19 vaccinations.
A program temporarily put in place by a March executive order from Gov. Ron DeSantis allowing to-go and delivery orders of alcohol is here to stay.
Florida lawmakers gave final approval of the industry-backed bill (SB 148) Wednesday allowing restaurants to sell alcoholic drinks with take-home meals.
The widely welcomed move was put in place when coronavirus kept people at home and restaurants relied heavily on takeout and delivery orders.
SB 148, which was sponsored by Republican Senator Jennifer Bradley, authorizes "certain food service establishments to sell or deliver certain alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption under certain circumstances."
Firearms in churches that share space with schools
A bill that would allow people to carry concealed weapons on a church property that shares its location with a school passed Florida's House on Tuesday.
In a 24-16 vote, lawmakers sent HB 259 to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' desk. Current Florida law allows concealed weapons to be carried at churches, synagogues and other religious institutions, but not on school property.
However, this new measure would make an exception.
Expunging juvenile arrest records
Florida's House on Tuesday unanimously passed a bill that would expand a juvenile's ability to expunge their arrest record.
In a 117-0 vote, lawmakers approved SB 274, which allows minors who've completed a diversion program for any offense to have their arrest removed from their public record.
At the moment, Florida law only allows minors to expunge first-time misdemeanors if they've completed a diversion program. The new law, if passed, would broaden that to include felonies and other arrests – not just a first offense.
Car insurance coverage
SB54, co-introduced by Republican Sen. Danny Burgess and Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson, who both represent the Tampa Bay area, looks to expand the insurance coverage you're required to carry in Florida.
Currently, Florida is considered a "no-fault" state and only mandates that drivers must show proof of personal injury protection and property damage liability.
Now that the bill got the green light, come January 2022, the no-fault law would be repealed and anyone behind the wheel of a car will need to start showing proof of "garage liability insurance."
Moments of silence in public schools
Every Florida public school would be required to have a moment of silence of up to two minutes during first period under a bill passed by the legislature.
The 32-6 Senate vote on Thursday amended the current law that allows school districts to have a moment of silence for prayer or meditation but doesn’t require it. The bill also says teachers cannot "make suggestions as to the nature of any reflection that a student may engage in during the moment of silence."
The bill now goes to Gov. DeSantis.
High schoolers required to learn CPR
Florida State lawmakers unanimously officially passed a bill to require students to take CPR training to graduate from high school.
Cardiac arrest is the leading cause of deaths on campus and is also the leading cause of death to student-athletes, according to the Senate version of the bill. The American Heart Associates says one in five victims of fatal cardiac arrests could be saved had bystanders given CPR, the bill states.
In addition to CPR, the bill would also require students to learn basic first aid.
Honoring fallen law enforcement officers
The Florida House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday to honor fallen law enforcement officers in the Tampa Bay area.
Sen. Ed Hooper and Rep. Chris Latvala proposed the legislation, known as SB 1716 and HB 1329, on Feb. 25. That was just over a week after Pinellas County Deputy Michael J. Magli was killed in the line of duty while trying to deploy "stop sticks" to end a chase with a suspected drunk driver.
The bill would allow the Florida Department of Transportation to erect memorial markings on East Lake Road, designating the highway as “Deputy Michael J. Magli Memorial Road," according to a February news release.
Repealing Florida toll road projects
A bill seeking to undo plans of expanding Florida's controversial toll road projects passed the legislature Tuesday.
SB 100 placed plans for the Heartland Parkway and an extension of Florida's Turnpike back on the shelf after the initial project was approved back in 2019.
Lawmakers previously allowed for an extension of the Suncoast Parkway to the Georgia border and an additional route that would connect Polk and Collier Counties, dubbed the Heartland Parkway. An extension connecting Florida's Turnpike to the Suncoast was also part of the initial plans.
The bill now heads to Gov. DeSantis' desk.
Expansion of barber services
On Wednesday, lawmakers passed identical bills in the House and Senate that would allow barbers to cut hair and offer other services outside of brick-and-mortar shops.
All barbers must be licensed in order to offer services and the bills don't change any licensing requirements, the release said.
Wildlife corridors expansion
Florida lawmakers unanimously passed a pair of bills that would help the state expand its wildlife corridors, providing protective migratory routes for animals like the Florida Panther.
In a 115-0 vote by the House and a 40-0 vote by the Senate, lawmakers passed the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act which would incentivize "conservation and sustainable development while sustaining and conserving the green infrastructure."
$300 million will be set aside to protect wildlife corridors under the Florida Forever land conservation program. The purpose of these wildlife corridors is to create a network of undeveloped public and private patches of land so that animals can safely traverse the state.
Broad-based Tax Relief package
According to a release, the bill provides the following:
- Expands the tax credit for affordable housing
- Adds a permanent sales tax exemption for independent living items
- Establishes tax holidays for 2021 back-to-school, disaster preparedness and "freedom week."
Law enforcement changes
Perhaps one of the biggest points of HB 7051 is the requirement of the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission to develop instruction and basic training standards for law enforcement officers, according to a release.
This includes developing policies regarding use of force -- such as proportional use of force, alternatives to use of force, de-escalation techniques and limiting the use of chokeholds.
Training would also cover an officer's duty to intervene if they see another officer using or attempting to use excessive force.
And, it uniformly requires independent reviews of deadly use of force incidents and officer-involved shootings resulting in death or injuries across the state. This means a law enforcement agency cannot conduct a review involving one of its employees, but instead must hand the review and/or investigation to another agency.
Cannot arrest child younger than seven-years-old
Incorporated into HB 7051, the "Kaia Rolle Act" prohibits the arrest of a child younger than seven years old. Unless, however, the crime is a "forcible felony."
Kaia Rolle was six when she was arrested in 2019 by a school resource officer for throwing some sort of tantrum. The SRO reportedly arrested another six-year-old that same day. Neither arrest was cleared by the officer's watch commander, which was part of the department's policy.
State University Free Seat Program
The program was created to encourage veterans, active-duty military and National Guard members and "nontraditional" students to enroll in online bachelor's degree program at state universities.
Under HB 845, state universities would waive tuition and fees for one online course for up to 1,000 students across the state who meet certain requirements.
Increase of county court judges
Florida lawmakers passed HB 5301, which revised the number of certain counties' circuit judges, including a county in Tampa Bay.
Hillsborough County increased its circuit court judges from 21 to 23. And, St. Johns County's number of judges increased from two to three.
The bill would take effect July 1.
In a somewhat sweeping bill on education funding, Florida lawmakers revised funding and requirements for virtual school operations.
Also included in HB 5101, lawmakers revised provisions relating to minimum base salaries of certain employees. And, they removed provisions related to specified funding related to reading scholarship accounts, as well as requires school districts to use specified federal funding allocations for specified purposes.
A three-part infrastructure plan is associated with the state's $101.5 billion budget.
In a release, the Senate said the plan "revises the statutory distribution of documentary stamp proceeds to prioritize investing in state and local affordable housing programs, mitigating the impacts of sea-level rise, and enhancing wastewater programs, including septic-to-sewer conversions. The new framework provides predictable funding for all three infrastructure priorities on a recurring basis."
While many bills were passed during the legislative session, there were a few that didn't make it to a final vote. Of note, this includes a measure that would ban Florida doctors from performing "disability abortions." It passed the House and was sent to a Senate committee, where it remained.
Marijuana legislation to protect Florida public employees using medical marijuana from the disconnect between restrictive federal laws and permissive local laws stalled this session. Democratic representatives proposed House Bill 335 to prohibit employers from taking action against qualified medical marijuana patients, which was referred to four subcommittees in February and hasn’t been heard since.
The legislature will also hold a special session on May 17 to discuss Gov. DeSantis' sports betting deal made with the Seminole Tribe.
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