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Monday, July 1, 2019 marked the beginning of the new fiscal year for the Florida Senate as well as the implementation of various rules and laws passed by the senate and approved by the governor.
Amongst these laws was the widely discussed anti-texting and driving bill, which prohibits Florida drivers from using a mobile device while driving.
However, many other bills of importance to Florida residents began their integration into law on July 1, including laws that pertain to residential garden plots, female inmates, red tide research, firefighters and more.
Protecting self-driving cars
With the future fast approaching, Governor Ron DeSantis and fellow Florida lawmakers are planning ahead with the initiation of House Bill 311, which was signed into law by Gov. DeSantis on June 13.
HB 311 has a variety of topics which it covers, most of which serve to protect drivers and owners of autonomous vehicles (self-driving cars) from taxes or fees which would not be imposed on non-autonomous vehicles.
During the signing ceremony, Gov. DeSantis stressed the need for Florida to be a welcoming environment for this new, upcoming technology and stated that he believes that autonomous vehicles will help in improving road safety and traffic congestion.
"We want to embrace the technologies that are emerging,” said DeSantis.
HB 311 also states that a self-driving vehicle will not be required to have a fully licensed human driver to operate, and excludes human drivers from the recently-passed law against texting while driving, as long as the drivers are not operating the autonomous vehicle while on their phone.
Granting benefits to firefighters
Firefighters across the state, many who have petitioned and lobbied for such a bill for years, celebrated after Gov. DeSantis signed Senate Bill 426 on May 3.
Known as "The Florida Firefighter Cancer Bill," this new law has been passed to give Floridian firefighters a helping hand if they are diagnosed with cancer.
Through the signing of SB 426, Florida firefighters will be provided with a whole new set of benefits, which includes paid time off for medical leave and a $25,000 lump sum to offset potential medical costs.
After years of rallying for the bill and having similar movements thrown out by lawmakers, SB 426 will ensure that Floridian firefighters are taken care of if they become ill due to work hazards, such as cancer.
Under this new bill, cancer and cancer-related deaths amongst firefighters will be treated as on-the-job injuries and fatalities for Florida firefighters.
Also, this bill will provide death benefits to a firefighter’s beneficiary, should a firefighter die as a result of cancer or cancer treatments and it will also adjust the allocation of funds as to provide line-of-duty death benefits for members in the investment plan of the Florida Retirement System.
Funding the research into red tide
A Sarasota lab, Mote Marine Laboratory, will be looking into and researching the causes and impacts of the current wave of red tide that is affecting Florida coastlines.
Thanks to Senate Bill 1552, that research will be funded by a hefty check from the State of Florida - $3 million a year for the next five years, to be exact.
Signed into law by Gov. DeSantis on June 20, SB 1552 created the Florida Red Tide Mitigation and Technology Development Initiative as a partnership between the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and Mote Marine Laboratory.
The bill, and it's successive law, came into play after Florida experienced record-setting red tide algae outbreaks in 2018.
“We will see tremendous progress towards solutions to control and mitigate this phenomenon,” DeSantis said to those who gathered to watch him sign SB 1552 at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium on June 20.
Red tide is a single-celled organism called Karenia brevis algae, which produces toxins that kill fish, birds, sea turtles, manatees and dolphins and can cause shellfish poisoning in humans; red tide can also cause swimmers to experience skin irritations or burning eyes, and those with respiratory illnesses may experience heightened respiratory irritations while swimming in waters with red tide.
Banning sanctuary cities
On June 14, Gov. DeSantis signed the bill that will prohibit sanctuary policies in the State of Florida.
SB 168 will require Florida's state entities, local governmental entities and law enforcement agencies to use their best efforts in supporting the enforcement of federal immigration laws – thus eliminating the legality of sanctuary cities.
This bill, passed by Florida lawmakers and signed by DeSantis, marks the attainment of one of Gov. Ron DeSantis' leading campaign promises when he ran for governor during 2018.
The bill is also one of the strictest bans on sanctuary cities within the nation.
Signing SB 168 will add to the other immigration efforts DeSantis has engaged in, such as encouraging local law enforcement agencies to enter into a cooperative agreement with the Florida Department of Corrections, which will then allow local and state correctional officers to perform some of the duties held by federal immigration agents.
"Earlier this year, Governor DeSantis asked the Florida Legislature to present him with meaningful legislation to uphold the rule of law and ensure that no city or county jurisdiction can get in the way of Florida’s cooperation with our federal partners to enforce immigration law," said DeSantis spokeswoman Helen Ferre. "Public safety is paramount and local law enforcement agencies can and should work with the federal government to ensure that accountability and justice are one in our state."
No more workplace vaping
Senate Bill 7012 was signed by Gov. DeSantis in late April, which may be bad news for those who like to vape in indoor spaces.
Under the new law, most vaping in an enclosed, indoor workplace will be prohibited (with allowance made for special exceptions).
This new law was formerly up for voter approval in November, with 68.9 percent of Florida voters supporting the restrictions on public vaping.
In SB 7012, lawmakers provide vape regulation that is similar to the Florida ban on cigarette smoking in enclosed, indoor workplaces.
Individuals who violate the new ban might face a maximum fine of $25 in combination with 50 hours of community service or the need to complete an approved anti-tobacco “alternative to suspension” program.
Allowing front-yard vegetable gardens
In March, the Florida Senate voted to support the rights of backyard gardeners to expand their vegetable plots into their front yards through Senate Bill 82.
In May, Gov. DeSantis approved the bill – with the Senate bill coming into Florida law.
In SB 82, the rights of Florida gardeners are upheld, as the new law decrees that local governments will not be permitted, following July 1, to fine or regulate vegetable gardens that are planted on residential properties.
While the new law allows residential gardeners to plant freely, it does not limit local governments from adopting ordinances or regulations that might control water during drought conditions, limit fertilizer use or restrict invasive species – all things that might affect backyard (and front yard) gardeners.
Improving living conditions for incarcerated women
In an attempt to defend the dignity of incarcerated women in Florida, lawmakers in the House of Representatives and Florida Senate passed respective bills that will improve the living conditions of women incarcerated in the Florida Department of Corrections.
House Bill 49 and Senate Bill 332, bills that are titled as the “Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act” focused on improving the healthcare and wellbeing of women in prison.
Through these identical bills, correctional facilities will be required to make available health care products to each woman incarcerated at their facility at “no cost to the women in a quantity that is appropriate."
The bill further specifies that "health care products” include feminine hygiene products (including tampons), moisturizing soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste and any other product that is deemed appropriate.
The bill further states that pat-downs and body cavity searches by a male correctional facility employee will be limited to when a woman "presents an immediate risk of harm to herself or others" or when a female employee is unavailable. A male correctional facility employee will also be required to announce himself before entering a female housing unit and will not be allowed to enter “an area of the correctional facility in which an incarcerated woman may be in a state of undress,” which includes restrooms, shower areas and medical treatment areas. Male correctional facility employees may only enter those areas if a female employee is unavailable or if an emergency requires them to enter those off-limits areas.
In early June, Gov. DeSantis approved HB 49, making Florida one of 10 states to release similar legislation on women's prison reform.