Election Changes, Sex Trafficking Laws Started With New Year
Around the State
Bills that crack down on human sex trafficking, address problems from the 2012 election, allow foster care children to remain in the program until 21, and provide an incentive for companies to expand their fleet of natural gas vehicles became law Wednesday.
While the bulk of the nearly 200 new laws approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott from the 2013 session hit the books in July and October, a few more kicked in with the New Year.
Accompanying the handful of new laws is a slight increase in the paycheck for Florida's minimum-wage earners.
The automatic increase of 14 cents an hour, recalculated by law each year based on the federal Consumer Price Index, raises the minimum pay rate in the state to $7.93, up from $7.79. The federal minimum wage is $7.25.
Here are highlights of bills that took effect Jan. 1:
HB 7013: The law -- quietly signed by Scott before heading to Chile for a trade mission in May -- is aimed at cleaning up voting problems that plagued parts of the state during the November 2012 elections.
The law allows up to 14 days for early voting, though local supervisors could remain at the current eight days, and allows for more flexibility with early voting sites. It would limit the length of some ballot summaries for constitutional amendments.
And it would dissolve a committee that sets the date of the presidential primary and instead requires that vote be held on the first Tuesday that complies with party rules. Both Republican and Democratic delegations to national conventions have lost members over the last several years as Florida vied for earlier primary dates.
Elections reform vaulted to the top of legislative priorities after the November 2012 problems, which included some Florida voters not casting ballots until after television networks had projected President Barack Obama the winner nationwide. It also took days before Obama was declared the winner in Florida.
HB 1325 and HB 1327: The measures establish a legal process for human-trafficking victims to get their criminal records expunged -- typically for prostitution charges.
The new laws only apply to crimes committed while the victims were being forced, threatened or coerced.
The measures ran through the Legislature as companions to a bill (HB 7005) that prevents the operation of massage establishments between midnight and 5 a.m. That bill -- which has exceptions for businesses such as health facilities and hotels that might offer massage services -- became law Oct. 1.
HB 579: This measure exempts natural gas from the state fuel tax for five years, provides an incentive for companies to expand their fleet of natural gas vehicles and, starting in 2019, establishes a fuel-tax structure for natural gas that is similar to that for diesel fuel.
"This legislation will pave the way for the increased use of natural gas; spurring economic growth, reducing our dependency on foreign oil, and providing a cleaner burning source of fuel," Sen. Wilton Simpson, the Trilby Republican who sponsored the bill, declared in April.
The Natural Gas Fuel Fleet Vehicle Rebate Program offers rebates of up to 50 percent of the costs of converting certain vehicles to natural gas-powered vehicles. An applicant would be eligible to receive a maximum rebate of $25,000 per vehicle, up to a total of $250,000 per fiscal year.
The bill also requires any person selling natural gas fuel at retail in Florida to obtain a license from the Department of Revenue.
The Revenue Estimating Conference estimated that by 2019 the law will cut $100,000 from the state's general revenue, $300,000 from state trust funds, and $200,000 from local governments.
HB 7017: Repeals fixed terms of court, which are an old concept left over from the days when circuit judges or Supreme Court justices went to the town where their court was meeting for a specified term.
Limited liability companies
SB 1300: A voluminous 224-page package that is intended to modernize the rules for limited liability companies and keep Florida competitive with other states in efforts to retain businesses and jobs.
SB 1036: This law gives young adults the option to stay in foster care until age 21. Those in the foster care system would be allowed to remain in the program past the age of 18 if they are completing high school, postsecondary or vocational educations, participating in job-training programs, working at least 80 hours per month or are unable to participate due to disabilities.
The bill analysis concluded that it wouldn't cost more to allow children to stay in the system until 21 because youths who age out of foster care often end up homeless, jobless or in jail.