The Legislature passed a constitutional-required balanced budget in the amount of $91.1 billion for fiscal year 2019-2020 beginning October 1, 2019. The budget includes $22.2 billion on education of which $21.1 relief and recovery.will used to fund the Education Finance Program, or an increase of $243 per student. The budget includes $682.6 million for environmental needs and $1.86 billion for Hurricane Michael relief and recovery. The budget also includes $28 Million to increase wages to those who care for adults with developmental disabilities, assigned about $200 million to address affordable housing issue, and 490 million for a tax relief package. Visit Florida received $50 million and the toll road project received $45 million. Finally, the budget responsibly plans for the future by placing $3.3 billion in reserves for any unforeseen future economic uncertainty.
Florida Legislature Voted for Tax Relief
The Florida Legislature passed CS/HB 7123
to reduce taxes for Floridians. The bill included several tax reductions and other tax-related policy changes that impact both families and businesses. Below are some highlights of the bill:
- Creates a five-day Back-to-School Tax Holiday.
- Reduces the Business Rent Tax for businesses.
- Authorizes a seven-day Disaster Preparedness Tax Holiday.
- Modifies several local property tax provisions to provide clarity and accountability to Floridians.
Assignment of Benefits
The Florida Legislature passed CS/CS/HB 7065
relating to assignment of benefits. An assignment of benefits (AOB) is a legal tool that allows a contractor, repair person, or other vendor to “stand in the shoes” of a property owner and receive the benefits under a property insurance policy for repairs to the covered property. For example, when homeowners experience water damage and contact a repair person for assistance, the repair person may have the homeowner execute an AOB so work can begin immediately and the repair person can seek payment directly from the insurance company. Since 2006, the number of lawsuits involving AOBs has skyrocketed, generally resulting in higher payouts and litigation costs. These increased costs are ultimately paid for by consumers as higher insurance premiums. The bill addresses the abuses involving AOBs and aims to protect consumers from the impact of increased litigation costs.
Criminal Justice Reform
The Florida Legislature passed CS/HB 7125 in an effort to reform the criminal justice system. Some of the provisions include:
- Allowing a court to sentence a defendant to administrative probation, a form of non-reporting supervision that is available to low-risk offenders currently only by transfer of the Department of Corrections (DOC), and to transfer a defendant to administrative probation upon successful completion of half their probationary term.
- Authorizing each judicial circuit to create a community court, a type of problem solving court that addresses misdemeanor crimes affecting a particular community.
- Reforming probation violations and standardizing a system for alternative sanctioning to respond to technical probation violations.
- Requiring each clerk of court to create a Driver License Reinstatement Days program to facilitate reinstatement for those who have had their license suspended or revoked.
- Expanding reentry services for recently released inmates by providing greater job training and career planning opportunities for inmates and authorizing DOC to expand the use of job assignment credentialing and industry certifications.
- Authorizing DOC to develop a Prison Entrepreneurship Program and adopt procedures for inmate admission.
- Increasing the threshold values for specified theft offenses including petit theft, retail theft, and grand theft.
- Expanding eligibility for veterans’ treatment programs to individuals who are current or former U.S. Department of Defense contractors or military members of a foreign allied country.
- Authorizing a court to sentence a person meeting all other criteria as a youthful offender if he or she was 21 or younger at the time of the offense, regardless of age at the time of sentence.
- Repealing all mandatory direct file provisions and allowing, but not requiring, a state attorney to direct file an information against a child meeting discretionary direct file criteria.
"Sanctuary Cities" Banned in Florida
The law bans so-called sanctuary cities in Florida. The law requires police agencies to work with federal immigration officials by forcing local law enforcement to honor federal immigration requests for an "immigration detainer." A detainer is a request that another law enforcement agency detain a person based on probable cause to believe that the person is a "removable alien" under federal immigration law.
The law also gives power to the governor to remove local officials from office when they violate the ban. It also gives the attorney general the power to bring civil actions against local governments.
School Safety Bill
The Florida Legislature passed SB 7030 to improve safety and security in Florida schools.
In 2018, the Florida Legislature passed SB 7026 in response to the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. SB 7030 enacts recommendations from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission and stakeholders who are responsible for the safety of our children. The bill creates a safer environment for students, while giving school districts the flexibility to address their needs.
SB 7030 increases access to the Guardian Program, penalizes school superintendents for failing to implement school safety strategies, increases information sharing between districts, and utilizes FortifyFL and other data to respond to threats. The bill also increases coordination between schools and law enforcement to address school safety threats. The bill increases student access to mental and behavioral interventions by providing funding for school-based mental health personnel and services and providing timeframes for referral and beginning services.
This bill maintains the option for school districts and charter schools to utilize the Guardian program as an option to maximize school safety and does not require a teacher to be armed.
Florida Empowerment Scholarship Program
The Florida Legislature passed CS/SB 7070, which is a comprehensive package of reforms to further the goal of providing a world-class education to all children in Florida.
The bill incorporates HB 7075, which creates the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program to provide parents the opportunity to choose what is best for their child’s education. The Program provides scholarships to eligible kindergarten students and public school students in grades 1-12. The bill establishes the income eligibility criteria beginning with the 2019-20 school year. A family of four earning an annual income of up to $77,250 is eligible to participate.
Priority is given to students whose families earn less than $47,638 to help alleviate the waitlist for the Florida Tax Credit (FTC) Scholarship Program and to ensure the scholarship will go to students who need it the most.
The amount a student will receive is based on the school district where the student resides and will be 95 percent of what the student earns in the public school based upon grade level. The Empowerment Scholarship will be funded by the state through the Florida Education Finance Program.
The bill incorporates provisions from HB 7095, which allows Schools of Hope to open in “Florida Opportunity Zones” to provide quality educational options for students in low-income communities. The bill also establishes an allocation in the FEFP, rather than through the schools of hope grant program, to provide wrap-around services to students in turnaround schools and establishes a community schools grant program to help school districts implement the community partnership school model, prioritize awards to expand the model into new districts, and encourage self-sustaining programs.
The bill incorporates provisions from HB 7061, which addresses certification requirements by giving teachers more time to pass the General Knowledge Test (GKT), reduces the financial burden associated with retaking the GK test and improves the content used to prepare first-time teachers for the realities of the classroom.
The bill also modifies the Best and Brightest Scholarship Programs for teachers program by removing a teacher’s performance on the SAT or ACT as a factor in determining eligibility for the award and establishes a separate allocation within the FEFP to provide recruitment, retention, and recognition awards. Funding for awards is subject to annual appropriation.
No Texting While Driving
Texting while driving is now a primary offense. This means that law enforcement can now pull someone over if seen texting while operating a vehicle, even if the driver isn't speeding or breaking other rules of the road.
In Collier County, the first violation for drivers is a non-moving offense with no points assessed to the driver's record. Court costs and fine will total $113.
Under the new law, phones can still be used for calls and navigation as well as to read emergency messages such weather alerts. Also, drivers cannot be cited for texting while their vehicle is stopped at a traffic signal.
This bill establishes three regional task forces to study Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance Programs within the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), which will be the state’s most significant infrastructure-building project since the 1950’s. Task forces will study extending the Suncoast Parkway to Georgia, extending Florida's Turnpike to the Suncoast, and building a new toll road from the Naples area toward Interstate 4 near Orlando. In addition to road construction, water, sewer and broadband internet infrastructure will be added.