Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Few New Laws That Take Effect July 1

From the House Dems:

Some of you have asked for information on new laws that take effect July 1. The following is not a complete list. Rather, it’s a few laws (and corresponding bill numbers) that may be of interst. I hope this is helpful.

SB360 – Growth Management: The legislation removes some state government tools to manage growth, require road improvements and prevent overdevelopment. According to some reports, the state may no longer mandate that most local governments require developers to pay for road improvements needed to handle traffic their projects generate. And among other changes, very large developments may no longer be subjected to broad studies of their effect on neighboring communities.

SB344 – Seat Belts: The Dori Slosberg and Katie Marchetti Safety Belt Law will allow police officers to pull drivers over for not wearing their seat belts and is predicted to save hundreds of Floridians’ lives. The new law makes it a primary charge not to be using a seat belt while driving. Previously, a motorist could only be issued a ticket for that offense if they had been stopped for a separate moving violation. A ticket will be $93. Child restraint fines now start at $143.

SB762 – University Tuition and Fees: The bill authorizes all 11state universities to charge a tuition differential, subject to approval by the Board of Governors.

Seventy percent of the tuition differential must be used to enhance undergraduate education and 30 percent, or the equivalent amount from private sources, must be used to provide financial aid to undergraduate students with financial need. The bill allows for an increase in tuition each year until Florida's fees reach the national average. The bill is designed to help Florida's higher education system counteract cuts that have reduced course offerings, increased class sizes and resulted in more classes taught by graduate assistants instead of professors.

Florida's undergraduate tuition is among the lowest in the country. Nevertheless, the higher cost will not be covered by Bright Futures Scholarships. Opponents to the bill said this is not the time to raise tuition because of the strain students and families already face due to the national recession. Furthermore, many opponents say this change will make college unaffordable for many middle-class and poor people. Supporters of the legislation said it is impossible to maintain a quality higher education system with budget cuts strangling programs and chasing away faculty.

SB2108 – Court Fees: Among the bevy of fee increases the Legislature approved this year to fill budget gaps are increases in court filing fees. Over the past two years, the Florida court system budget has been cut by about 10 percent and had nearly 300 jobs eliminated. The budget for the past year was $433 million, compared to $491 million the prior year. The court fee changes approved include a $505 increase in graduated filing fees for civil and family cases involving sums between $50,000 and $250,000. It will increase by $1,505 for sums in excess of $250,000. There also is a $115 increase in probate filing fees, and a $100 increase in filing fees for non-family civil cases.

SB 462: Prescription Drugs: The bill authorizes the creation of a prescription drug monitoring system in the Florida Department of Health. Representative Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton, a sponsor of the legislation, said, “It will help end the prescription drug abuse epidemic that has devastated many Florida families and given our state a reputation as the nation’s pill mill.”

SB1840 – Tobacco Surcharge: After a three-year effort by Representative Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, and others, the Legislature agreed to raise the fee on cigarettes by $1 per pack. Florida presently spends over $1.25 billion on tobacco related illnesses. This fee will raise nearly one billion dollars in new revenue, which will be matched by $2 billion from the federal government and will be used for Medicaid programs. Statistics show that for every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes there are an estimated 7 percent fewer youth who will begin smoking. Less youth smoking may mean lower Medicaid costs due to a decrease in tobacco related illnesses in the future.

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