Florida is about to get a whole slew of new laws come Thursday.
Since Session ended in April, Gov. Ron DeSantis has been traversing the state for bill signing ceremonies racking up a host of new state laws, most of which take effect Thursday, which is July 1.
In some instances, lawsuits are waiting in the wings, ready to fly as soon as a law goes into effect. Others are already facing challenges.
But some laws could end up being laws people actually like, for example, more ways to drink alcohol.
Below is a list of the top 10 headlining laws that will take effect Thursday.
Online sales tax (SB 50)
The buzz about this law has been fairly quiet, similar to the way Gov. DeSantis signed it at the 11th hour of his last day to sign the bill. But once the law takes effect, Floridians are sure to start noticing its effect on their pocketbooks.
An estimated $1 billion in revenue would come from the new enforcement of sales taxes technically already owed. Right now, few Floridians pay in-state sales tax on purchases made from out-of-state sellers, in part, because they are required to send a separate check to the Department of Financial Services after they make their purchase. Under this new law, out-of-state sellers would begin collecting those taxes for consumers at the point of purchase.
The law received pushback from Democrats after Republican legislative leadership made a deal to use the additional revenue to replenish the Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund to prevent a tax hike on businesses.
Social media censorship bill (SB 7072)
DeSantis’ bill to hold big tech accountable is already fighting off court challenges, and it hasn’t even taken effect.
The law requires social media companies to post their terms of service with standards for handling issues like censoring, de-platforming and blocking users and apply the standards consistently at the risk of being fined.
That new law is set to take effect Thursday. But lawyers representing the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) and NetChoice, two internet interest lobbying associations that partner with Twitter and Google and others, already asked the Northern District of Florida to halt the measure from kicking in.
CCIA and NetChoice filed a lawsuit in May arguing the law is a violation of free speech.
The bill picked up controversy long before the lawsuit dropped. It’s been linked to the outcasting of former President Donald Trump who was banned from Twitter and other prominent social media after the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6.
DeSantis has denied the Trump connection, saying the new law is for everyday Americans, but he did go on the record with this comment: “When you deplatform the President of the United States, but you let Ayatollah (Ali) Khamenei talk about killing Jews, that is wrong,” DeSantis said.
Emergency Management (SB 2006)
There will be no vaccine passports in Florida effective Thursday. There never were because DeSantis passed a very similar executive order banning the heavily debated piece of paper that would tell people you have been vaccinated.
Despite some industries, like the cruise ship industry, really wanting to be able to vet customers’ COVID-19 vaccination status, DeSantis and the Republican-led Florida Legislature said not in the Sunshine state.
Though one college town seems to have found a workaround already. The city of Gainesville told employees they can either wear masks or show documentation proof to get out of wearing a mask. It’s not quite the same as requiring a vaccination passport because there is the other option of wearing a mask. DeSantis said the policy for Gainesville city employees violates the “spirit” of his emergency order. He also said it would be an outright violation of Senate Bill 2006. If the city keeps its policy going after Thursday, we’ll find out how serious that statement was.
The new emergency management law isn’t just about vaccine passports. It also contains a slew of provisions that aim to improve the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and other public health emergencies. It mandates the Division of Emergency Management to inventory personal protective equipment and requires the state to adopt shelter plans during a pandemic and allows the Governor to issue a 60-day executive order during a state of emergency rather than a 30-day order.
The new law also codifies a DeSantis favorite: staying open. The new law creates a presumption within the Legislature that business and schools should remain open during an extended public health emergency.
Workforce Revamp (HB 1507)
A revamp of the state’s workforce systems, House Speaker Chris Sprowls’ prized priority, kicks off Thursday.
The Speaker, on numerous occasions and in press releases, called the legislation “transformational.” When the bills passed off the House Floor, Sprowls had rolled up full-sized blueprints placed on each House member’s desk to illustrate what he called “the most significant redesign of our workforce system of any other state in America.” At the bill’s signing, Sprowls called the new system a “melody of economic mobility.”
Compare that to DeSantis’ take on the matter: “You have some of these students that are saddled to thousands of dollars in debt, sometimes $100,000+, and then they have a degree in like zombie studies or something, and then they get out and it’s like, okay, you end up working in a job that you didn’t even need to go to college for.”
Neither man is wrong. The legislation is expected to be transformational and does fill a need to increase the amount of technical or vocational workers in the state.
The crux of the multi-law fix creates a more efficient pipeline from the classroom to the workplace, and it partners Florida’s workforce agencies with business and industry to make sure training programs align with available jobs.
While the law goes into effect Thursday, expect the programs to roll out over time. For example, one part of the new law, the REACH Act, establishes a new REACH Office in the Governor’s Office to coordinate the workforce efforts. That office has until Dec. 1, 2022 before it is required to start submitting annual reports to the Legislature.
Transgender athlete sports ban (SB 1028)
A ban on transgender women playing in women’s and girls’ sports will kick off to little fanfare on Thursday.
The bill faced opposition from Democrats and LGBTQ advocacy groups who say it’s unnecessary and discriminatory. Roiling tensions reached a peak when Gov. DeSantis signed the bill on the first day of Pride Month.
“Girls are gonna play girls’ sports. Boys are going to play boys’ sports,” DeSantis said at a press conference about the bill.
But this is another new law that’s already facing an uncertain fate. The federal Department of Education announced in mid-June it will interpret Title IX protections to bar discrimination against transgender students. Title IX is the law that, since 1972, has required equal access to education and programs including sports.
The new interpretation of Title IX, if it stands, would strike down Florida’s new law. If it doesn’t it means any transgender girls currently playing on a sports team would be kicked off and in the future no transgender girls would be allowed to play sports.
Republican members of the Legislature were intent on instituting the ban, which has become something of a national craze among Republicans in more than 20 other states proposing similar bans.
Proponents of the law said it makes sports more fair, but Florida’s student athletics associations already had guidelines to maintain fairness while still allowing transgender student athlete participation. Democrats called it “red meat politics.”
Civics Education curriculum (HB 5)
The K-12 civic education curriculum is getting an overhaul under a new law that’s known as the “Portraits in Patriotism Act.”
Depending on one’s leanings, the law (HB 5) is seen either as a throwback to Cold War-era anti-communism or a good-faith effort to — as DeSantis puts it — make Florida the “number-one state for civic literacy.”
It will require the Department of Education to craft a curriculum covering the rights and responsibilities of Florida residents and of the founding principles of the United States — statutorily, that means instruction on the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Federalist Papers — as well as how to effectively advocating before government bodies and officials.
However, the curriculum also must instill “a sense of civic pride and desire to participate regularly with government at the local, state, and federal levels” and “an understanding of the civic-minded expectations … of an upright and desirable citizenry.”
Another facet of the bill requires high school government courses to include “a comparative discussion of political ideologies, such as communism and totalitarianism, that conflict with the principles of freedom and democracy essential to the founding principles of the United States.”
Part of the discussion will include the eponymous “Portraits in Patriotism” — a video library of stories told by Floridians who fled communist regimes in Cuba, Venezuela and more.
While the measure goes into effect Thursday, students won’t see the changes until they show up to class in the fall.
Property Insurance (SB 76)
With some experts describing Florida’s property insurance market as being in a “tailspin,” lawmakers set out this Legislative Session to combat rising rates and reverse the flood of homeowners insurance policies pouring into the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp.
The resulting legislation is a mixed bag of provisions. Some say it goes too far and others say it doesn’t go far enough.
Part of the new law will crack down on contractors who pressure homeowners into making unnecessary repairs. And another provision will change the fee structure for attorneys suing insurers. But one of the most consequential parts of the bill deals with Citizens.
Under the new law, the insurer would be allowed to increase rates by up to 15% a year, a substantial increase from the 10% cap that had been in place before July 1.
Bill crafters say the change is needed because the private market is unable to compete with Citizens’ rates, leading to the state-backed insurer adding about 5,000 customers a week. If the trend were to continue, it could see as many as 750,000 customers by the end of 2021.
Sen. Jim Boyd, a Bradenton Republican and the bill’s chief sponsor, said the reforms should stem the rate increases by reducing the court costs and financial risks facing insurance companies. But he also predicts it could take as long as 18 months before the reforms start producing results on monthly statements.
To-go alcohol (SB 148)
Early in the pandemic, DeSantis issued an executive order that included an “alcohol to-go” provision, which allowed restaurants to mix up their patrons’ favorite cocktails and package them in sealed cups alongside their to-go orders.
The practice was popular among restaurateurs and customers alike, but as the pandemic abated many feared that one of the few silver linings it brought would leave with it.
For a moment, it seemed like it would. But lawmakers agreed on a compromise that allows to-go service to stick around as long as an establishment’s last call for alcohol was in lockstep with their last call for food, or at midnight, whichever is earlier.
With that provision, the bill sailed. And the Sunshine State isn’t alone here — at least 20 states are keeping to-go cocktails after COVID.
Restaurants must heed a few other requirements: They must earn at least 51% of their revenue from food and nonalcoholic beverage sales; drinks will need to be placed in secured containers and placed in locked compartments, vehicle trunks, or areas behind the last upright seats in vehicles; and delivery drivers must be over 21.
The final mix was palatable to all stakeholders, which range Uber to the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, the state’s major hospitality trade group.
Since the state’s emergency order expired Saturday, to-go cocktails have technically been off the menu for a few days, but on Thursday they’re back for good. So, raise your glass — or freshly unsealed cup — and say “cheers!”
Abandoned cemeteries (HB 37)
After years of unsuccessful attempts to pass similar legislation, a bill (HB 37) that will create a panel of researchers to study forgotten or abandoned cemeteries and burial grounds across the state was signed into law by the Governor.
Carried through the Legislature by Tampa Democrats Sen. Janet Cruz and Rep. Fentrice Driskell, the new law creates the Task Force on Abandoned African American Cemeteries.
The push for a new board gained urgency after reporting by journalist Paul Guzzo of the Tampa Bay Times and his reporting partner, James Borchuck, followed up on a tip from a cemetery researcher. Their efforts resulted in the re-discovery of Zion Cemetery. More than 800 people were buried at the site along North Florida Avenue in what is believed to be Tampa’s first all-Black cemetery.
Their work led to investigations in other corners of the state. African American cemeteries have since been discovered under MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, near Tropicana Field in St. Pete, in Tallahassee under a golf course, and in Jacksonville under a road.
Legislative staff noted that a similar task force in the late 1990s found that as many as half of the state’s cemeteries are neglected or abandoned.
The 10-member task force established will helmed by the Secretary of State, who would also appoint representatives from the Bureau of Archaeological Research in the Division of Historical Resources, the NAACP, the Florida Council of Churches, the Florida African American Heritage Preservation Network, the Florida Public Archaeology Network, the cemetery industry and a local government. The Senate President and House Speaker would select one lawmaker each to round out the task force.
The task force will hold its first meeting by Aug. 1 and dissolve by March 11, 2022.
Judges (HB 5301)
The Legislature approved 10 new judgeships last year, but the money that would have funded them was among the $1 billion in vetoes made necessary by the early pandemic budget crunch.
This year, funding earmarked to pay for them survived DeSantis’ veto pen.
In addition, the Governor approved lawmakers’ plan (HB 5301) to add five more judgeships — or 15 overall, including the set from last year.
They’ll be added to state courts as follows: one in the 1st Judicial Circuit, two in the 9th Judicial Circuit, two in the 14th Judicial Circuit, one in Citrus County Court, six in Hillsborough County Court, one in Orange County Court, one in Lee County court, and one in St. John’s County Court.
New judgeships for the 14th Judicial Circuit were in added each year — one in 2020 and one in 2021. The court, which covers Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson and Washington counties, now has 13 judgeships in all.
Approval for the new positions comes ahead of an expected spike in need as trials resume and pandemic-related head to court.
Lawmakers initially allocated funding to fill just eight of the 10 judgeships they greenlit last year. However, both chambers eventually agreed to fund all 10 at $1.6 million.
Florida Politics reporters Haley Brown and Drew Wilson contributed to this post.