SENATOR DON GAETZ REPORTS:
NEARLY 160 NEW LAWS TAKE EFFECT TODAY
Today, our state’s 2014-2015 Budget, which makes significant investments in the needs of Northwest Florida, takes effect alongside nearly 160 changes in law. The budget and statutes range across topics from stronger infrastructure to safer neighborhoods to better schools to lower taxes.
Are the changes beginning July 1 going to satisfy the concerns of all 19 million of us? Hardly. But Speaker Will Weatherford, Governor Rick Scott and I — and our colleagues in the House and Senate — believe that our Joint 2014 WorkPlan, which takes effect today, will make Florida a better place to work, start a business, raise a family, and retire enjoyably and with dignity.
Among the laws that are effective today is the Florida GI Bill, making our state the most military-friendly in the nation in support of our bases and our missions as well as military members and their families. While we are enacting historic benefits and incentives to attract and keep our military installations and personnel, Florida today becomes the most unfriendly state in the nation for those who would stalk, torment and harm our children. Our aggressive initiatives against sexually violent predators go into the lawbooks alongside a wall-to-wall reform of the state’s child welfare system, tougher sentencing laws, and significant improvements in our K-12 and higher education systems–lashing education to the opportunities in the economy and funding education institutions based on their performance in helping students graduate and get jobs.
Every member of the Legislature has one or more special priorities. As President of the Senate, I shared responsibility for developing the entire budget and considering all legislation. However, for me, today is personally meaningful because of a wonderful woman I met in Graceville. She lives in a nursing home in that small North Florida town and she’s President of the Residents Council. When I visited her early this year she talked with me about a need that no lobbyist or interest group or political party has ever or would ever mention: our parents and grandparents who live in Florida nursing homes and who have exhausted all of their resources depend on Medicaid for their care. Medicaid provides $30 a month for what is called a “personal care allowance.” This is the money elderly people have to pay for a haircut, to buy stamps to send grandchildren birthday cards, to purchase a nightgown or get a candy bar from a vending machine. It’s their “dignity money.” For twenty-five years, it’s been a dollar a day. My constituent in Graceville asked, “I know there are others elsewhere with real needs, but do you think we could get $5 more a month?” It took a little tugging and pulling, but the budget that becomes effective today provides slightly over $100 a month as a “personal care allowance” for Medicaid nursing home residents. Statewide, the cost is about $30 million, but the change is decades overdue. And I can’t wait to tell my friend in Graceville the good news.
Governor Scott, Speaker Weatherford and I are proud that, as our state’s economy improves, our first budget priority is cutting taxes that affect working families. By cooperation not confrontation, as Democrats and Republicans, we cut $500 million in taxes, the largest share being a $395 million reduction in vehicle registration fees and over $100 million in tax breaks for hurricane preparation, energy efficiency, and affordable housing. Most of those tax cuts are effective beginning today. We also set aside $3 billion in reserves so that if bad times come again, Florida will be ready. By comparison, New York state with the same population as Florida, is taxing and spending nearly twice as much as we are.
Conservative management and fiscal discipline allowed us to balance the budget, enact (for the most part) good legislation and still care for our most vulnerable citizens. Today, more resources than ever before in Florida history will go to Children’s Advocacy Centers which care for abused and neglected children and the Guardian Ad Litem program, which provides volunteer advocates for children caught up as collateral damage in the court system — both important priorities for me.
Please take a few moments to glance at following outline of the most significant laws becoming effective today, some of which may directly impact you, your family or your business. A complete list of all legislation passed this session can be found at http://www.leg.state.fl.us/data/session/2014/citator/Daily/chapter.pdf. You also might want to check on appropriations from the state budget that fund specific priorities here in Northwest Florida. You can find that information by clickinghere.
I hope you’ll drop me a line, send me an email or give me a call if you have any questions, comments or criticisms. Your guidance makes me a better senator for Northwest Florida.
Senator Don Gaetz
1. ENHANCE ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY THROUGH EDUCATION
Expand pathways out of poverty through education and jobs
Increase the Value and Accessibility of Higher Education
- No tuition increase for 2015 – Effective today, July 1, 2014
House Bill (HB) 5001, the 2014-15 General Appropriations Act (GAA), allocates funding for Florida’s Universities, Colleges and District Workforce Centers. Funding allocated to these institutions does not require a tuition increase for the 2014-15 fiscal year.
- End soaring cost increase for Florida Prepaid College Board – Effective today, July 1, 2014
Legislation passed during the 2014 Session specifies that for an advanced payment contract purchased before July 1, 2024, the amount assessed and paid by the Florida Prepaid College Board (Prepaid Board) to the universities will follow the methodology previously utilized by the Prepaid Board for contracts purchased prior to July 1, 2009. The maximum assessment and payment for state university registration fees, tuition differential fees, local fees, and dormitory fees is capped at no more than the actual cost charged by the state universities for such fees. The Prepaid Board estimates the change in payment methodology will reduce the cost of a new 4-Year Florida University Plan by $10,000 and result in $50 million in refunds to families with an existing 4-Year Florida University Plan.
- Reduce tuition differential – Effective today, July 1, 2014
Legislation passed during the 2014 Session removes the automatic, annual increase of resident undergraduate tuition at postsecondary institutions and specifies that rate increases can be provided in the GAA. Additionally, the bill decreases the tuition differential from a maximum increase of 15 percent to six percent.
Expand Education Choices for Families in Poverty
- Raise cap for Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program, add accountability measures – Effective June 20, 2014
Legislation passed during the 2014 Session affirms private school autonomy over curriculum and instructional materials and requires those schools to use a Florida Department of Education-approved test for scholarship students. Under the bill, the Learning Systems Institute at Florida State University will provide testing reports to parents, showing how their students are progressing in math and reading skills compared to like assessment components in other public and private schools. Reports will be based on similar components across various stated-approved assessments, so parents can compare apples to apples. The institute will also produce school-based reports and student-based reports, without identifying student information.
Academic accountability measures outlined in this legislation will begin this fall with a focus on the schools serving the largest number of scholarship students assessed in the 2014-2015 school year. Under this legislation, scholarship funding organizations will be audited annually by the Auditor General to track how funds are spent and to ensure that no state dollars are used for lobbying or political purposes. Financial accountability provisions begin immediately for all schools receiving the publicly-funded scholarships.
Cement Link Between Education and Jobs
- Reward performance in higher education – Effective today, July 1, 2014
HB 5001, the 2014-15 GAA, allocates $200 million ($100 million in new funds and $100 million in a reprioritization of base funds) to be distributed based on metrics outlined by the State University System Board of Governors to universities that link education to jobs.
- Increase student access to Career and Professional Education (CAPE) Industry Certifications opportunities – Effective June 20, 2014
Senate Bill 850 expands rigorous curricular, instructional and assessment options available to K-12 students. The bill expands Career and Professional Education (CAPE) and acceleration options and strengthens accountability requirements to elementary school through college students. The legislation also establishes requirements for Florida College System institutions and school districts to provide a pathway for high school students to earn a full year of college credit while enrolled in high school.
Additionally, the bill authorizes industry certification providers to notify students and parents about the college credits earned by the students, and the savings associated with earning the college credits, as a return on the investment of state dollars for the industry certifications earned by the student while in public school. Bonus funding, under the bill, would be established for schools and teachers who directly assist students in attaining new digital skills and industry certifications. Also, the legislation connects educator training to CAPE programs.
- Florida Digital Classroom – Effective today, July 1, 2014
Legislation passed during the 2014 Session elevates funding and policy aspects of technology-enhanced classroom teaching and learning by creating a dedicated source of funding for school district technology purchases and activities to improve student performance. The Florida Department of Education (DOE) is charged with developing a Florida Digital Classrooms Plan that establishes minimum protocols, parameters and requirements for the state and district. The legislation also requires school districts to develop and annually submit district plans for activities resulting from purchases of digital learning and technology infrastructure, professional development, digital tools, and online assessments to measure student performance outcomes.
2. FLORIDA GI BILL
- House Bill 7015 establishes Florida as the top “Welcome Home” state for the military, veterans and their families by expanding education and employment opportunities and funding key investments in Florida’s military infrastructure. – Effective today, July 1, 2014
The new law waives out-of-state tuition for veterans and funds scholarships, including online programs and book stipends, for members of the Florida National Guard who are not already eligible for the federal GI Bill.
The GI Bill expands the employment preference to all veterans, current members of the Reserves and the Florida National Guard, and the parents and spouses of service members who died in combat. The Florida GI Bill also creates Florida is for Veterans, Inc. (FIV), a direct support organization charged with promoting the value of military skill sets to businesses in the state and assisting in training veterans. The law provides reciprocity, allowing licensed health care practitioners who receive an honorable discharge from the U.S Armed Forces to immediately begin practicing in Florida and waives certain licensing fees for returning veterans.
The law also builds on Florida’s commitment to restoring and renovating Florida’s armories and funds base buffering efforts to preserve Florida’s military missions and protect the state’s military bases.
3. PROTECT VULNERABLE FLORIDIANS
Increase safeguards for Florida’s children and seniors
- Improve Protections Against Sexual Offenders – SB 522, 524 effective today, July 1, 2014;SB 526, 528 effective October 1, 2014
Senate Bill 522 creates an “arrest notification program” to notify Department of Children and Families (DCF) when an offender, previously held at the Florida Civil Commitment Center, is arrested and convicted of either a misdemeanor or felony. The bill further requires the state attorney to refer the rearrested offender for civil commitment. The legislation also allows members of the multidisciplinary team that currently evaluate offenders considered for civil commitment to consult with a state attorney, a law enforcement officer, and victim’s advocate. Additionally, SB 522 expands requirements for DCF release notifications to include the sheriff of the county in which the offender intends to reside as well as the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE).
Senate Bill 524 requires a person be defined as a sexually violent predator and be subject to civil confinement after a finding by two or more members of a multidisciplinary team, and requires higher education institutions to tell students about a sexual predator’s presence on campus.
Senate Bill 526 increases the length of sentences for certain adult-on-minor sex offenses and also prohibits incentive gain-time for offenders convicted of certain sex offenses. The legislation suspends (tolls) post-release supervision of offenders while in DCF custody as part of the civil commitment process and requires the court to order community supervision (split sentences) after release from prison for certain sex offenses.
Senate Bill 528 makes a number of changes to the sex offender registry requirements. The bill creates a process for relevant agencies to be notified of an order granting a registrant’s name change petition and for informing FDLE and law enforcement agencies when a registrant whose name was legally changed fails to meet requirements for obtaining a replacement driver license or identification card. The bill also requires a registrant to report specified information on vehicles the registrant owns and vehicles owned by a person who resides at the registrant’s permanent residence, internet identifiers (prior to their use), palm prints, passports, professional license information, immigration status information, and volunteer status at a Florida institution of higher education. SB 528 also requires registrants who are unable to secure or update a driver license or identification card with Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) to report any change of residence or change of name within 48 hours after the change. Further, the bill requires registrants to report information regarding their intention to establish a residence in another country.
- Child Welfare Reform – Effective today, July 1, 2014, except where otherwise noted in the bill.
Senate Bill 1666 seeks to improve the quality of child abuse investigations conducted by the DCF and certain sheriff’s offices by increasing child welfare expertise in the department, improving child abuse investigator qualifications, and creating a consortium of schools of social work to advise the state on child welfare policy. The bill directs the DCF to conduct immediate investigations of deaths and other significant incidents involving children who have been known to the child protection and child welfare system. The purpose of the investigations is to identify root causes and to rapidly determine the need to change policies and practices related to child protection and child welfare. The bill requires improvements in the care of medically complex children and the investigation of child abuse cases involving these children.
- Fund Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) to reduce the Critical Needs Waiting List – Effective today, July 1, 2014
HB 5001, the 2014-15 GAA, allocates funding to transition approximately 1,260 individuals to the Home and Community-Based Services Waiver.
- Fully Fund Maximum Current Year Expansion of the Guardian Ad Litem Program – Effective today, July 1, 2014
HB 5001, the 2014-15 GAA, allocates funding to continue the expansion of the Guardian Ad Litem Program. The budget funds the maximum current year expansion of the program in keeping with the goal of ensuring every child in the court system will have a guardian ad litem within two years.
- Keep seniors safer by making the administration of Assisted Living Facilities (ALFs) more transparent and accountable
The Legislature took action to improve accountability in ALFs by clarifying who is responsible for assuring residents receive services and requiring a larger cross section of caregivers to report abuse or neglect to the Department of Children and Families Central Abuse Hotline. The legislation creates additional and stricter penalties for ALFs by amending fine amounts and clarifying the criteria under which Agency for Healthcare Administration (AHCA) must revoke or deny a facility’s license or impose an immediate moratorium.
The legislation also improves transparency by requiring additional inspections for facilities with prior violations and requiring AHCA to implement an ALF rating system by March 1, 2015. The legislation also requires AHCA to add certain content to its website by November 1, 2014, to help consumers select an ALF that best meets their needs or the needs of a family member or friend who requires assisted living care.
- Increase Funding for Child Advocacy Centers – Effective today, July 1, 2014
HB 5001, the 2014-15 GAA, allocates historic levels of funding to strengthen Florida’s network of Children’s Advocacy Centers by enhancing services, including medical team services.
- Better Address Human Trafficking – Effective today, July 1, 2014
HB 7141 changes statutory requirements for safe houses to establish standards for residential treatment of sexually exploited children and authorizes safe foster homes. The bill creates a certification program for safe houses and safe foster homes at the DCF, and requires certification in order for these facilities to accept state funds specifically allocated to care for sexually exploited children. The bill requires DCF to create or adopt initial screening and assessment instruments for use in identifying and serving sexually exploited children, and allows a child to be placed in a safe house if the assessment instrument determines that is the most appropriate setting and a safe house is available.
4. $500 MILLION TAX CUT
- Lower Vehicle Registration Fees for All Florida Drivers – Effective September 1, 2014
The centerpiece of the Florida Legislature’s 2014 tax relief package was Senate Bill 156, a $395 million reduction in vehicle registration fees signed into law by Governor Scott last month.
- Reduce Taxes and Fees – Effective May 12, 2014.
House Bill 5601 allocates the remaining $105 million available for tax relief including: provisions for a Back to School Sales Tax Holiday beginning August 1, 2014, and ending August 3, 2014; a Hurricane Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday beginning on May 31, 2014, and ending on June 8, 2014; and a Sales Tax Holiday For Energy Efficient Products beginning on September 19, 2014.
The bill also creates permanent sales tax exemptions for child restraint systems and booster seats for use in motor vehicles and for bicycle helmets marketed for use by youth. The bill creates a permanent sales tax exemption for college and university meal plans (meals purchased at K-12 institutions are already exempt from sales tax) and supports affordable housing, including Habitat for Humanity, by maintaining the Community Contributions Tax Credit program, and increasing the available tax credits.
Among other tax relief measures, the legislation also clarifies that the tax applied to prepaid cell phones should be the state and local sales tax rather than higher state and local communications services taxes.
5. IMPROVE GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY AND EFFICIENCY
- Develop an Information Technology Governance Strategy for State Government – Effective today, July 1, 2014
HB 7073 creates the Agency for State Technology, as an executive agency administratively housed within the Department of Management Services. The legislation also creates a Chief Information Officer, appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate, to provide leadership in the areas of enterprise-wide technology solutions, strategic planning, information technology policy, security, technology procurements, and the operation and maintenance of centralized equipment.
Beginning January 1, 2015, the Agency for State Technology will perform project oversight services for any state agency project with a total project cost of $10 million or more, and any projects that affect multiple agencies and have a total project cost of $25 million or more and are initiated by Cabinet agencies. The legislation further directs the Agency for State Technology to provide best practices for Information Technology procurement and review all Information Technology purchases with a total cost of $250,000 or more.
- Continue to Improve Florida’s Ethics Laws – Effective today, July 1, 2014
Senate Bill 846 expands Florida’s ethics laws to promote transparency, accountability, and ethical behavior among officials in local governments, special taxing districts, and quasi-governmental organizations that deliver government services and spend taxpayer dollars either directly or indirectly. The bill also requires Direct Support Organizations and Citizen Support Organizations that are created or authorized by statute to assist state agencies or perform government services to adopt their own Code of Ethics at least as stringent as the state’s; applies anti-nepotism provisions and voting conflict standards to statutorily created quasi-governmental entities like the Florida Clerk of Courts, Enterprise Florida, and Citizens Property Insurance; and requires water management districts to set up and use lobbyist registration systems.
- Implement Lobbyist Compensation Audits – Guidelines adopted November 4, 2014
On November 13, 2013 the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee established scope of work for audits of lobbyist compensation reports, which will begin for quarterly reports filed in 2014.
- Clarify Legislator Residency Requirements – Passed the Florida Senate and the Florida House on March 4, 2014
The Joint Rule on Residency (HCR 8007/SCR 954) specifies that residency is demonstrated by a totality of the circumstances based on a non-exhaustive list of common-sense factors and codifies the way a residency challenge would currently be analyzed, starting with the Legislature’s unique constitutional authority and then looking at the particular facts. At Organization Session, the joint rule requires each member to affirm in writing that he or she is an elector and a legal resident of his or her district.
For more information about this or any other issue, please contact Senator Don Gaetz, by e-mail at email@example.com, by letter, 4300 Legendary Drive, Suite 230, Destin, FL 32541 or call 1-866-450-4DON toll free from anywhere in Florida.