State Implemented Major Regulatory Reform and Improved Florida’s Licensing System
While Providing Support to Businesses and Professionals During the Pandemic
Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) Secretary Halsey Beshears highlighted 2020 agency achievements on regulatory reform initiatives and advancements in the delivery of regulatory services. Accomplishments for the calendar year include passage and implementation of the “Occupational Freedom and Opportunity Act,” new online licensing and testing options, and support for businesses and professionals throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Under the leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis, we were able to realize great strides and advancements in occupational licensing reforms and support businesses and professionals during the public health emergency,” said DBPR Secretary Halsey Beshears. “We were proud to add additional online transactions and begin offering online license testing opportunities that helped many Floridians continue to work throughout the pandemic. DBPR remains committed to providing quality customer service and efficiency in licensing.”
This year, DBPR made significant progress in occupational licensing reform through the passage of the “Occupational Freedom and Opportunity Act,” a significant priority of Governor DeSantis’ efforts to remove unnecessary barriers to practicing in Florida’s regulated professions. The Department also worked toward improvements in regulatory fees and requirements, expanding electronic options for agency services, reducing investigative times on license compliance cases, and additional performance highlights of agency programs as outlined below.
OCCUPATIONAL LICENSING REFORMS
Governor DeSantis signed “The Occupational Freedom and Opportunity Act” (The Act) which eliminates barriers of entry to certain professions licensed by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DPBR).
- The Act enhanced endorsement and reciprocity provisions by allowing reciprocal licensing agreements with other states for several professions and adding endorsement and removing examination requirements for certain professions.
- The Act also removes certain duplicative business licenses and license fees such as those for architects, geologists, and landscape architects and allows yacht and ship brokers to maintain one license tied to their principal place of business without requiring additional licenses for each branch office.
- The Act reduces licensure education requirements by reducing pre-licensure and continuing education hours, such as removing the continuing professional education requirement for applicants applying for licensure by endorsement as a certified public accountant and lowering the number of training hours required to be eligible for barber licensure from 1200 to 900.
- The Act eliminates other licensure and registration requirements, for example by removing licensure of interior designers but allowing for certification on an optional basis. It also eliminates the registration of labor organizations by the Department.
- The Act reduced the number of members on the Florida Building Commission from 27 to 19 members.
- The Act will enable a projected cost savings for Floridians of nearly $1.5 million over the next two fiscal years.
“Governor DeSantis and DBPR have led the charge to improve access to a stable job and a clear career path for cosmetologists through regulatory improvements this year and by reducing training hours and eliminating licenses for certain categories, such as hair braiders, hair wrappers and body wrappers,” said Rhonda Griffis, Board Chair for the Florida Board of Cosmetology. “Thanks to the state’s efforts, more hardworking Floridians are able to achieve a successful career in cosmetology.”
OTHER IMPROVEMENTS IN REGULATORY FEES AND REQUIREMENTS
- Reduced any fee amount over $50 by $25 by an initiative of the Board of Architecture and Interior Design.
- Reduced the biennial renewal fees of the Florida Real Estate Commission by 50% for all real estate licensees, which will result in an $8.8 million dollar fee holiday over 4 renewal cycles.
- Reduced the burdens placed on barber and restricted barber applicants by amending rules of the Florida Barbers’ Board to lower the written examination passing grade from seventy five 75 percent to 70 percent.
- Amended the Rule on Barbershop Requirements to address the issue of cosmetology practice in barbershops as well as incorporated changes to toilet and lavatory facilities.
“Based upon Governor DeSantis’ recommendation to remove occupational licensing barriers, we are proud to have reduced the fees for architecture licensure. This year we reduced the financial burden for these professionals to allow for easier access to a professional career.” said Steve Jernigan, Chairman of the Board of Architecture and Interior Design.
EXPANDED ELECTRONIC OPTIONS FOR AGENCY SERVICES
- Implemented new, online examination options across 18 professional licensing exams, effectively expanding the number of seats and opportunities to complete a required licensure examination with the added convenience and safety of taking the exam remotely.
- Launched more than 650 additional online transactions for license applications across 32 professional and business categories, resulting in greater efficiency and significant time savings for licensure.
- Introduced new, virtual education programs offered through the Florida Division of Condominiums, Timeshare, and Mobile Homes (CTMH), expanding the frequency and convenience of offering these programs for members and officers of associations.
- Updated the Building Code Information System (BCIS) with a new online payment form that provides a simplified and more efficient submittal and collection process for local jurisdictions in remitting the permit fee surcharges owed to the Florida Building Commission and the Building Code Administrators and Inspectors Fund.
- Enhanced promotion and search responsiveness of the Florida Business Information Portal, increasing web traffic to site among individuals seeking to establish or relocate their business in Florida.
REDUCED INVESTIGATIVE TIMES ON LICENSE COMPLIANCE CASES
- Reduced the average case investigation time for the Division of Regulation from 120 to 70 days.
- Reduced the average case investigation time in the Division of Real Estate from 60 days to less than 50 days.
- Reduced the average case investigation time for the Division of Certified Public Accounting from 77 to 58 days.
ADDITIONAL PERFORMANCE HIGHLIGHTS OF AGENCY PROGRAMS
- Hosted 3 Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) events in one week and 3 Matchroom Boxing events, among 60 other events throughout the year, which was one of the busiest years of matches on record for the Florida Boxing Commission.
- Achieved 99% completion for the inspections of Cosmetology, Barbers and Veterinary establishments.
- Completed 303 successful mediations through the Division of Regulation during FY 19-20, representing a cost savings to the Department of $307,242 and consumer recoveries of $1.4 million, an increase of more than 60 mediations compared to the year prior.
- Increased voluntary usage of the Electronic Data Submission (“EDS”) system for monthly excise tax and surcharge reporting, increasing the percentage of alcoholic beverage and tobacco licensees using the system from 92.22% to 93.49% for alcohol reporting, and from 87.67% to 96.55% for tobacco reporting, over the same period from last year (October 2019 versus October 2020).
- Licensed a growing population of real estate professionals in Florida – 437,744 currently licensed real estate professionals represents an increase of 6% or 25,564 new licensees since October 2019.
- Partnered with the Agency for Health Care Administration on the development and planning for the International Prescription Drug Importation Program.
- Focused on pursuing criminal prosecutions from Hurricane Michael cases related to unlicensed activity and initiated similar enforcement activity in Pensacola after Hurricane Sally.
- Developed an informational resource webpage with helpful tools for all public lodging establishments licensed by DBPR that are required to provide annual human trafficking awareness training.
- Expanded relationships with law enforcement, legal, association, and unit owner partners through increased outreach efforts of the Condominium Ombudsman appointed in July 2020.
- Reduced the time to investigate cases due to a streamlined process in the Condo, Timeshare and Mobile Home Division (CTMH), effectively reducing case volume by nearly half in 2020.
- Changed process related to CTMH complainants to lower contact from 30 days to within 48 hours of receipt of the complaint, inform them within seven days of receipt if the complaint will result in an investigation and provide complainants a status update every 30 days on progress of the investigation.
ENSURED PUBLIC HEALTH AND SAFETY THROUGH SUPPORT FOR BUSINESSES AND PROFESSIONALS DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
Implemented Regulatory Measures for Public Health and Safety
- Suspended provisions related to the expiration date of personal protective equipment including N-95 respirators and surgical masks.
- Established the occupancy and operational standards for restaurants and bars to promote adherence to CDC guidelines and recommendations for public health and safety.
- Suspended certain conditions of the emergency powers of the association board of a condominium, cooperative, or homeowners’ association to allow the exercise of these powers during the state of emergency, and suspended timing requirements pertaining to the preparation, submittal, or filing of certain financial reports and statements of a condominium association, cooperative association, or timeshare plan.
- Suspended any restriction which would prohibit an active Florida-licensed veterinarian from practicing telemedicine on a patient.
- Participated and led drug shortage virtual meeting with state, federal, municipal and private industry to assist in planning and motivating drug shortages impacting the treatment and response to COVID-19.
- Established processes within allowed agency discretion to ensure nursing homes, hospitals and other medical facilities had adequate supplies and options for obtaining medical oxygen through coordination among current medical gas permit holders, affected entities, and other state agencies.
- Increased statewide enforcement efforts of inspectors and law enforcement agents with emphasis on monitoring restaurants and bars for compliance with the parameters of the Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. Plan for Florida’s Recovery, including an enhanced, daily field presence in licensed establishments through both routine and complaint-based inspections on a schedule that includes weekdays and weekends.
Supported Emergency Relief and Recovery
- Established measures for conducting meetings of professional licensing boards virtually while ensuring public participation options.
- Established a dedicated online channel for facilitating receipt of compliance concerns specific to emergency orders.
- Conducted proactive phone, e-mail, and on-site outreach to licensed businesses related to existing regulations and emergency order protocols that impact operation of their business.
- Coordinated with Florida Department of Health on outreach to farm labor groups to address testing and monitoring priorities related to migrant workers.
- Suspended the license renewal deadlines for any license, permit, registration, or certificate with expiration and provided that license renewal requirements for completion of continuing education, if applicable, are also suspended for the same time period.
- Suspended and tolled all time requirements, notice requirements, and deadlines for final agency action on applications for permits, licenses, rates, and other approvals and all deadlines for licensure eligibility and examination eligibility.
- Utilized agency discretion under applicable rules and emergency orders to support the efficient distribution of drugs and the licensing of regulated drug entities during the pandemic.
- Adapted system requirements and processes to accurately reflect status of licenses under provisions of state emergency orders and to accommodate extensions of deadlines associated with license renewal, license examination, and other filing requirements.
- Expedited the application process for establishments seeking a food service license, facilitating timely relief for businesses in need of expanded sales options during the effect of emergency orders.
- Waived all fees for product approval applications received between July 1, 2020, and December 31, 2020, by the Florida Building Commission.
- Waived the assessment of pilotage earned by harbor pilots and extended the deadline for the filing of a harbor pilot’s annual earnings statement.
- Suspended the existing renewal deadline of any license issued by the Florida Real Estate Commission and extended the deadline for any continuing education hours that are an existing condition.
- Participated in Governor’s Re-Open Florida Task Force with particular support for the Industry Working Group on Accommodation, Food, Tourism, Construction, Real Estate, Recreation, Retail, and Transportation.
- Consulted on best practices for food service, lodging, bars, and cosmetology businesses and recommended reopening strategies informed by health guidance and industry feedback.
- Arranged statewide town hall meetings with hundreds of bar and brewery representatives to open a forum for discussion of responsible paths to reopening these licensed establishments safely.
- Offered options of self-inspection in lieu of an on-site inspection for barber and cosmetology establishments scheduled for inspection during Fiscal Year 2019-20.
- Introduced new, online examination options across 18 professional licensing exams, effectively expanding the number of seats and opportunities to complete a required licensure examination with the added convenience and safety of taking the exam remotely.
- Coordinated with other professional licensing boards, such as construction and veterinary medicine, to implement rule changes necessary to make pre-licensure and continuing education hours eligible for completion through virtual options.
- Led initiatives of Emergency Support Function 6 (ESF6) of the State Emergency Response Team with emphasis on coordinating food bank and other feeding activities with county emergency management agency plans and maintaining state-level feeding data.
- Supported ESF6 initiatives focused on vulnerable populations such as the homeless, migrants, and disabled and AFN populations to identify and address issues.
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