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Florida laws taking affect in 2014: foster care, natural gas, sex trafficking and elections

By on January 1, 2014
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A number of new Florida laws go into effect in January 1, addressing such issues as human sex trafficking, election problems, the age foster care children can remain in the program and state tax incentives for companies to develop natural gas vehicle fleets.

In 2013, the Legislature approved and Gov. Rick Scott signed, nearly 200 new laws, reports Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida. Many went into effect July and October, while others start in the New Year.

Among the wave of new laws is a 14-cent increase in the state’s minimum wage.

An automatic increase, the rate is recalculated each year based on the federal Consumer Price Index. Florida’s minimum hourly pay will be $7.93, an increase from $7.79. The federal minimum wage is $7.25.

Some of the bills taking action Jan. 1: 

Elections

HB 7013: Allows up to 14 days for early voting, though local supervisors could choose to stay at the current eight days, and allows for more flexibility for early voting sites. The law limits the length of some ballot summaries for constitutional amendments.

The new rule dissolves the committee setting the date of the presidential primary, replacing it with a rule requiring that a referendum be held on the first Tuesday to comply with party rules. Over the last several years, Republican and Democratic national convention delegations lost members as Florida wrestled with earlier primary dates.

Florida legislators made election reforms a priority after problems in November 2012, including some voters not casting ballots until after TV networks projected President Barack Obama the national winner, taking days before Florida officially declared Obama the winner.

Sex trafficking

HB 1325/1327: The measures establish a legal system to expunge criminal records for human trafficking, often for prostitution charges. The process only applies to crimes committed while victims were forced, threatened or coerced. 

Natural gas 

HB 579: Establishes a five-year state fuel-tax exemption for natural gas, as an incentive for companies to expand use of natural gas vehicles. Also creates a fuel-tax framework for natural gas by 2019 that is similar to those for diesel fuel.

“This legislation will pave the way for the increased use of natural gas; spurring economic growth, reducing our dependency on foreign oil, and providing a cleaner burning source of fuel,” Sen. Wilton Simpson, who sponsored the bill, said in April.

Rebates of up to 50 percent of costs of converting certain vehicles to natural gas are available through the Natural Gas Fuel Fleet Vehicle Rebate Program. Applicants are eligible to receive a maximum rebate of $25,000 per vehicle, for a total of $250,000 per fiscal year.

Any person selling retail natural gas fuels in Florida is now required to obtain a license from the Department of Revenue. 

By 2019, Turner says, the law could cut $100,000 from Florida general revenue, $300,000 from state trust funds, and $200,000 from local governments, according to Revenue Estimating Conference estimates.

Courts

HB 7017: Revokes fixed terms of court, from an outdated concept from the days when Supreme Court or circuit judges went into the city were court was held for a specified term.

Limited liability companies

SB 1300: A 224-page bundle intended to modernize rules for limited liability companies, which keep Florida in line with other states to retain businesses and jobs.

Foster care

SB 1036: Young adults now have an option to stay in foster care until age 21. Children already in the foster care system have the option to stay in the program past the age of 18 under certain conditions: working at least 80 hours per month; completing high school, postsecondary or vocational educations; participating in job-training programs, or unable to work due to disabilities.

State analysts found that allowing children to stay in the system until 21 will not cost any more, since many youths leaving foster care often become homeless, jobless or end up in jail.

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