New year brings lobbying restrictions, toll breaks for Floridians
Beefed up lobbying restrictions and breaks for motorists who frequently use toll roads are among state laws and other changes that will arrive with the new year.
The laws, passed during this year’s regular legislative session and special sessions, also include making available land-preservation money, allowing local governments to publish legal notices online instead of in newspapers and ending a long-controversial practice in the property-insurance system.
Most of the bills that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed this year took effect on July 1 or upon his signature. But here are some changes that will take effect Sunday:
--- LOBBYING: New laws (HB 7001 and HB 7003) will carry out a constitutional amendment that voters overwhelmingly passed in 2018 to expand from two years to six years the time that certain officials will have to wait to start lobbying after leaving government positions. The restrictions will apply to lawmakers, state agency heads, judges and many local officials.
--- TOLL CREDITS: During a special session this month, lawmakers approved a measure (SB 6-A) that will provide 50 percent credits to motorists who record 35 or more toll-road trips in a month. The program will last for a year, with lawmakers agreeing to spend $500 million to help toll agencies cover lost revenue.
--- DISASTER ASSISTANCE: Responding to the devastating 2021 collapse of the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside, lawmakers approved making property tax rebates available when residential properties are rendered uninhabitable for 30 days. During the December special session, lawmakers passed a measure (SB 4-A) to offer similar rebates to property owners who sustained damage in Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole. Property owners will be able to apply to county property appraisers between Jan. 1 and April 1.
--- LAND PRESERVATION: Part of the state budget will free up $300 million within the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for land acquisition.
--- PUBLIC NOTICES: Lawmakers approved a measure (HB 7049) that will allow local governments to publish legal notices on county websites instead of in newspapers. Local governments in counties with fewer than 160,000 residents must first hold public hearings to determine if residents have sufficient access to the internet.
— PROPERTY INSURANCE: Lawmakers during the special session this month approved ending a controversial practice known as assignment of benefits for property insurance. The practice involves homeowners signing over claims to contractors, who then pursue payments from insurers. The prohibition on assignment of benefits (SB 2-A) will apply to policies issued on or after Jan. 1.
— WORKERS' COMPENSATION RATES: An average 8.4 percent decrease in workers’ compensation insurance rates will take effect in January, marking the sixth consecutive year that average rates have decreased.
--- APPELLATE COURTS: Florida’s appellate courts will be revamped Jan. 1 under a law (HB 7027) that created a 6th District Court of Appeal and revised the jurisdictions of the 1st District Court of Appeal, the 2nd District Court of Appeal and the 5th District Court of Appeal.
--- MIYA'S LAW: Lawmakers passed a measure (SB 898) that will require apartment landlords to conduct background checks on all employees. The bill, dubbed “Miya’s Law,” came after the death of 19-year-old Miya Marcano, a Valencia College student who went missing from her Orlando apartment in September and was found dead a week later. The suspected killer, who later committed suicide, worked as a maintenance worker at Marcano’s apartment complex.
--- SCHOOL BOOK SELECTIONS: As part of a broader education bill (HB 1467), lawmakers required that a training program be available as of Jan. 1 for school librarians, media specialists and others involved in the selection of school library materials. The program is aimed, in part, at providing access to “age-appropriate materials and library resources.”
--- NEWBORN SCREENINGS: A measure (SB 292) will require hospitals and other state-licensed birthing facilities to test newborns for congenital cytomegalovirus if the infants fail hearing tests. The virus can cause hearing loss in infants.