TALLAHASSEE (AP) - Florida will have 159 new laws take affect Tuesday that address issues as diverse as spiny lobsters and poetry to abortion and the budget.
Among the most noteworthy are laws that will seek to protect children and others from the most dangerous sex offenders. The package of bills was among the first the Legislature sent to Gov. Rick Scott during the 60-day session that ended in May.
The laws are designed to keep the most violent sexual offenders locked up longer and close loopholes in a law that allows the state to send predators to a high-security treatment center even after they've finished their prison sentences. More offenders will be subject to potential civil commitment (confinement after completion of a sentence) and prosecutors, detectives and victim advocates will be part of the team that reviews their cases.
"The sexually violent predator package was part of the broader movement to have a better child welfare system in place in the state of Florida," said Rep. Matt Gaetz R-Shalimar, who helped push through the package. "No other state in America has a 50-year mandatory minimum prison sentence for violent sexual offenders."
Another law seeking to protect children overhauls the Department of Children and Families. It shifts the way the department investigates and responds to cases by clearly stating that protecting a child from abuse is paramount and more important than keeping a family together. It also pays for 270 additional child protective investigators to reduce caseloads and establishes a response team to quickly investigate child abuse deaths when the child had previous dealings with the system.
Another law will create a statewide pilot program to pay for foster children's driver's education classes, license fees and car insurance so to better prepare them to be able to seek jobs when they turn 18 and leave the system.
The children of immigrants in the country illegally will be able to receive in-state tuition at state universities after Scott changed his position on the issue. Another bill will give tuition breaks to honorably discharged veterans and waive professional licensing fees for them.
Local school boards will have the responsibility of selecting textbooks, whether or not they are on a state-adopted list, and will have to put in place policies that allow parents to object to the books they choose.
Another new law that took effect June 20 expands a voucher program that gives corporate tax credits to companies that provide money for poor families to send their children to private schools.
Among other laws, there will be increased criminal penalties for spiny lobster poachers, people leaving the scene of an accident that causes injury and people who illegally sell prescription drugs. Electronic cigarette sales to minors will also be illegal in Florida. Another law prohibits sending text messages soliciting products to residents on the state's "no sales solicitation calls" list.
And Florida will now have a new definition for its late-term abortion ban. Abortions will be illegal in Florida at any point in a woman's pregnancy if her doctor determines that the fetus could survive outside the womb. The previous law banned abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy. An exception can be made if the mother's life is at risk.
And new laws will establish a Florida Tourism Hall of Fame and the position of state poet laureate to promote poetry in Florida.