An attempt to curb motorists from texting while driving goes into effect Tuesday, along with laws that put limits on funeral protests, late-night massages and the use of tax dollars at strip joints and liquor stores.
Also, a new law creates another specialty license plate, this one --- the 121st offered by the state --- for the Freemasons.
While the majority of the nearly 200 bills approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott this spring hit the books July 1, another round of new laws goes into effect Oct. 1.
The new laws include measures that increase penalties on those who recruit minors into gangs (HB 407) and distribute harmful material to minors at school (HB 113), as well as measures that give people the chance to speak at government meetings (SB 50) and provide protections against the theft of plastic pallets used to transport agriculture (HB 1393).
The new law getting the most attention is the long-sought texting-while-driving ban (SB 52).
The law makes texting while driving a secondary offense, which means motorists could only be ticketed if they are pulled over for other infractions. Also, the measure provides exemptions for use of GPS devices, talk-to-text technology and for reporting criminal behavior. It also allows texting while stopped, such as at red lights.
While the measure has faced criticism for being too weak, lawmakers and the Florida Highway Patrol say the important thing is to simply have such a rule on the books.
"Over half of all teens self report they have used a cell phone while driving," FHP spokesman Lt. Jeff Frost said. "Eleven percent of fatal crashes, where the driver was under 20, were the result of distracted driving."
The FHP has been conducting educational outreach at high schools across the state about the new law. The aim is to reduce the use of cell phones and other electronic devices while driving, as one in five of those distracted teens involved in fatal crashes were using cell phones or texting, Frost said.
For lawmakers, the law, which was more than five years in the making, is just the first step to reduce texting while driving.
Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, is expected to announce Tuesday she will file a bill for the 2014 session that seeks to strengthen the texting-while-driving ban.
The texting law isn't the only one coming into practice with some notoriety.
A couple of vice-tied measures go into place Tuesday.
A new law (HB 701) prohibits state-issued Electronic Benefits Transfer “EBT” Cards, formerly known as food stamps, from being used at strip clubs, liquor stores and gambling establishments.
During the 2013 session, several Democrats called the Republican-backed proposal political posturing, noting that the state Department of Children and Families already had the ability to shut off state “EBT” cards from being used at such facilities.
Another new law (HB 7005) is the latest effort to crack down on human trafficking by targeting shady massage businesses that are fronts for prostitution.
The law prevents the operations of massage establishments between midnight and 5 a.m. and in most cases prohibits people from living in the businesses. The law has exception for businesses such as health spas and hotels that offer massage services.
Also, the never-popular field of funeral protesting will now have some state backed guidelines.
A law (HB 15) makes it a first-degree misdemeanor to protest within 500 feet of a funeral. Besides being a first-degree misdemeanor to protest within 500 feet of a funeral, protests must halt during the period one hour before the services to one hour after the funeral or burial is completed.
The measure is a direct response to protests that have been held for several years at military funerals and other events to draw attention to the beliefs of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church.