Stronger ethics, higher school bus fines, no more greyhounds in 2021

Big jump in Florida’s minimum wage won’t happen until September

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A bill dealing with a voter-approved prohibition on public officials and employees using their offices to benefit themselves, their families or employers is among four new Florida laws that will take effect this week.

The other bills involve fines for driving past stopped school buses, insurance policy statements and election equipment used for recounts.

The biggest change most Floridians will feel in the coming year -- a voter-approved boost in the minimum wage to $10 per hour -- won’t take effect until the end of September. Under existing Florida law, the rate will go up to $8.65 on Jan. 1 under existing Florida law -- an increase of 9 cents per hour. The minimum wage for tipped workers will be $5.63 an hour as of Friday.

Lawmakers during the 2020 legislative session passed a bill (HB 7009) to help carry out a 2018 constitutional amendment aimed, at least in part, at slowing the revolving door involving public officials and the private sector.

In all, lawmakers approved 206 bills during the 2020 session, which ended March 19, with 201 signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Most of the new laws, including a state budget, hit the books on July 1 or on Oct. 1.

The bill to carry out what was Amendment 12 on the 2018 ballot will take effect Thursday. It was approved without debate or opposition in the House and Senate. Amendment 12 was among a handful of proposed amendments that passed after being put before voters in 2018 by the Constitution Revision Commission.

The amendment received support from nearly 80% of voters.

The bill deals with penalties for public officials and employees who abuse their positions and was passed after the Florida Commission on Ethics approved a rule that defined “disproportionate benefit.” Part of the constitutional amendment said a “public officer or public employee shall not abuse his or her public position in order to obtain a disproportionate benefit for himself or herself; his or her spouse, children, or employer; or for any business with which he or she contracts; in which he or she is an officer, a partner, a director, or a proprietor; or in which he or she owns an interest.”

Two other parts of the amendment still require legislative action and aren’t set to become law until Dec. 31, 2022.

One will extend from two years to six years the time in which lawmakers must wait after leaving office before lobbying legislators and other statewide elected officials. The change also puts similar prohibitions on former state agency heads and former judges. The second change prohibits public officials, while in office, from lobbying for compensation government agencies or the Legislature on such things as policies, appropriations and contracts.

Another measure backed by voters in 2018, known as Amendment 13, set a Dec. 31, 2020, deadline to end greyhound racing at pari-mutuel facilities. The Palm Beach Kennel Club on its website is promoting racing from “noon to midnight” for Thursday, the final day.

While the Amendment 12-related bill is effective Thursday, the following bills from the 2020 session go into place on Friday:

SCHOOL BUSES: A bill (HB 37) will increase penalties for motorists who drive improperly when buses are stopped to load and unload children. In part, it will increase from $100 to $200 the minimum penalty for motorists who fail to stop for school buses and will double from $200 to $400 the minimum penalty for motorists who pass stopped school buses on the side where children enter and exit.

“We’re sending a message that we’re taking this seriously. Pay attention to the roads, especially when there’s young children that are going on and off of the school bus,” said state Rep. Emily Slosberg, the bill’s sponsor.

INSURANCE: A bill (SB 292) will require insurance carriers to provide a “loss run statement” within 15 days of a written request from policyholders. The law also prohibits insurance carriers from charging fees for preparing or annually providing single loss-run statements.

ELECTIONS: A bill (HB 1005) will allow county canvassing boards and supervisors of elections to use automated tabulating equipment that is not part of the voting systems to conduct machine and manual recounts. The bill also requires testing of voting equipment to occur at least 25 days before the start of early voting, correcting a provision that had voting systems being tested for accuracy after the canvassing of vote-by-mail ballots had begun.

IMMIGRATION: Employers will have to begin checking the immigration status of their new hires through the federal e-verify system or by collecting I-9 forms starting in January. Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this year suggested it will ensure legal citizens are first in line to be hired.

“That could actually be something that’s even more important now given that people are going to be needing jobs,” DeSantis said March.

But others like the ACLU worry it will make the hiring process more difficult.

“Businesses don’t need more obstacles right now for hiring new workers and that’s exactly what E-Verify does. Businesses need flexibility and E-Verify ties their hands,” said Kara Gross with the ACLU of Florida.

GREYHOUND RACING: The new year will bring the official end to the century-old Florida industry of greyhound racing. A constitutional amendment in 2018 passed with 69% of the vote. Most tracks have already closed and the estimated 3,000 people associated with the racing have been let go -- although one final greyhound racing will take place at 11:59 p.m. on New Year’s Eve at the Palm Beach Kennel Club.

“These dogs will not have to race for their lives any longer and will be able to be regular dogs,” said Kate MacFall with Protect Dogs: Yes on 13.

A lobbyist for the Florida Greyhound Association said adoptive homes have been found for most of the dogs.

Advocates recommended going to petfinder.com if you’re looking to adopt.


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