July 1 New Fiscal Year and New Laws
By MICHAEL PELTIER
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, June 29, 2012.........New laws on a range of topics from high school athletics and pregnant prisoners to automobile insurance and environmental permitting take effect Sunday.
July 1 marks the beginning of the fiscal year, but also is the effective date for roughly half of the laws passed by legislators earlier this year. In all, about 150 new statutes and a $70 billion budget take effect.
Public schools will now be held more financially accountable for student performance in core courses under a measure (HB 7059) that also makes it easier for students to graduate early. The law allows students who have completed 24 credits to graduate early and receive Bright Futures scholarships. The measure also ties funding for must-pass courses to student performance on tests in those subjects while clarifying eligibility rules for Advanced Placement and dual-enrollment programs. It also pushes school principals to adopt accelerated learning options for students and provide certain guarantees that qualified students get the chance to participate.
High school athletes at charter and private schools will find it easier to compete as lawmakers relaxed restrictions on their participation in events sponsored by the Florida High School Athletic Association.
The measure (HB 1403) allows transfer students to largely remain eligible in the same year they change schools and would limit the ability of FHSAA to force students to sit for recruiting violations. Instead, it would crack down on schools and coaches involved in the violations.
School boards will also be able to allow students to deliver inspirational messages at school events under a controversial measure (SB 98) that critics have already promised to challenge in court. The measure, one of the most contentious of the past session, could allow prayers at events that students must attend, but also could allow other types of messages.
Counties could have to pay tens of millions of dollars in disputed health-care charges that have piled up for years under a Medicaid bill (HB 5301), which includes several other provisions in addition to the billing change.
The most contentious part of the measure requires counties to pay disputed Medicaid bills unless they can prove to an administrative judge that the bills were unwarranted.
Counties argue that the state should fix its billing system, which they say is plagued with errors, before using the withholding mechanism in the bill to force counties to pay 85 percent of bills that might or might not be valid. Lawmakers who supported the measure said they should have been paying their bills all along.
The counties would have three years to pay back the money, at a cost of about $77.5 million, according to the state; the Florida Association of Counties argues that the measure will cost governments nearly $155.6 million. Several counties have sued over the issue.
Other health bills taking effect include HB 291 that requires the FHSAA and independent youth sanctioning authorities to develop “return to play” policies for athletes who sustain traumatic head injuries.
Another new law (HB 509) authorizes pharmacists to administer the pneumonia vaccine to adults pursuant to a protocol with a physician and to administer the shingles vaccine to adults pursuant to a prescription from a physician. The law requires pharmacists to obtain continuing education and certification.
Lawmakers earlier this year passed an expansive bill (HB 119) aimed at reducing costs in the state's personal injury protection system (PIP), a $10,000 medical benefit that critics say is rife with fraud, overutilization and litigation.
The law's major provisions don't kick in until Jan. 1, 2013 and include a detailed framework for which medical providers are eligible for reimbursement under PIP coverage. The list included physicians, hospitals, and chiropractors. Other provisions of the law, however, kick in Monday.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT/WORKFORCE :
Republican-led efforts to assist Florida businesses, a priority of both chambers and Gov. Rick Scott, continues with a roll back of unemployment taxes and another initiative to assist the Space Coast in its transition to a post-shuttle world.
The tax paid by businesses for unemployment benefits was scheduled to go up to about $171 per employee, but the law (HB 7027) would reduce that to about $121 per worker.
The law delays the state's repayment schedule, stretching it out to five years instead of three. That puts employers on the hook for more interest, but reduces payments now. The measure also reduces the wage base for calculating the unemployment tax from $8,500 to $8,000 per worker.
A law (HB 1205) allowing state agencies to drug test their employees kicks in but is being challenged in federal court. The law, which was overwhelmingly approved by the Legislature, would allow agencies to conduct random testing every three months. Agencies would use a computer system to choose employees to be tested, with the total not exceeding 10 percent of the agency workforce.
The law gives agencies the authority to put the tests into effect but does not require them to do so. Costs of the tests would have to be paid for by the state. It limits the number of employees tested to no more than 10 percent of each agency's workforce every three months.
Lawmakers also nipped at the autonomy of regional workforce boards by allowing the governor to fire individual board members without having to sack the entire board, a "nuclear option" that hindered oversight.
Some of the boards have come under fire for conflicts of interest as they attempt to retrain workers. A state audit found that from 2008 to 2010 the workforce boards handed out more than $7.5 million in contracts to companies controlled by or linked to their board members.
Questionable expenditures like the purchase of super hero capes for unemployed workers were among a litany of other concerns that led lawmakers to push for more statewide oversight.
The measure (HB 7023) sets standards and qualifications for regional workforce boards and would require board members to submit financial disclosures.
A wide-ranging bill (HB 503) makes a number of changes in the environmental permitting process, including prohibiting local governments from making a development permit conditional on having some other state permit.
The law deregulates certain types of injection wells and sets a time limit on some permit applications. The bill also removes agency approval requirements for small storm water projects and extends deadlines for certain environmental resource permits.
Another measure will change the way the state regulates reclaimed water. The law (HB 639) exempts reclaimed water from the current definitions of "state waters." The designation is significant because Florida statutes say the state is responsible for managing state waters, which are considered a basic public resource.
The measure prohibits water management districts from requiring consumptive use permits for reclaimed water. If groundwater of surface water is included in the mix, the district would retain the ability to regulate.
Statewide, about 660 million gallons of reclaimed water is being used every day for a range of purposes, from phosphate mining and electricity generation to golf course watering. The amount equals about half of the state's available resource.
Lawmakers also passed restrictions on restraints used on pregnant incarcerated women. The measure ( HB 524) prevents certain types of restraints used during pregnancy, labor and delivery.
The cost of a concealed weapons permit was slashed by $5. The new law (HB 5601) lowers the cost of a new concealed weapons permit to $70 and the renewal fee to $65.