TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Gov. Rick Scott signed 95 bills into law Friday, including measures to further restrict abortions in Florida, keep electronic cigarettes out of the hands of minors and regulate the commercial parasailing industry.
The new laws, which mostly go into effect July 1, are also designed to draw more private insurers to write flood-insurance coverage in the state, crack down on questionable charity operations and move up the start of the 2016 legislative session from the usual March kickoff to January.
Meanwhile, Scott has not taken action on eight bills that were among 105 sent to him by the Legislature last week.
The bills still on Scott’s desk include proposals (HB 989 and HB 7141) to try to curb human-trafficking in the state and a measure (SB 1030) that would legalize a form of medical marijuana that purportedly does not get users high but which alleviates life-threatening seizures.
As with his other bill signings since the end of the spring session, Scott did the latest paperwork without public fanfare. His daily calendar has recently focused on campaign appearances.
Scott has now taken action on 184 of the 255 bills approved by the Legislature this year. Only one bill, which would have allowed speed limits to be increased on state highways (SB 392), has been vetoed.
Probably the most-controversial bill signed Friday was the abortion measure (HB 1047), which lawmakers approved along almost straight party lines.
The bill defines viability as the stage of development when the life of a fetus is sustainable outside the womb via standard medical measures. It would require physicians to conduct exams before performing abortions to determine if fetuses are viable, and if so, abortions generally wouldn’t be allowed.
Supporters say the measure could prevent abortions around the 20th week of pregnancy, while opponents called it a setback for women’s reproductive rights. Under current law, most abortions are banned during the third trimester of pregnancy.
Former Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich, running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, blasted Scott’s signing of the abortion bill in a fundraising email.
“This is an outrage, and we have to do something,” Rich emailed to supporters. “Florida needs a pro-choice governor, so I need your help.”
Meanwhile, sponsors of bills signed Friday quickly sent out emails touting the new laws.
As an example, Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, thanked Scott after he signed SB 224, which bans the sales of electronic cigarettes to minors, similar to bans on sales of cigarettes and other tobacco products.
“As a mom, I’m proud of our fight to keep e cigs out of kids’ hands,” Benacquisto, who championed the legislation, tweeted.
Electronic cigarettes have become increasingly popular as they allow users to inhale vaporized nicotine without all the health risks of smoking regular cigarettes. While supporters point to those health benefits, critics of “e-cigarettes” warn that the devices can hook people on nicotine, which could lead to use of other tobacco products.
Also pleased Friday was Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who backed the bill (HB 629) intended to crackdown on charities that may be misusing contributions. He said in a release that the measure “will weed out the bad actors who are defrauding generous givers and thus bring integrity back to Florida’s network of reputable charities.”
The bill is aimed at giving consumers more information about what charities are doing with their contributions — especially those that raise large amounts of money.
The bill would bar groups that broke laws in other states from soliciting money in Florida, ban felons from raising money for charity, increase reporting requirements for larger charities and require information from companies that solicit donations for charities by phone.
A long-sought effort to regulate Florida’s commercial parasailing industry, the White-Miskell Act (SB 320), will require operators to log weather conditions before embarking, forbid operations during severe weather conditions, require operators to be licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard and limit operations near airports.
The law is named after Kathleen Miskell, a 28-year-old Connecticut woman who died in August 2012 after she fell from a harness while parasailing over the ocean off Pompano Beach, and Amber May White, 15, of Belleview, who died in 2007 after a line snapped on a parasail, resulting in her hitting the roof of a hotel.
Parasail operators got on board with the legislation at the urging of Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, after two Indiana teens were videotaped last summer as they were seriously injured parasailing in Panama City Beach.
On another high-profile issue, St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes and Clearwater Republican Rep. Ed Hooper jointly issued a release after Scott signed the bill (SB 542) to expand flood insurance coverage while hopefully lowering costs in the state.
The law, effective immediately, isn’t as flexible as Brandes wanted during session, but he noted in the release “this bill allows Florida to control its own destiny. I look forward to continuing this discussion on flood insurance in future sessions to ensure that Floridians have options that are flexible and secure.”
Lawmakers began looking for ways to expand private coverage after it appeared that tens of thousands of Florida homeowners could get hit with massive increases under the National Flood Insurance Program. Congress has since temporarily alleviated those concerns.
As Scott signed the pile of bills Friday, lawmakers also forwarded 59 additional bills to him. Scott has until June 28 to sign, veto or let those bills become law without any action.
Included in the latest batch are a proposal (HB 89), known as the “warning shot” bill, that would allow people to show guns and fire warning shots if they feel threatened. Also the batch includes a proposed ranking system for funding proposals involving professional sports stadiums (HB 7095) and an expansion of eligibility for the state’s de facto school-voucher system (SB 850).
This report is by Jim Turner with The News Service of Florida.
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