Twelve public records exemptions included in new state laws

Governor Ron DeSantis considered 189 bills that were approved by the Florida legislature in the 2019 session that ended in May.  Twenty-eight new laws take effect tomorrow, October 1, 2019. 

Most of the new laws took effect immediately upon receiving DeSantis’ signature or with the July 1 start of the state’s fiscal year.  He vetoed five others.

Among Tuesday’s new laws are steps to protect police dogs and horses, a crackdown on hazing, and possession of “child-like” sex dolls.

The state is expanding it’s ban on texting while driving; prohibiting motorists from using handheld wireless devices while driving in designated school crossings, school zones, and work zones.

“You can’t have the phone in your hand at all,” Troop G Public Information Officer Dylan Bryan said. “The only thing you can do is talk on a hands-free device. If you are holding a phone or any kind of device, you will be stopped, and you will be issued a warning.”

According to a review published by News Service of Florida, the FHP is saying not to expect tickets until the new year on the hand-held device law.

In addition to the handheld-device change,

— TEXTING WHILE DRIVING. Lawmakers passed a bill (HB 107) that strengthened the state’s ban on texting while driving by making it a “primary” offense, allowing police to pull over motorists for texting behind the wheel. Most of the measure took effect on July 1. But starting Tuesday, it will require motorists to go hands-free on wireless devices in school and work zones. The law directs law enforcement officers to provide verbal or written warnings until the end of the year for motorists who don’t put down cell phones in those areas. Tickets will start to be issued Jan. 1, punishable as a moving violation with three points assessed against the driver’s license.

— HAZING. A new law (SB 1080) was crafted after Andrew Coffey, a Florida State University fraternity pledge from Lighthouse Point, died in 2017 after drinking a bottle of Wild Turkey bourbon that had been taped to his hand. The law targets people who plan acts of hazing or solicit others to engage in hazing and makes it a third-degree felony if the hazing results in a permanent injury. The bill also provides immunity to people who call 911 or campus security to report the need for medical assistance during hazing incidents.

— POLICE DOGS AND HORSES. The measure (SB 96) makes it a second-degree felony, up from a third-degree felony, for people who kill or cause great bodily harm to police, fire or search-and-rescue dogs or police horses. The change boosts the amount of potential prison time from five years to 15 years. Supporters said the bill stems, at least in part, from the deaths of Fang, a member of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office canine unit shot and killed by a teenager fleeing after carjacking two women at a gas station, and a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office police dog named Cigo that was killed in the line of duty.

— CHILD-LIKE SEX DOLLS. The law (SB 160), in part, makes it a first-degree misdemeanor to sell, give away or show child-like sex dolls. The charge increases to a third-degree felony on subsequent violations. A committee staff analysis said the importation to the U.S. of sex dolls that resemble children has become increasingly prevalent. “Such dolls are manufactured in China, Hong Kong, or Japan and are shipped to the U.S. labeled as clothing mannequins or models in order to avoid detection,” the report said.

— VETERANS’ COURTS. The law (SB 910) removes a requirement that military veterans be honorably discharged to be eligible for participation in veterans’ courts. It also expands overall eligibility to current or former U.S. defense contractors and military members of allied countries. Veterans’ courts are designed to provide treatment interventions to military veterans and active-duty service members who are charged with criminal offenses and suffer from military-related injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury or a substance-abuse disorder.

News Service of Florida contributed to this report.