Commentary & Community

Florida Governor Keeps Alive Local Straw Bans

Florida legislators do not like local officials banning straws. So they passed a law prohibiting local straw bans. But Florida’s governor sided with local governments over state legislators, vetoing the bill and preserving local straw bans.


Ten municipal governments in Florida have passed plastic straw bans or laws prohibiting business owners from providing straws if patrons do not request them. This legislative session, state lawmakers passed a bill that would have pre-empted such bans, enacting a uniform rule in the state that municipal governments cannot enact these types of laws.


A Republican majority in the legislature passed this pre-emption law, and many expected the Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, to support it. However, he vetoed it, saying that there was no state interest in stopping such local bans. He said that local voters could elect officials who would overturn straw bans if that was what local residents wanted.


Those pushing for straw bans argue that they will help prevent plastic from going into the ocean, harming wildlife. Opponents of the ban counter that straws make up a miniscule proportion of ocean waste, and point out that many people, such as those with disabilities, need straws.


Do you support banning the use of plastic straws?

Armed Teachers Now Allowed in Florida

Yesterday Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation allowing school districts to arm teachers. In a state where the Parkland school shooting took place last year, this legislation has both strong supporters and detractors.


I the wake of the Parkland shooting, Florida enacted a law that allowed some school personnel to be armed. These personnel would undergo a background check and training. School boards would have to authorize this program in their district. Classroom teachers were excluded from this law.


Under this bill, school teachers would also be authorized to carry guns in the classroom. They must pass a psychological evaluation and a background check, then take training with the police.


The bill was controversial, with Republicans in the legislature pushing for it and Democrats opposing it. Those in favor of the bill noted that it was voluntary, so no teacher would be forced to carry a gun. They also pointed out that in many rural areas, it could take the police a long time to get to a school. Opponents of the bill said that it would make schools less safe with the potential for accidents.


Of the state’s 67 school districts, 25 have authorized some of their personnel to be armed. It is unclear how many will now permit teachers to do so, too.


Do you think that school teachers should be armed?

Felon Voting Rights May Be Restored in Florida

Voters in Florida may restore voting rights to over a million of their fellow state residents this Election Day. A constitutional amendment is on the ballot that would automatically allow most felons who have served their sentences to vote.


Amendment 4 will be decided on Election Day. This measure would amend the state constitution to end the current prohibition on felons voting. If passed, this amendment would require the state to automatically restore voting rights for people with a felony conviction once they complete their sentences. The only exceptions would be for felons who have been convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses.


Currently, Gov. Rick Scott has put in place a system that requires those with felony convictions to wait between 5 and 7 years before they can apply to a state board for the restoration of their ability to vote. The previous governor, Charlie Crist, had a system whereby a state board would automatically restore the voting rights of those in this situation if they had paid restitution and had no pending criminal charges.


Supporters of this constitutional amendment contend that it unfairly disenfranchises state residents who have paid their debt to society. They contend that voting rights can help ex-felons integrate into society. They also argue that these individuals should have the right to participate in the political process. They point out that over a million people are covered by the current voting restriction, a situation that disproportionately affects minorities.


Those opposed to the measure argue that those who have been convicted of serious crimes should not have their right to vote restored automatically. They say that society is sending a signal about how serious these crimes are by punishing them in various ways, including taking away the ability to vote. They note there is a current process to restore the right to vote if an ex-felon wants it back and can prove that he or she has reformed.


There are three other states besides Florida that do not give residents who have been convicted of felonies the right to vote.


Do you think that ex-felons should have their right to vote restored automatically upon completion of their sentences?

Court Rejects Miami Cab Request to Block Uber, Lyft


With the advent of ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, taxicab companies are facing stiff competition. In Miami-Dade County, taxicab owners sued the county after it legalized these ride-sharing services, contending that this competition devalued their business. A federal judge recently rejected these claims, saying that the government has no duty to protect taxicabs from competition.


Prior to the arrival of Uber and Lyft, owning a taxicab medallion in Miami-Dade County was a lucrative investment. The county handed out a limited number of these medallions, limiting taxicab numbers. The government cap on cabs limited competition, ensuring a high price for medallions. With the county’s legalization of ride-sharing services, however, the price of a taxicab medallion in Miami-Dade County has fallen by 90%.


In response, Checker Cab, B&S Taxi, and Miadeco sued the county. They argued that they had a property interest in the value of a taxicab medallion. Legalizing competing services, they claimed, was an illegal government “taking” of their property.


In early August, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected that argument. These judges held that these companies are not entitled to a competition-free marketplace. The court ruled that these taxicab companies could not force the government to protect them from competition. The taxicab medallions are licenses to operate taxi services, not licenses to have no competitors.


There have been other suits of this type brought by taxicab companies. A similar suit in Chicago led to the same holding, with a federal circuit court finding that taxicab companies had no legal right to be free from competition.


Do you think that Uber, Lyft, and other ride-sharing services are unfair competition for taxi companies? Should courts protect taxicab owners from competition?


Voters to Decide on Florida Indoor Vaping Ban


Thirty-six states have some type of ban on smoking in enclosed workplaces, such as bars and restaurants. Only nine states have a similar ban on vaping devices. Florida voters will decide in November if they will join these states in saying “no” to people who want to vape indoors.


There are increasing numbers of Americans who choose to vape instead of smoke. Vaping is the use of electronic devices which mimic cigarettes but do not use tobacco. While many states have strict rules on how tobacco products can be sold and used, states are still formulating their laws on vaping devices. Some states have gone in the direction of treating vaping devices similar to cigarettes, while other states have little regulation at all on their use.


Proponents of the state’s constitutional amendment to ban vaping in indoor workplaces contend that the vapor from these devices can have toxins in them and that they are annoying to non-vapers. Those opposed to it say that vaping devices may produce vapor that looks like smoke, but it does not contain the harmful products that exist in tobacco smoke.


This proposal came from the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, which refers constitutional amendments to be considered by voters. It is combined with another constitutional amendment that would ban offshore oil and natural gas drilling. Voters must vote “yes” or “no” on one measure that contains both of these amendments; they cannot vote on each amendment separately.


Do you think that vaping should be banned in bars, restaurants, and other indoor businesses?


Gambling Issues Face Florida Voters


The future of Florida gambling will be shaped by what the state’s voters decide in November.


There will be 13 ballot measures facing Florida voters in the general election. One will deal with who has the power to determine whether to legalize gambling. Another could end dog racing in the state.


The first initiative is Amendment 3. Its text would give voters the “exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling in the State of Florida.” That means that legislators could not pass a law to legalize casino gambling nor could they refer a constitutional amendment to legalize gambling to the ballot for voters to decide. Only through a citizen initiative could the state constitution be changed to allow casino gambling. Currently, slot machines are currently permitted at racing facilities in two Florida counties, and the Seminole tribe also offers blackjack gambling in five facilities. 



Supporters of the amendment say that voters, not legislators, should be the ones who decide the future of casino gambling in Florida. According to them, this amendment would ensure that legislators are too influenced by lobbyists and backroom deals. Opponents of Amendment 3 point out that its passage would greatly benefit the Seminole Tribe by protecting its gambling operations from competition. The Seminole Tribe has provided significant funding to place this initiative before voters.


The second gambling-related measure on November’s ballot is Amendment 13. This state constitutional amendment would prohibit wagering on dog races. Currently, Florida joins 10 other states in allowing gambling on dog racing. This amendment would outlaw that practice and empower the legislature to enact civil or criminal penalties for those who engage in it. Amendment 13 came about not by citizens initiating it, but by the state’s Constitution Revision Commission. That commission meets every 20 years and refers constitutional changes to the voters.


Do you think that only voters, not legislators, should decide on the future of casino gambling in Florida? Should Florida ban betting on dog races?


Florida Supreme Court Considering Quality Education Standard


What does it take to provide a “high quality” education? Florida voters, judges, and lawmakers have been wrestling with this issue for years. Soon the state Supreme Court will decide if courts should play a role in deciding how the state constitution’s quality education mandate should be interpreted.


In 1998, Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment that mandated the state provided a “high quality education system.” Advocacy groups and the state have waged a long legal battle to determine what these words mean. Groups suing the state say that the judicial branch should have a role in determining what constitutes a “high quality education system.” The state says that this is an inherently political question, so the courts should stay out of it.


In states like Connecticut and New York, judges have become involved in setting education spending levels in order to meet similar constitutional provisions in other states. Florida advocates want something similar in that state. They say that if there is no authority for the judiciary to mandate ways to comply with that constitutional provision, the education amendment is toothless.


The state pushes back against that argument, noting that there is no agreed-upon standard that will produce the mandated “high quality education system.” The state says that this is an inherently political decision, and that judges should not be setting education policy or determining education spending levels.


Lower courts have agreed with Florida’s arguments in this matter. The state Supreme Court, however, can overturn these lower court decisions and give the judicial branch authority to involve itself in the fight over Florida’s education policy.


Do you think that judges should be able to set education spending levels or determine what constitutes a “high quality” education?


Job Licensing Reform Dies in Florida



If you want to work as a hair braider or a boxing announcer in Florida, the state mandates that you get a license. Some legislators think that workers pursuing these jobs should not be forced to get permission from the state. They passed a bill in this year’s legislative session that would have de-licensed these and a few other occupations. But this push for occupational license reform did not survive the legislative process, meaning that anyone wishing to work in these jobs must still get a state license.


In early January, the Florida House of Representatives passed a bill that would end the requirement that people looking to work in the occupations of hair braiding, hair wrapping, body wrapping, boxing timekeeping, and boxing announcing must obtain a state license. The bill also reduced the number of hours of mandatory training that someone seeking to work as a barber, nail specialist, face specialist, or a full beauty specialist must complete. The legislation was the same as a bill passed the previous year in the same body.


Those supporting this reform contend that occupational licenses are a barrier to Floridians seeking work. These licenses keep people from being able to get jobs and act to protect those already in the occupation from competition. They also say that the licenses may be defended as a way to protect the public, but the evidence indicates that these licenses don’t offer a public benefit.


The bill met stiff opposition from barbers and those in the beauty field. The professional associations and licensed workers testified that the longer training hours were necessary to ensure that the public is not harmed by barbers or beauty workers who did not know their craft. They said that the state should mandate more hours to protect the public, not cut the mandatory hours.


While this legislation passed the House of Representatives, it died in the Senate. Given the history of this proposal, a similar bill is likely to be debated in the 2019 Florida legislative session.


Do you think that the state should impose a mandatory license on hair braiders and boxing announcers? Should the state require barbers complete 1,200 hours of training before they cut hair professionally?



More Gun Restrictions Come to Florida


After the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, there has been an intense debate in the state – and the nation -- over gun laws. From national figures to the students from the high school, attention has been focused on what Tallahassee will do on gun control.


As a result, in early March legislators approved measures that would stiffen Florida’s gun laws and provide more armed security at schools. Gov. Rick Scott signed the legislation into law soon afterwards.


Here are the provisions of this new gun control legislation:

  • Mandate a 3-day waiting period for purchasing most rifles and shotguns
  • Prohibit anyone under 21 years of age from purchasing rifles or shotguns (individuals under 21 are already banned from purchasing handguns)
  • Ban bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic rifles to mimic the firing pattern of fully-automatic rifles
  • Allow law enforcement to confiscate guns from people accused of being a threat and set up a judicial process to challenge these confiscations
  • Provide funding to arm some school employees and train them


Florida legislators also considered a bill that would ban so-called “assault weapons,” but that bill failed to gain support from a majority.


The passage of gun control legislation in Florida, a Republican-controlled legislature, is a departure from recent trends. States that have enacted significant gun control bills recently have been where Democrats have the majority in legislatures, such as in Maryland or Connecticut. Most of the Democrats in the Florida legislature voted against this legislation because they did not think it was strong enough.


The National Rifle Association quickly filed suit to block enforcement of the provision that restricts gun purchases to those over 21 years of age.


Do you support raising the age for purchasing rifles and shotguns? Should law enforcement be able to seize guns from people before courts determine them to be a threat?


Florida Senate Bill 1124


Check out this key bill voted on by elected officials in Florida, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


Florida Senate Bill 1124, Revise Testing for Newborn Screening: Passed 117 to 0 in the state Senate on April 28, 2017.


To require the Florida Department of Health (DOH) to adopt rules stating that every newborn in Florida be tested for any condition included in the federal Recommended Uniform Screening Panel. These recommended conditions will be added to the Florida Newborn Screening Program’s existing panel of disorders. DOH must adopt rules to include any recommended condition within 18 months, as long as an FDA or state approved test is available.


Comment below to share what you think of Florida Senate Bill 1124!



Florida House Bill 1385


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House Bill 1385, Increase Domestic Violence Penalties: Passed 37 to 0 in the state Senate on May 5, 2017.


To increase mandatory jail time for guilty domestic violence offenders if they intentionally caused bodily harm or if the violence was committed in the presence of a child 16 years old or younger. This bill requires offenders to attend and complete a 29-week batterer’s intervention program.


Comment below to share what you think of Florida House Bill 1385!



Florida House Bill 277


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House Bill 277, Allow Electronic Wills: Passed 73 to 44 in the state House on may 4, 2017. 


To allow for the creation of electronic wills. This bill allows for electronic wills to be signed, modified, notarized, and witnessed remotely on a computer instead of in person and on paper, which is currently required.


Comment below to share what you think of Florida House Bill 277!



Florida House Bill 1027


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House Bill 1027, Regulate Drones and Robots: Passed 115 to 0 in the state House on May 5, 2017.


To create size and speed requirements for personal delivery devices, such as robots. This bill allows these devices to operate on sidewalks when delivering property. This bill also gives the state the authority to regulate unmanned aircraft systems, commonly known as drones, and prohibits local governments from regulating the use of drones unless it is regarding an illegal act. Additionally, this bill allows drones to be used for commercial delivery.


Comment below to share what you think of Florida House Bill 1027!



Florida House Bill 141


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House Bill 141, Expand the number of bottles craft distilleries can sell: Passed 114 to 2 in the state House on April 26, 2017 and passed 37 to 0 in the state Senate May 5, 2017


To allow craft distilleries to sell six individual containers of each product to customers per year from their gift shop. Currently, craft distilleries can sell two individual containers of each product per customer.


Comment below to share what you think of Florida House Bill 141!


Florida House Bill 327


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House Bill 327, Mandate household movers disclose sexual offenses: Passed 119 to 0 in the state House on May 3, 2017 and 36 to 0 in the state Senate on May 2, 107


To require that household movers inform a customer if an employee with access to their property has been convicted of a sexual offense. A mover who knowingly fails to disclose this information will receive a minimum $10,000 fine.


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Florida House Bill 1239


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House Bill 1239, Increase penalty for illegally passing a school bus: Passed 118 to 0 in the state House on April 28, 2017 and 28 to 6 in the state Senate on May 1, 2017


To authorize enhanced penalties for failing to stop for a school bus if it causes someone to be injured or killed. In addition to existing penalties the bill would authorize a $1,500 fine, one-year driver license suspension, and additional points added to a driver license record. Additional penalties could include community service, participation in victim’s impact panel sessions and attending a driver improvement course.


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Florida House Bill 1233


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House Bill 1233, Amend cottage food requirements: Passed 115 to 0 in the state House on April 5, 2017 and 37 to 0 in the state Senate on April 27, 2017


To increase the maximum annual gross sales limit of cottage foods from $15,000 to $50,000, and also let cottage food operations sell over the internet if the foods are delivered in person. Currently, cottage foods may not be sold or offered on the internet. Cottage foods are food products sold by people who produce “non-potentially hazardous” foods at their own residence such as breads, honey, cakes, and popcorn.  A cottage food operation is not required to conform to state food and building permitting requirements.


Comment below to share what you think of Florida House Bill 1233!


Florida House Bill 305: Allow officers to review body camera footage


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House Bill 305, Allow officers to review body camera footage: Passed 116 to 0 in the state House on March 30, 2017 and 38 to 0 in the state Senate on March 19, 2017


To allow a law enforcement officer to review footage from their body camera before writing a report or providing a statement. This bill does not apply to an officer’s duty to disclose information necessary to secure a crime scene or identify a suspect or witness.


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Florida House Bill 647: Dissolve the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission



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House Bill 647, Dissolve the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission: Passed 118 to 0 in the state House on April 28, 2017


To abolish the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission (PTC) and require the PTC to liquidate all assets and satisfy all obligations/debts by the end of 2017. The PTC is an independent special district created to regulate the operation of taxicabs, limousines, vans, basic life support ambulances, and wrecker services in Hillsborough County.


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Legislators Look at Homesharing


Have you ever used an app like Airbnb to rent a room for a night? Or have you used the app to rent out your house when you were away on vacation?


Americans are increasingly turning to Airbnb and other homesharing platforms for short-term rentals, and government officials are starting to notice this trend. While in most places home sharing is largely unregulated, there are efforts across the country to impose new rules on this practice. Many of these regulatory efforts are coming from local government officials.


Proponents of regulation contend that homesharing through apps deprives consumers of government oversight to ensure quality. It also deprives states or local governments of room rental fees. Opponents of regulation counter that consumers determine the quality of the rental unit and that government has no business prohibiting people from renting their homes out for a night or two.


These are several proposals about homesharing that state legislators could be debating this year:


Virginia: a bill in this state would allow local governments to ban short-term (fewer than 30 days) rentals. If local governments allowed these rentals, the homeowner would have to notify neighbors, seek permission from the local government, pay taxes on room rentals, and carry $500,000 in insurance.


Massachusetts: separate legislation is being considered in the Bay State to regulate short-term rentals. One bill would separate rental-unit owners into separate categories depending on how often they rent rooms and tax them at different rates. Those renting rooms would face state inspections and insurance requirements. Local governments could also impose additional restrictions on rentals. Another bill, backed by Gov. Charlie Baker, would impose taxes on individuals who rent out rooms for more than 150 days a year.


Indiana: under legislation approved unanimously by a House committee, local governments would be prohibited from imposing restrictions on short-term rental units as long as the owners rent them out fewer than 180 days a year.


Idaho: legislators will consider a bill that would prohibit local governments from banning short-term rentals, or restricting them from certain neighborhoods. These rentals would still be subject to local rules regarding the fire code, nuisances, and noise.


Florida: legislators in Florida will also consider a bill that would prohibit local governments from banning short-term rentals. This legislation would pre-empt the bans that are already in place in some Florida towns and prevent future actions by cities or counties.


Do you think that states should impose stricter regulations on renting through Airbnb? Or do you support state laws that prevent local governments from banning short-term rentals?


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