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Legislative Update - March 24, 2023

Both the Senate and House released their respective FY 2023-24 budgets this week. The House spending plan comes in at $112.9 billion and the Senate funds the state spending plan at $113.7 billion. Lobbyists, lawmakers, and stakeholders could be seen scurrying around the capitol halls confirming budget amounts, filing amendments, and lobbying for inclusion in the respective budgets. Full appropriations committees are scheduled to meet next week to amend and pass SB 2500 and PCB APC 23-01 (that will eventually become HB 5001). The two plans will then be passed by each chamber, at which point, budget conference will be called by the presiding officers.

Budget conference will begin once House and Senate Leadership agree on total allocations to formulate a single budget negotiated by selected lawmakers.

The conferees will hammer out differences in the various issue areas to agree on a final spending plan, which must then meet the constitutional requirement of a 72-hour “cooling off” period before it can be passed by the full Legislature. Passage a of a balanced budget is the only constitutionally mandated act required of the Legislature.

Bills Moving Through Committees This Week

HB 3 Government and Corporate Activism expands the directive to cover all funds invested by state and local governments, including general revenue, trusts dedicated to specific purposes, money held by retirement plans, and surplus funds. Investment decisions, including written policies and the exercise of shareholder rights, must be driven solely by pecuniary factors, and may not sacrifice investment return to promote non-pecuniary factors. The Attorney General is authorized to bring civil or administrative actions to enforce provisions of the bill.

The term “pecuniary factor” is defined as a factor that is expected “to have a material effect on the risk or return of an investment based on appropriate investment horizons consistent with applicable investment objectives and funding policy. The term does not include the consideration of the furtherance of any social, political, or ideological interests.”

Additionally, the bill prohibits both the state Division of Bond Finance and specified public bond issuers from issuing an environmental, social, or corporate governance (ESG) bond, paying for the services of another to verify or certify a public bond as an ESG bond, or contracting with rating agencies that use ESG scores in a manner that directly impacts the issuer’s bond ratings.

For government contracting, the bill prohibits all units of state and local government from: 1) considering social, political, or ideological beliefs when evaluating prospective vendors, or 2) giving any preference to a vendor based on social, political, or ideological beliefs. State and local governments may only deposit funds in banks and savings associations that have been designated as a Qualified Public Depository (QPD).

The bill prohibits certification as a QPD if a bank has engaged in an “unsafe and unsound business practice” by denying or canceling services based on political beliefs or affiliations, religious beliefs or affiliations, business sector, or any other factor that is not a quantitative, impartial, risk-based standard, or applying social credit scores. QPDs will be required to certify compliance with this requirement.

Other financial institutions – banks, trust companies, credit unions, consumer finance lenders, and money services businesses – may be subject to administrative sanctions if they engage in an “unsafe and unsound business practice” by denying or canceling services based on political beliefs or affiliations, religious beliefs or affiliations, business sector, any other factor that is not a quantitative, impartial, risk-based standard, or applying social credit scores.

HB 185 Catalytic Converters creates s. 860.142, F.S., the Catalytic Converter Antitheft Act, which:

  • Prohibits a person from knowingly purchasing a detached catalytic converter unless he or she is a registered secondary metals recycler.
  • Requires a registered secondary metals recycler that purchases a detached catalytic converter to keep specified records and provides penalties for noncompliance.
  • Prohibits a person from knowingly possessing, purchasing, selling, or installing a:
  • Stolen catalytic converter;
  • Catalytic converter that has been removed from a stolen motor vehicle;
  • Catalytic converter with a removed, altered, or defaced identification number; or
  • Detached catalytic converter without proof of ownership, unless the person meets an exemption.
  • Provides an inference that a person who is in possession of two or more detached catalytic converters, unless satisfactorily explained, knows or should have known that the catalytic converters may have been stolen or fraudulently obtained.

The bill creates s. 860.147, F.S., which prohibits a person from knowingly importing, manufacturing, purchasing for the purpose of reselling or installing, selling, offering for sale, or installing or reinstalling in a motor vehicle a counterfeit, fake, or nonfunctional catalytic converter. The bill amends s. 538.26, F.S., to prohibit a secondary metals recycler from processing or removing from its place of business a detached catalytic converter purchased by the secondary metals recycler within 10 business days after the date of purchase, unless the person selling the catalytic converter meets an exemption.

SB 300 Pregnancy and Parenting Support prohibits abortion after six weeks of gestation unless an exception is met. Current-law exceptions to abortion time frames are maintained and a new exception is established for cases in which the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. This new exception is available until the 15th week of gestation under the bill.

The bill specifies that abortions, including medical abortions, may not be provided through telehealth and that medication intended for the use in a medical abortion may only be dispensed by a physician and may not be dispensed via the U.S. Postal Service or by any other carrier.

The bill also prohibits any person, educational institution, and governmental entity from expending state funds for a person to travel to another state to receive services that are intended to support an abortion, unless such expenditure is required by federal law or there is a legitimate medical emergency.

The bill appropriates $25 million in recurring general revenue for the expanded network and specifies that contracted organizations in the network must spend at least 85% of the funds received on providing services and maintaining a hotline.

The bill also appropriates $5 million in recurring general revenue, above what is currently appropriated in the General Appropriations Act (GAA), for family planning services provided by the Department of Health.

SB 542 Emergency Opioid Antagonists is a response to the escalating opioid epidemic. The bill requires each Florida College System institution and state university to store a supply of emergency opioid antagonists in each residence hall or dormitory residence owned or operated by the institution. Emergency opioid antagonists are drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to rapidly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. The emergency opioid antagonists must be easily accessible to campus law enforcement officers who are trained in their administration.

SB 598 Higher Educational Facilities Financing revises various provisions related to the Higher Educational Facilities Financing Authority (HEFFA). Specifically, the bill:

  • Clarifies that the term for a new appointee to the HEFFA begins on the later of the dates on which the current term expires or the date of appointment by the governor.
  • Authorizes the authority to conduct meetings and workshops by means of communications media technology, and:
  • Provides notice requirements and participation specifications for meetings and workshops conducted via communication media technology.
  • Specifies that majority voting is for members participating in the meeting, rather than those present.
  • Authorizes the HEFFA to contract for administrative services.
  • Modifies the time by which the HEFFA determines the financial responsibility and capability to fulfill a project to at the time the financial agreement is executed. Revises the timeframe within which the authority is required to submit a report to the Governor and the Legislature from 2 months to 6 months after the end of the fiscal year.

The bill provides civil or criminal immunity for campus law enforcement officers trained to administer the opioid antagonist as well as for the employing institution when the officer administers or attempts to administer the antagonist in accordance with the bill.

HB 645 Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act amends s. 330.41, F.S., to expand the definition of “critical infrastructure facility” to include:

  • A water intake structure, water treatment facility, wastewater treatment plant, or pump station;
  • A liquid natural gas or propane gas terminal or storage facility, regardless of capacity;
  • A deepwater port or a railroad switching yard;
  • An airport;
  • A spaceport territory;
  • Certain military installations; and
  • A dam or other structures such as locks, floodgates, or dikes, which are designed to maintain or control the level of navigable waterways.

The bill removes the requirement that a person or governmental entity seeking to restrict or limit the operation of drones in close proximity to infrastructure or facilities must apply to the Federal Aviation Administration for such designation under s. 2209 of the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016.

The bill removes the provision that a drone operating in transit for commercial purposes can operate over a critical infrastructure facility.

SB 704 Substance Abuse Prevention amends several sections of law to expand the ability of pharmacies, pharmacy technicians, and emergency responders to possess, dispense, and administer, as applicable, emergency opioid antagonists (EOA) to people who are having opioid overdoses or suspected opioid overdoses. The bill also expands disciplinary, civil, and criminal immunities for such dispensing and administration of EOAs to match.

Additionally, the bill creates the Statewide Council on the Opioid Abatement (Council) within the Department of Children and Families (DCF) for the purpose of enhancing the development and coordination of state and local efforts to abate the opioid epidemic and to support the victims of the opioid crisis and their families.

HB 837 Civil Remedies, tort reform package passed the Legislature this week and has been signed into law by the Governor. The bill contains several significant reforms, including the following:

  • A complete repeal of the one-way attorney fee statute (several sections, with Sections 10 and 11 being the main ones);
  • Creation of a more tailored and restrictive two-way attorney fee process for declaratory judgment proceedings on total coverage denials – with language clarifying the attorney fees provision is only applicable to the dec action itself and this provision is not applicable to such actions involving property insurance policies (so as not to undo the work of SB 2A of the December 2022 Special Legislative Session) (Section 2);
  • Adoption of the federal “rare and exceptional” standard for contingency fee multiplier awards (Section 1);
  • Providing the offer of judgment statute (F.S. sec. 768.79) applies to any civil action involving an insurance contract (Section 5);
  • A complete “safe harbor” against third-party bad faith suits if the insurer tenders policy limits (or the demand, if less) within 90 days of the notice of the claim (Section 4);
  • Allowing interpleader actions to avoid bad faith for multiple-party claimant cases (Section 4);
  • Introduction of transparency in jury calculations for all aspects of medical damage awards (past paid, past unpaid, and future medicals) in personal injury or wrongful death actions (Section 6);
  • Reducing the statute of limitations for negligence actions from 4 years to 2 years (Section 3);
  • Changing the liability standard for negligence actions from “pure comparative fault” to “modified comparative fault,” preventing recovery for claimants who exceed 50% fault for their own injuries;
  • Requiring judges and juries in premises liability cases to consider the fault of all persons who contributed to the injury (including intentional tortfeasors) (Section 7); and
  • Creating a presumption against liability for multifamily residential property owners/operators for criminal acts committed by third parties who are not employees or agents if they “substantially comply” with specific safety requirements (Section 8).

SB 1068 Drones amends the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act to define the terms “drone delivery service” and “drone port” as well as prohibit a political subdivision from withholding the issuance of a business tax receipt or enacting or enforcing an ordinance or resolution prohibiting a drone delivery service’s operation based on the location of the delivery service’s drone port.

The bill also provides that drone ports are exempt from the Florida Building Code and the Florida Fire Prevention Code, including the national codes and the Life Safety Code incorporated by reference.

HB 1205 Government Vehicles, Under the bill, any governmental entity that purchases under the state purchasing plan must select vehicles based on the lowest lifetime ownership costs, including costs for fuel, operations, and maintenance.

The bill strikes the requirement under current law that state agencies use ethanol and biodiesel fuel when available, and the bill removes the requirement that state agencies that administer central fueling operations for state-owned vehicles procure biofuels for fleet needs to the greatest extent practicable.

The bill requires DMS to make recommendations before July 1, 2024, to state agencies and local governments regarding the procurement of electric vehicles and natural gas fuel vehicles.

HB 1221 Broadband Internet Service Providers provides explicit authority for rural electric cooperatives in Florida to provide specified communications services in the following circumstances:

  • The cooperative provides broadband Internet service directly or in partnership with a third party; or
  • The cooperative receives broadband grant funding pursuant to the Florida Broadband Opportunity Program or from any other federal or state program offering grants to expand broadband Internet service to unserved areas of the state.

Under the bill, if a cooperative provides a communications service under these terms, all poles owned by the cooperative are subject to the PSC’s pole attachment regulations on the same terms as poles owned by investor-owned electric utilities. Thus, the financial and legal responsibilities of parties to rural electric cooperative pole attachment arrangements may substantially change depending on the PSC’s implementation of its authority over pole attachment rates, charges, terms, and conditions.

HB 1247 Effective Access to Student Education Grants - To incentivize institutions to improve outcomes for grant recipient students, the bill proposes to tie institutional eligibility for participation in the EASE program to performance against the metrics. Under the bill, an institution must meet or exceed the minimum benchmark on any three out of the five metrics to be eligible for its students to receive funding. The base per student award amount will be determined by the General Appropriations Act. Students attending an eligible institution may be eligible to receive an additional, plus-up award of $500 if, and only if, their institution meets or exceeds the bill’s workforce graduation rate, which measures degree production in an in-demand field.

To enable the Legislature to incorporate a metric related to graduate employment in field of study, the bill revises the institutional and DOE reporting requirements to require collection of data on the percentage of grant recipient graduates who obtain employment in their field of study within 120 days after graduation. This data will likely be collected through a survey instrument.

The bill clarifies transparency requirements and adds a disclosure requirement. Each institution must provide each resident student with data on its performance on the metrics, the net cost to complete the student’s degree, and expected earnings 1, 5, and 10 years after graduation based on the chosen major. The institution’s president or chief administrative officer must certify the institution is in compliance with the reporting, disclosure, and transparency requirements in order for the institution to be eligible for EASE funds.

SB 1482 Rural Development modifies economic initiatives relating to rural development including certain agreements funded with federal or state assistance, the Regional Rural Development Grants Program, the Rural Community Development Revolving Loan Fund, and the Rural Infrastructure Fund. The bill prohibits an agency agreement that provides state or federal financial assistance to local government entities within a rural area of opportunity (RAO) from requiring the local government entity to expend funds in order to be reimbursed. The bill amends the Regional Rural Development Grants Program to:

  • Eliminate the rural matching requirement;
  • Eliminate the requirement that grant funds received by a regional economic development organization must be matched each year by nonstate resources in an amount equal to 25% of the state contributions; and
  • Remove the requirement that an applicant must show proof that each local government and the private sector made a financial or in-kind commitment to the regional organization in order to receive funding.

The bill amends the Rural Community Development Revolving Loan Fund to remove the requirement that funds be matched by the local government, or an economic development organization substantially underwritten by a local government, as long as the funds are retained for the purpose of funding regionally based economic development organizations representing the RAO.

The bill amends the Rural Infrastructure Fund to:

  • Increase the maximum grant award from 50% to 75% of the total infrastructure cost, or up to 100% of the total infrastructure project cost for a project that is located in a rural community or a RAO and that is also located in a fiscally constrained county;
  • Remove the requirement that projects must be linked to specific job-creation or job-retention opportunities;
  • Increase the maximum grant for infrastructure feasibility studies, design and engineering activities, or other infrastructure planning and preparation activities to $300,000 for all projects and removes the limitation that the grant not exceed 30% of the total project cost; and
  • Remove the local matching fund requirement for surveys, feasibility studies, and other activities related to the identification and preclearance review of land which is suitable for preclearance review, and removes the requirement that a grant for an employment project create or retain a minimum number of jobs.

SB 1532 Regional Transportation Planning provides legislative findings and intent to explore the dissolution or transfer of the governance, staff, operations, funding, and facilities of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority with the goal of enhancing regional transit service and connectivity in the Tampa Bay Area.

The bill directs the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), or its consultant, to conduct a study of the potential dissolution of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority. The study must address all aspects of the winding down of the affairs of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, including the following:

  • The dissolution of the governance structure, including governing board membership, powers, and responsibilities.
  • The drawdown or transfer of staff.
  • The transfer of financial assets and obligations, as well as the transfer of responsibilities and administered programs and of facilities and operations.
  • Impacts to federal or state grants or funds.
  • Any legal or financial impediments to or limitations on such dissolution.
  • The advantages and disadvantages of dissolution or transfer.
  • Any other matters deemed necessary or appropriate by the Florida Department of Transportation.

HB 5303 Biomedical Research further expands research capacity, the bill adds qualified uses to research funding and expands qualifying entities for funding eligibility. The bill conforms law to the General Appropriations Act (GAA) proposed by the House of Representatives for Fiscal Year 2023-2024. The bill:

  • Expands those cancer centers eligible for funding pursuant to the Casey DeSantis Cancer Research Program (DeSantis program) to include cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute as a comprehensive cancer center with at least one geographic site in Florida.
  • Exempts $37,771,257 from the annual allocation fraction calculation for participating cancer centers in the DeSantis program and distributes those funds to participating cancers centers using the proportion as determined by the calculation.
  • Eliminates authorization for the endowed research chair contained within the Bankhead Coley Cancer Research Program.
  • Expands eligible programs for funding from the Biomedical Research Trust Fund to include “other cancer research initiatives as appropriated by the Legislature.”
*Bill summaries provided by House and Senate staff analyses