Official questioned on Amendment 1, gerrymandering and other topics.
Also: See list of notable new laws at bottom of article.
There was a light crowd at Rep. Fred Costello’s Town Hall meeting July 8, but a good cross section of opinion as the state representative, a former city mayor, fielded questions on topics from the environment to taxes.
Costello, who represents District 25 in the state Florida House of Representatives, is also having public meetings in New Smyrna Beach, Port Orange and Daytona Beach. He provided a recap of the past legislative session, and then took questions from the audience.
He said there were 871 bills filed in the House, with 268 passed; and 881 bills filed in the Senate, with 190 passed.
Costello said the state passed a $78.7 billion balance budget, which was reduced to $78.2 billion after vetoes.
The reason they had to have a special session, he said, is that law requires them to receive a budget at least three days before voting on it, and they did not get it in time.
The budget contains $400 million in cuts, but Costello said it’s hypocritical to point to these as cuts, while $500 million was added to local property taxes, mandated by the state. He said only local officials should make decisions on property tax.
“The local government is responsible for the doing what the community wants them to do,” he said.
He suggested that the state mandated property tax be replaced by sales tax. A member of the audience said that sales tax was not fair to those with low income, but Costello pointed out that food, health care and rent are not taxed.
The budget included $21.2 billion in education funding, an increase of $500 million. Costello said a good education system is the best economic development initiative a state can have because it attracts business.
An audience member said he hears school board members say they are getting less money, and Costello said there are “different amounts in different pots” but overall, the schools are getting more.
A member of the audience asked Costello how he could support state money for private schools, when money is “desperately” needed by public schools.
Costello responded that private schools often save money for public schools, because fewer public schools need to be built. He also said that parents should have the right to make decisions for their child’s education, and the tax credits make that possible.
Last year, Florida voters approved Amendment One, which is designed for environmental protection. Costello read the Amendment, and pointed out that it says, “acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands …”
“People pick out that one word, ‘acquire,’” he said. He said the words “restore and improve” mean that the money can be used to remove septic tanks from areas such as the Indian River Lagoon and the local peninsula.
“I approve acquiring land when we get bang for the buck,” he said. “I want every dime to benefit the environment.”
Gerrymandering was another topic. An audience member pointed out that Costello’s district contains Ormond Beach and the beachside cities, but no other cities on the Mainland, including areas known for low income.
Costello pointed out that Volusia County once had six representatives and now has only four.
“That’s a good thing,” he said.
He said he was asked to be on the committee to draw the districts, but declined.
“I’m sensitive to what you’re saying, but I didn’t design it,” he said.
Of all the vetoes, Costello said he was most disappointed with the rejection of $20 million for three charity clinics, which would have included the Jesus Clinic in Daytona Beach.
As a dentist, Costello had signed up for the clinic.
“If we don’t have Medicaid expansion, why in the world would that be vetoed,” he asked.
He said the House did not support Medicaid expansion, instead proposing free-market healthcare reforms.
Notable new laws passed by the legislature
The Florida egislature passed about 130 new laws this year, many of which went into effect July 1. Among the more controversial are a 24-hour waiting period on abortions — that one has already been challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union — and the repeal of the state’s gay adoption ban. Beer fans can celebrate a law allowing the filling of 64-ounce beer containers called “growlers,” and aerial drone fans are barred from using the gadgets for snooping. Letter carriers in rural areas have been exempted from seat belt laws while on their routes, and the state has specified protocol for isolating patients to control the spread of disease. A collection of the more notable, controversial or odd bills passed this year is listed below. The laws summarized briefly on this page went into effect July 1 unless otherwise noted.
— Jonathan Simmons, Palm Coast Observer
Reduces the number of standardized tests students have to take, and revises a requirement for the uniform opening date of public schools to no earlier than Aug. 10. See flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2015/7069.
Hazardous Walking Conditions
“Gabby’s Law for Student Safety” lets school districts make formal requests to fix hazardous walking conditions, and requires the government entities with jurisdiction over the road with the hazard to add the hazard to their next five-year transportation work plan or specify why they won’t. See flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2015/0041.
Lets a brewer or vendor fill 64- ounce beer containers called “growlers” for drinking off site, places a cap on the number of vendor licenses a brewer can hold, limits the size of cups for beer tastings to 3.5 ounces and requires that tastings be held inside. See flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2015/0186.
Informed Patient Consent to Terminate Pregnancy
Requires a 24-hour waiting period before a woman can have an abortion and states that an ultrasound must be performed to verify the fetus’ gestational age. There are exceptions for cases of rape, incest, domestic violence, human trafficking and certain medical conditions, if documentation like police reports or medical records is provided. See flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2015/0633.
Interception of Wire, Oral, or Electronic Communication
Allows, in certain cases, a minor who is recording someone committing, stating an intention to commit, or confessing to committing an illegal act of physical or sexual abuse against the minor to be exempt from laws that would otherwise make the recording of a conversation without both parties’ consent illegal. See flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2015/7001.
Experimental Treatments for Terminal Conditions
Lets terminally ill patients access certain “Phase 1” clinical trial drugs not yet approved by the FDA, and protects the health professionals or manufacturers who provide them from liability. See flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2015/0269.
Surveillance by a Drone
Bans people or agencies from using aerial drones to capture images of privately owned real property or its owners or occupants without written consent in cases where there’s a reasonable expectation of privacy, usually when the people would not have been visible form the ground. There are exceptions for law enforcement agency counter-terror use, and for uses like aerial mapping, utility service maintenance and use by a property appraiser’s office. See flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2015/0766.
Florida Civil Rights
Amends the Florida Civil Rights Acts, which already prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap, or marital status, to also prohibit discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. The Act applies to employment and professional certification and licensing; and to food establishments, lodging and public accommodations. See flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2015/0982.
Rural Letter Carriers
Exempts rural letter carriers for the United States Postal Service from safety belt usage requirements while they’re on their routes. (Went into effect May 22.) See flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2015/0160.
Online Voter Application
Requires the Division of Elections to create an online voter registration system, which must compare the voter information submitted online with Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles records. The Division of Elections must make a formal report of its progress in creating the new system by Jan. 1, 2016, and potential voters must be able to register and update registrations online by Oct. 1, 2017. The law authorizes $1.8 million in appropriations for the new system. See flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2015/0228.
Adoption and Foster Care
Deletes a prohibition on gay people adopting children, provides for a $5,000 benefit for government employees who adopt foster children or a $10,000 benefit if those children have special needs, and states that a person cannot be banned from adopting because they want to home school the adopted child. See flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2015/7013.
Law Enforcement Body Camera Recordings
States that videos recorded on a police body camera on private property without the owner’s permission, or in certain medical settings, are exempt from public records requirements. See flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2015/0248.
Concealed Weapons During Evacuations
Lets people forced to leave their homes in an evacuation order during a declared state of emergency carry a concealed weapon or firearm without a concealed weapon or concealed firearm permit. Went into effect May 21, 2015. See flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2015/0290.
Revises notification and consent procedures for HIV tests in health care and non-health care settings. See flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2015/0321.
Lets the Department of Health enforce or end the isolation of people, pets and locations to control communicable diseases, requires the DOH to establish rules on isolation orders. The law also makes it illegal during a declared public health emergency for a person to falsely tell a law enforcement officer or health care provider that the person has a communicable disease. See flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2015/0697.
Bars local governments doing construction projects in which at least half of the funding comes from state-appropriated funds from using an ordinance to give preference to contractors from their own jurisdiction for that project. See flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2015/0778.