Each spring, the Florida legislature meets to debate and consider possible changes to Florida law. This year’s session was highlighted by a new Governor and the lawsuits surrounding smokable marijuana. A total of over 1800 bills were introduced and less than 200 were passed, a 20-year low for new legislation and a passage rate of only about 10 percent. New bills covered a wide gamut of issues, and will begin going into effect this July, including the new ban on texting while driving. There were also a number of bills related to real estate and business that included the following:
Utility Companies Storm Protection Plan
- A new utilities bill requires public utility companies to prepare and submit storm protection plans to deal with future issues and provides a mechanism for cost recovery (Section 366.96, Florida Statutes).
State Highway Expansion
- A bill contested by environmentalists but heavily supported by the Governor was the expansion of the state highways system to include (a) Southwest-Central Florida Connector, extending from Collier County to Polk County; (b) Suncoast Connector, extending from Citrus County to Jefferson County; and (c) Northern Turnpike Connector, extending from the northern terminus of the Florida Turnpike northwest to the Suncoast Parkway. (Section 338.2278, Florida Statutes).
Tax Reduction on Commercial Leases
- A bill reducing taxes on commercial leases was passed, reducing the tax rate from 5.7% to 5.5%. While a 2/10ths percent reduction may not seem very large, on a million dollar a year rental, the savings is $5,000 per year (Section 212.031, Florida Statutes). The same bill also granted a tax abatement for seven days starting May 31, 2019 on the purchase of self-powered lights, radio, tarpaulins, ground anchor system, gas or diesel fuel tank, batteries, nonelectric food storage cooler and a portable generator to provide relief for hurricane supplies. In addition, there is a tax abatement from August 2 to August 6 on schools clothes, supplies and computers and accessories to provide relief for kids back-to-school needs (Chapter 212, Florida Statutes). These exemptions have caps on each item’s value that is exempt from sales tax and are not unlimited.
- The controversial smoking of marijuana for medical purposes, which was being challenged successfully in court, was resolved by the adoption of changes to the law– by removing the restrictions contained in the current law on smoking, and by allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana in a form for smoking under certain enumerated conditions (Section 381.986, Florida Statutes).
Fire Prevention for High-Rise Condos
- The requirement for high-rise condominiums to retrofit either a fire sprinkler system or an engineered life safety system as specified in the Florida Fire Prevention Code has been extended (again) from January 1, 2020 to January 1, 2024 (Section 718.112, Florida Statutes).
Home Vegetable Gardens
- Homeowners who have been unable to grow fruits and vegetables anywhere on their residential property (including front lawns) now have the legal right to do so, regardless of any local restrictions that limit or prohibit such activity. This new law does not take away local restrictions relating to rules regarding drought conditions, fertilizer use, or control of invasive species unless such rules act to specifically limit or restrict vegetable gardens.
- Traditionally, acknowledgement of documents required a notary public authorized in the jurisdiction wherein a document is signed (deed, will, mortgage, etc.). This often caused issues due to travel, or in the case of overseas parties, considerable expense. To address this issue, the legislature adopted a procedure to allow registered Florida notaries to conduct remote notarization of documents. Using digital certificates, online secure video conferencing with remote identification, and digital journaling, Florida notaries will be allowed to acknowledge documents from any state or country (Section 117.021 Florida Statutes).
- Electronically executed documents have been promised as the future since the 1990s, but adoption rates have been very slow. While deeds and mortgages have been permitted for a while, other instruments have been excluded from this format. The expansion now includes electronic wills and codicils. These may be signed electronically and even remotely through appropriate video conferencing systems. Electronic Wills must be held in the custody of a qualified custodian at all times before being offered to the court for probate. Custodians must be Florida based and maintain a blanket surety bond of at least $250,000 with the state of Florida. This restriction will likely limit the use of e-wills to clients of Florida attorneys (Chapter 732, Florida Statutes).
Several environmental bills failed to pass this year, including a ban on fracking, a law prohibiting new deep injection wells for domestic wastewater discharge or the expansion of existing wells and a law allowing anyone fearing contamination in their water supply well to require the local health department to test their water source.
The new laws will go into effect between July 2019 and January 2020. With a popular new governor, and much work to be done, I expect next year’s session to be very busy with many new laws.
Michael J Posner, Esq., is a board certified real estate attorney and a partner at Ward Damon, a mid-sized real estate and business-oriented law firm with offices in Palm Beach County. Michael focuses in real estate law and business law and can assist you with a variety of matters. He can be reached at 561.594.1452, or at email@example.com.