Stay in the Know: 2019 Business & Real Estate Changes to Florida Law

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By Michael J Posner

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

  1. 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

  1. 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).

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A “Game of Thrones” War Over Expert Testimony in Florida

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By Jason E. Handin

A struggle has been brewing in the State of Florida for the last six years akin to the power struggles in the popular HBO® show, Game of Thrones.  On May 23, 2019, the Supreme Court of Florida most recently changed Florida law requiring compliance with the Daubert standard when determining admissibility of expert testimony in Florida courts, which is the third time the standard has been changed since 2013.

When proceeding to trial in a lawsuit, there are two types of witness testimony.

  1. The first type of testimony is lay witness testimony, which is testimony based upon what the witness personally perceived and which does not require any special knowledge, skill, experience, or training, as set forth in Florida Rule of Evidence 701.
  2. The second type of testimony is expert witness testimony. An “expert witness” is defined by Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.390(a) as “a person duly and regularly engaged in the practice of a profession who holds a professional degree from a university or college and has had special professional training and experience, or one possession of special knowledge or skill about the subject upon which called to testify.”  In many lawsuits, testimony offered by qualified expert witnesses can be the sole factor that changes the outcome of trial.

The impact and weight of expert testimony—as well as opinions on what is the proper standard—has caused a split between two out of three of the Florida state government’s independent branches: the Florida Legislature and the Supreme Court of Florida, as well as a split among the Supreme Court of Florida’s individual justices.  Due to this division, the road to establishing the standard by which expert testimony is admissible has been as rocky as the Iron Islands’ cliffs or the Wall’s ice shelves.

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Alimony Reform Fails Yet Again in Florida…What’s the Solution?

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By Eddie Stephens, B.C.S.

In 2019, the Florida Legislature attempted for a FOURTH time to pass alimony reform legislation.  The previous three versions passed the legislation, but were vetoed by former Governor Rick Scott.

On March 1, 2019, SB 1596 was filed in the Florida Senate.  The bill eliminated permanent alimony, changed the definition of a long-term marriage, and capped alimony awards.  SB 1596 also contained a provision that would create a presumption for equal time-sharing (custody) for parents…assuming that 50/50 time-sharing between the child and his/her two divorced parents is in the child’s best interest…which has nothing to do with alimony!

Governor Scott explained in the past that the presumption for equal time-sharing is a reason he vetoed the bill in the past as this provision would severely limit the ability of courts to create parenting plans that meet the individual needs of a family. Continue reading

Leave for Domestic Violence Survivors:  An Issue Whose Time Has Come

By Denise J. Bleau

In the United States, 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). This equates to more than 10 million women and men in a year. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence (e.g. beating, burning, strangling) by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Victims of domestic violence may require leave from work to seek safe shelter, seek a protection order from the Court, work with their employer on safety issues in the workplace, or possibly seek new schooling for their children.

Effective April 1, 2019, employers in New Zealand will be required to provide 10 days of paid leave per year to survivors of domestic violence. The leave provides victims with time to heal, go to court, keep their children safe, and escape their abusive situation. This leave is separate from annual holiday or sick leave. New Zealand’s new law also allows victims to ask for flexible working arrangements and makes discrimination against victims illegal. Continue reading

3 Easy Steps to Take Advantage of Your Homestead Exemption

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By Michael J Posner

Over 300,000 new people became Florida residents in 2017, continuing a growth trend that shows no signs of slowing.  With the new tax act squeezing many residents of high tax states in the northeast, the trend of continued population growth in the sunshine state is only expected to rise in 2018.  Many new residents purchase new homes or convert their previous vacation or second homes in Florida into their primary residence.  If this purchase or conversion is completed by December 31, those new residents may be eligible to apply for a Florida Homestead Exemption the following year.

Florida has two types of homestead:

  • The first is set forth in the Florida Constitution under Article X, Section 4, which is an automatic provision to protect homeowners from claims of creditors or spouses who exclusively hold title, and to insure that a surviving spouse is not made homeless. This protection is automatic based upon purchasing a house, condominium or cooperative and making it your primary residence.
  • The second form of homestead is known as the Homestead Exemption, and it is also set forth in the Florida Constitution under Article VII, Section 6, which provides a financial exemption from real property taxation of up to $50,000 in home value. Additional exemptions are available for veterans over 65, low income senior citizens, surviving spouses of a veteran or first responder that died in the line of duty, and certain disabled persons.

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