Several pieces of legislation were passed in Florida on Oct. 1, following a busy legislative session that concluded last May.
These laws span several issues, from criminal justice to housing and transportation to banking and finance.
Here’s what you need to know about some of the prominent bills going into effect this month.
HB1297 – Death penalty in child sexual battery
House Bill (HB) 1297 allows the death penalty for people who commit sexual batteries on children under age 12.
“In Florida, we think that the worst of the worst crimes deserve the worst of the worst punishment,” Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida, said. “We have very heinous sex crimes that are committed against children under the age of 12 years old. These are really the worst of the worst. The perpetrators of these crimes are often serial offenders.”
Under this new law, judges can decide to impose the death penalty or life in prison through a separate sentencing proceeding to determine whether a capital sexual battery was committed.
This decision has been faced with controversy from groups and communities advocating against such a heinous sentence.
“This legislation will not help victims. It will, however, create more uncertainty and less finality, which in turn further traumatizes victims,” Maria DeLiberato, Executive Director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said.
It is currently unconstitutional to sentence one to death for a non-homicide crime in the U.S. The United States Supreme Court and Florida Supreme Court precedents have avoided death sentences for rapists, so some legal challenges could be expected in overturning this precedence.
HB319 – Interfering with sports events
HB 319 regards interfering with participants in athletic or artistic events by going onto fields or stages without authorization, comprising a first-degree misdemeanor and sets a maximum fine of $2,500.
One cannot intentionally touch, strike or cause harm to a player, coach, manager, performer or similar entity during an event against the will of the participant, or willfully enter or remain in a restricted area during an event without being authorized.
This is increasingly relevant in the age of social media, where these are often bribed acts. The law prohibits people from making money off such exploits, and any person who solicits another person to violate by offering anything of value to engage in such activity constitutes a third-degree felony.
This bill, put forth by the criminal justice committee, protects those that devote their life to artistic and athletic forms of entertainment.
“People work their whole lives to get to the point of playing or performing professionally. They deserve to be protected, so that they can continue to succeed,” said Rebecca Elia, the chair of the Category 5 spirit board and senior majoring in biology.
With the recent addition of Lionel Messi to the Inter Miami soccer team as of July 2023, this law would be valuable in maintaining patron interference as the games attract growing crowds.
HB949 – Minors and golf carts
HB 949 regulates who can operate a golf cart in Florida. Now, teenagers under age 18 cannot operate or drive golf carts on public roads without a valid driver’s license or learner’s permit. Every driver must hold a valid government-issued photo ID.
Previously, golf-cart users must be at least 14 years old when on public roads designated for golf-cart use, but driver’s licenses are not required. Violations for this act will be noncriminal traffic infractions.
There are over 1,250 golf courses in Florida, more than any other state in the U.S., and golf carts have become a facet of residential and public life for several communities in the state.
Kiera Fielding, a master’s student at the Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric and Earth Science studying coastal zone management, is an avid golfer who grew up driving a golf cart in South Florida.
“Golf carts are a great mode of transportation and an easy way for younger generations to learn the rules of the road. I can argue it was easier for me to learn to drive because I was already accustomed to the basic concepts of driving while operating a golf cart since age 13,” Fielding said.
Raising the age limit to operate these vehicles can be a safety precaution taken for the citizens, but it can be difficult to change these innate habits. With the exponential population growth experienced throughout Florida, this bill will shape how future communities travel, interact and socialize around their local areas.
“I think the reason this bill is being introduced is because of the influx of people moving to residential communities. Golf carts are becoming a popular mode of transportation for younger kids who do not have their licenses or permits and the number of accidents involving golf carts is increasing. Safety concerns over proper use also contributed to arising concerns,” Fielding said.
HB941 – County prohibits bans on dog breeds and size
HB 941 seeks to limit dog breed discrimination and will effectively stop local governments from banning specific dog breeds like German shepherds or pitbulls. This bill will authorize public housing authorities to adopt policies related to dogs, so long as such requirements are not specific to breed, weight or size.
“The fewer restrictions for public housing, the better. If the aggression in dogs is the issue, it should be based on a dog-by-dog basis, not by breed,” Gabrielle Mraz, a senior majoring in computer science and classics and a puppy raiser for UPup and Canine Companions, said.
This ordinance can restrict owners from having a dog over a certain weight or size if the dog poses a safety and welfare concern following an attack if the order is not breed-specific.
“I live on campus with permission to have a UPup, but if I tried to live off campus landlords could turn me down because my dog’s too big. Limited housing because of a dog’s size or breed is an issue a lot of people run into and isn’t fair,” Mraz said.
“Owner responsibility and training play a much larger role in dog aggressiveness. Dogs considered aggressive are less likely to be adopted and more likely to be euthanized. In Miami-Dade [County], where pitbulls were illegal, the county could seize your pitbull, and it would then be euthanized because no one living in county lines could adopt one,” Mraz said.
HB1359 – Fentanyl dealers
HB 1359 increases penalties for fentanyl dealers and manufacturers, including imposing mandatory minimum 25-year sentences and $1 million fines for adults selling at least four grams of fentanyl to minors through products that resemble candy or similar tactics.
“That is just fundamentally wrong and it’s evil and if you do that, you’re going to spend the rest of your life rotting in prison,” DeSantis said. “You do need to hold the people accountable who are dealing with this stuff and they need to be treated like murderers.”