By Albert Kelley

I’m going to stray from our current discussion of criminal laws.  On January 1, 2020, several new laws took affect. I am going to cover those laws and then return to criminal laws in the next column. 

The most talked about law is Florida Statute 316.305-Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law.  This is not a new law, having first been passed in 2013. But in 2019, the legislature gave the law more teeth.  Under the amendments made in 2019, it is illegal for the driver of a car to type information into their mobile device or cell phone while driving.  The only exceptions are if the driver is operating an emergency vehicle and performing emergency functions, if the person is reporting an emergency or criminally suspicious activity to law enforcement, if they are receiving messages related to the operation or navigation of the vehicle (such as through their phone’s GPS system), responding to safety-related information such as weather alerts, responding to information provided by the vehicle or receiving radio broadcast, if the person is using their phone in such a way that they need not type in  letters, numbers or symbols (for example, if you only have to press a button to start a wireless speakerphone, it is acceptable), if the person is using their phone in a way that does not require them to read texts (such as if you car navigation system will read texts to you); or if you are riding in a self-driving car. The modification in the law also makes it illegal to use a cell phone in hand-held mode in a school zone or a construction zone. In those areas, phones must be set to speakerphone or be synchronized through the car’s speaker system.  None of the above apply if the vehicle is stopped. So texting is still allowed at red lights or when parked.

Next is Florida Statute 212.031- Tax on rental or license fee for use of real property.  While the standard tax rate in Florida is six percent (plus whatever local taxes the various cities and counties tack on), the tax rate for commercial rental property had previously been reduced to 5.7%.  Starting January 1, 2020, the tax rate for commercial leases was reduced further to 5.5%. So, in places like Key West were the normal tax rate is 7.5%, commercial leases are now taxed at 7.0%. This is important for landlords, as tenants could accuse them of overcharging if they do not reduce the amount of tax collected.

Florida Statute 456.42 Written prescriptions for medicinal drugs is designed to make it easier and faster to get access to medication.  The law requires most doctors to submit their prescriptions electronically to the pharmacy. While many physicians already do this, it is now mandatory.  This will hopefully speed the timing of preparing prescriptions and reduce the possibility of errors in deciphering handwriting. The only allowed exceptions are if the doctor is issuing the medication himself, if federal law does not allow a particular prescription to be transmitted electronically, if the physician receives a waiver for economic hardship or technological limitations (however, the waiver may not exceed 1 year), if the doctor feels it would be impractical for a particular patient to use electronic prescriptions, if the drug is part of a research program, if the patient is in hospice care or a nursing home, or if it is in the patient or physician’s best interest to comparison price shop local pharmacies.

New law, Florida Statute 256.16 adopts the Honor and Remember Flag as the designated state emblem of the service and sacrifice of the brave men and women of the United States Armed Forces who have given their lives in the line of duty.  This flag is authorized to be flown at state-owned buildings, memorials and other locations on Veterans Day and Gold Star Mother’s Day, as well as any day on which a member of the United States Armed Forces who is a resident of this state loses his or her life in the line of duty.  The law also allows local governments to display the flag where they feel appropriate.

A gift the legislature gave to the work force is an increase in minimum wage.  The minimum wage increases by $0.10 from $8.46 to $8.56. This is $1.31 higher than the national minimum wage.   

The last new law may prove a little controversial.  Florida Statute 117 Part 2 creates an “Online Notary”.  This position allows a notary public to issue notarial certifications online, so the person who is being notarized does not have to actually be with the notary at the time the notary is being performed.  As a lawyer, this is concerning as cases often turn on where a person is at the time of notarization. Under the new law, a notary may be located anywhere and electronically sign a certification. The person does not need to appear personally before the notary; they may appear electronically (think Skype or Facetime). The exception is that the notary may not perform marriage ceremonies online. This new law does not apply to all notaries.  Only those notaries who have registered as online notaries may proceed under this section.  

Al Kelley is a Florida business law attorney located in Key West and previously taught business law, personnel law and labor law at St. Leo University.  He is also the author of four law books: (“Basics of Business Law” “Basics of Florida’s Small Claims Court”, “Basics of Florida’s Landlord/Tenant Law” and “Basics of Starting a Florida Business” (Absolutely Amazing e-Books)). This article is being offered as a public service and is not intended to provide specific legal advice.  If you have any questions about legal issues, you should confer with a licensed Florida attorney.

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