Sweeping Florida insurance revamp among laws now in effect

TALLAHASSEE — Since Monday, July 1, vaping at your desk at work is no longer allowed and texting while driving is illegal, although drivers are now optional — self-driving cars, trucks and buses without a human backup can legally operate on Florida’s streets.

The state’s $90.9 billion, 488-page Fiscal Year 2020 budget went into effect Monday and with it comes a bevy of new laws and programs that began July 1.

Included in these new laws is one that did not garner a great deal of attention during the legislative session but could affect millions of Floridians in making a wide array of insurance policies more variable, accessible and inexpensive.

Under guidelines adopted under House Bill 301, an “Insurance omnibus bill,” insurers are allowed to provide multi-policy discounts when homeowners and auto policies are purchased through the same agent, potentially reducing rates for consumers.

The new law also increases reimbursement from the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund [FHCF] to insurers for loss adjustment expenses from 5 percent to 10 percent and eliminates the requirement that workers’ compensation insurance applicants and their agents have sworn statements notarized.

Under the sweeping insurance package, the state’s “surplus lines” insurance industry is revamped. It eliminates a prescriptive cap on the $35 surplus lines agent policy fee and replaces it with a requirement that the fee be “reasonable” and separately disclosed to the customer.

Among laws and programs adopted by lawmakers this year that go into effect on July 1:

• Hands Free Driving Requirement: Under a new law adopted under HB 107, “using a wireless communications device in a handheld manner” will be a primary offense. Law enforcement can pull you over for texting and driving without needing another reason. A first offense is punishable by a $30 fine, with a second offense costing $60. Court costs and fees also would apply.

• School choice vouchers: Students can begin applying for the new Family Empowerment Scholarship Program adopted under SB 7070, which allocates up to $140 million to offer as many as 18,000 vouchers to attend private schools.

Under the program, students from families with incomes at 185 percent of the federal poverty level — $47,637 annually for a family of four — are eligible.

Eventually, students from families with annual incomes at 300 percent the federal poverty level — $77,250 — would also be eligible.

• Firefighters cancer benefits: Firefighters with cancer, and the families of firefighters who’ve died from it, can begin to access benefits outlined under SB 426. The new law provides disability payments to firefighters and death benefits to their families if they die because of cancer or cancer treatments.

• Health/hygiene products for female inmates: Beginning Monday, state correctional facilities must provide incarcerated women with healthcare products in accordance with a new law adopted under SB 332.

• Sanctuary city ban: It is official — non-existent sanctuary cities in Florida are banned under the provisions of SB 168, which require state and local governments to cooperate with federal officials in retaining detained undocumented immigrants. The enforcement component begins Oct. 1.

• Autonomous vehicles: The new law adopted under HB 311 replaces “autonomous vehicle” in state statute with “automated driving system,” allowing autonomous vehicles to be operated without a human with a driver license, essentially making the “automated driving system” the “driver” beyond the testing stage and onto the streets.

• Indoor vaping verboten: Under the new law encoded under SPB 7012, starting Monday, vaping is banned in indoor workplaces the same way smoking tobacco is prohibited.

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