New state laws, including some impacting Treasure Coast, go into effect Sunday

Florida's new $70 billion budget goes into effect Sunday, and with it a host of new laws, such as those aimed at making regional job-creation more transparent, cutting out fraud in the state's personal-injury insurance system, expanding the penalties against human-trafficking, allowing school employees to transfer unused sick time to colleagues and naming the 17th Street Bridge in Vero Beach after longtime civic leader Alma Lee Loy .

Several of the new laws are expected to have an impact on the Treasure Coast, such as one that gives the governor greater authority over the state's 24 regional workforce boards, such as Workforce Solutions.

The Port St. Lucie-based private, nonprofit agency distributes federal grant money and job-training contracts throughout the Treasure Coast. The state's Agency for Workforce Innovation — now the state Department of Economic Opportunity — last year found four of Workforce Solutions' contracts worth $525,208 did not follow some or part of state laws regarding contracts.

"These contracts were made with board members, but they didn't lead to personal benefit," Workforce Solutions spokeswoman Odaly Victorio said.

For instance, she said, a workforce board member who also was a member of a school board wouldn't see personal benefit from a contract with that school district.

Still, it all came in the wake of the Orlando-based Workforce Central Florida having to repay $700,000 that state officials said the agency wrongly spent and, earlier, Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance's chief executive resigning after a state inspector general report listed $81,000 in questionable expenses and more than $24,000 in unapproved spending.

The new law, in part, is intended to make job creation more transparent by:

Requiring board members and directors to file financial-disclosure forms, as required of candidates for political office, to state their various ownerships or other ties to businesses.

Authorizing the governor to remove board members for cause.

Requiring the state Department of Economic Opportunity to assign staff for performance and compliance reviews of workforce agencies.

Victorio said her agency supports the new measures, even if job-seekers won't see any visible differences from them.

"Will this change the way we serve the public? No," she said. "We already operate in the best interest of the public. But it does provide more accountability and transparency."

PIP Reform

Florida's 40-year-old Motor Vehicle No-Fault Law requires drivers to carry at least $10,000 worth of personal-injury protection insurance in addition to a minimum of $10,000 of property damage liability coverage. By 2000, a Statewide Grand Jury found rampant fraud in the system

Under the new law, sponsored by state Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart:

Crash reports must include all drivers and passengers and the state will form a new office to zero in on PIP fraud.

Auto accident victims with non-emergency injuries will have $2,500 in medical coverage, while those with true emergency injuries will have access to their full $10,000 in PIP benefits.

Insurers must cut their rates by 10 percent by Oct. 1 and by 25 percent by January 2014 — or explain why that isn't feasible.

Alma Lee Loy Bridge

The state law naming Vero Beach's 17th Street Bridge after longtime civic leader Alma Lee Loy is official Sunday, about a month and a half after state Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, and other residents made it a fact with a new sign.

The law names 27 other roads and bridges in the state after local honorees.

As an Indian River County commissioner in 1979, Loy championed building the 17th Street Bridge and cut the ribbon on the $9.4 million project. But that was just part of a 50-year career in public service that also included the Indian River County Hospital District Board of Trustees, the United Way, the Chamber of Commerce and numerous other organizations.

Human Trafficking

The state is increasing the war on what some call "modern day slavery" in a new law sponsored by Rep. William D. Snyder, R-Stuart.

The Legislature first aimed at human trafficking in 2004, making it a second-degree felony and establishing separate statutes against involuntary servitude, human trafficking for labor and human trafficking for sex. But while sex-trafficking remains a problem, authorities haven't used the new statutes because the state is only allowed to prosecute if racketeering is involved.

The new law clears away such an obstacle, giving the Office of Statewide Prosecution the power to investigate any and all offenses regarding luring minors for sex or forced labor and groups the offenses in the same law.

The new law removes the requirement

that the trafficking be actual transportation.

And a judge can now order the interception of wire, oral or electronic communication when that can provide evidence of human trafficking.

Donating Sick Time

School employees who don't need all their sick time can now donate it to a specific colleague, who might have run out of sick hours but who needs more, under a law sponsored by Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart.

Treasure Coast school districts all feature banks of compassionate leave time. Employees can donate their hours to a bank, and co-workers can use that paid time off during a time of catastrophe when all their other options have disappeared.

But the existing banks don't let employees donate to a specific person, and often don't let employees access sick days for the same issue more than once.

State law previously allowed family members who work for the same district to directly exchange earned sick leave, but not a non-related colleague.

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