(As originally published with bells and whistles, Tue, June 28th 2022, 5:23 AM EDT)
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CBS12) — July 1 means new laws go into effect in Florida and there will be several important changes — along with new ways to save money — taking effect on Friday.
The new president of the Florida Bar, Gary Lesser of West Palm Beach, helped CBS12 News break them down, starting with big money: both spending and saving.
“This year’s budget passed the Florida legislature and signed by Gov. DeSantis is really unprecedented,” he commented.
“It’s impressive because of the size of the budget. We had federal stimulus money. We have greater than expected revenue coming into the state,” Lesser explained.
DeSantis sent out a news release after signing the budget. “Florida will have historic reserves at the end of the Fiscal Year 2021-2022, totaling more than $20 billion, and reserves for Fiscal Year 2022-2023 are estimated to begin the year at more than $16 billion,” it said.
“So, we had a very large size of the budget which allows the state of Florida to fund physical projects like infrastructure and also fund the largest tax relief bill ever in the history of Florida and that is a very good thing to have happen and aspects of the tax relief that were built into the budget including tax holidays for diapers and fuel and disaster relief will fuel and these were things that will make a very big difference for everyday Floridians,” Lesser explained.
There may be more tax holidays than people realize. Tax holidays are opportunities to buy certain items in Florida without paying the state sales tax.
- A three-month tax holiday on children’s books is underway and will run through Aug. 14.
- A “Freedom Week” tax holiday on boating and water activity supplies — and camping, fishing, outdoor and sporting equipment — will run July 1-7.
- Stock up on diapers, baby and toddler clothes — and Energy Star Appliances. The tax holiday on those last a year, from July 1, 2022 through June 30, 2023.
- The tax holiday on impact-resistant windows, doors, and garage doors will last two years, from July 1, 2022 through June 30, 2024.
- A sales tax-free holiday on clothing, shoes, backpacks, and school supplies will take place July 25 through Aug. 2.
- A tax holiday for tools and other home improvement items will take place Sept. 3-9.
- And the gas tax holiday will lower the price of gas in Florida by 25.3 cents. That’ll take place for the entire month of October.
The tax holiday for disaster preparedness has ended.
Other big changes will affect some of Florida’s most vulnerable: nursing home patients.
Nursing homes have had a tough time hiring Certified Nursing Assistants, or CNAs, so the legislature overwhelmingly gave them flexibility with staffing.
“They can’t get people to work, so it lowered the number of hours of CNAs, lowered the number of hours currently required by law of registered nurses and instead allowed for an aggregate formula to include all healthcare providers, physical therapists, and that sort of thing,” Lesser explained.
CNAs had been required to spend two-a-and-a-half hours per patient, per day. Friday, the time will be reduced to just two hours.
Also, nurses and CNAs combined have to average roughly three-and-a-half hours per day with each patient. Friday, time spent with other staff members will also count.
But one caregiver isn’t the same as another. For example, physical therapists and mental health counselors do different work. AARP was dead set against the change.
“And there are people who feel it might affect the standard of care given at nursing homes and there’s real concern about that, but the proponents of the law feel to allow them to staff and fund and be able to provide care residents,” Lesser explained.
He added, for the most part, every piece of legislation that passes is a compromise and despite opposition to the staffing changes, another part of the law should hold nursing home owners accountable for mistakes.
Lesser said he likes that part of the law.
“If you were a bad actor in the nursing home industry and you were sued, you could just sell the nursing home to a new company, and there’d be nobody held responsible or accountable. In fact, that’s not how the law works pretty much anywhere else. So, they closed that loophole. And if you are bad actor operating a bad nursing home, you can’t remove legal opportunity responsibility by selling it to a new company. You’re still going to be held responsible. And that was a good law that protects nursing home residents and their families.”
A special situation for people in the healthcare field will stay a bit longer. Covid-19 protections for health care providers will be extended until June of 2023.
“It’s an interesting bill because it defines healthcare workers pretty broadly: hospital, doctors, people coming into your home, home healthcare aides,” Lesser explained. “And the truth of the matter is that our healthcare workers are in front of the front line during Covid and they didn’t get to stay at home and work from home, so this issue — like many issues — has two sides. On one hand, I think we want to protect healthcare workers who really put themselves out there and suffer. Data on getting Covid and dying from Covid is pretty significant in the state and nationally.
“On the other hand, the ability to bring a claim for damages, for injuries, is essential to our civil justice system and in fact goes to the Bible. That’s where it was created: the opportunity to make recovery for harm. So, you have to try to balance this. This protection would be extended until June of next year and hopefully by that time Covid will finally be a memory in the rearview mirror and we can continue moving forward and getting back to normal.”
There will be higher pay for two groups of state employees.
“One of the things that came out of this last session of the legislature was pay raises for judges,” Lesser explained. “And people may think that judges don’t work that hard, maybe it’s a 9 to 5 job. That’s not true. I’ve known many, many judges across as the state of Florida for the 30 years that I’ve been a lawyer, and judges work very hard. We’re talking about county court and circuit court judges: our trial level judges.”
Lesser said they earn their pay. “They come in early, and they stay late, and they bring work home, and they deserve that pay raise. And it was not a very large cost to do. This pay raise people who work extraordinarily hard. And the two things to think about. One is that the state court judge has a judicial assistant and a pretty large caseload, whereas in the federal court system, they have a much smaller caseload, and a federal judge has a magistrate judge, a couple of law clerks. Our state court judges work hard, and the raise was certainly due and overdue and in fact our entire court system as a percentage of our state budget is about 0.7 percent and it’s despite the fact that our judges across Florida handle millions of cases per year. It’s really important that our viewers know how hard our judges work. Every day, all year long. So, this is a well-deserved pay raise for our very hard-working trial court judges.”
Also benefiting will be the state’s lowest-paid employees.
“One of the best things that came out of this last legislative session, in terms of the budget, was a pay raise for state employees. And the Florida legislature had committed to raising the minimum salary for Florida employees to $15 an hour. And that was going to happen over time,” Lesser explained. “And the Florida legislature passed a bill raising it to $15 an hour this session, ahead of schedule. And this is going to make a very big difference for a lot of families in Florida who work for the state and work hard. And it was pretty impressive the legislature got ahead of the ball and got these pay raises for our state employees, and Gov. DeSantis signed that into law. And that’ll be a great help these workers for the state of Florida and their families.”
Lesser won’t say a word about those.
Instead, “What the Florida Bar does, legislatively. It’s the administration of justice. That’s an independent, properly funded court system and the independent legal profession so I’m asked to stay clear of any issues that might be controversial or cause some people to have different opinions.”
Gary Lesser became the 74th president of the Florida Bar last Friday, June 24. He is the managing partner of Lesser Lesser Landy & Smith in West Palm Beach.