By MARGIE MENZEL
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, May 21, 2015……….Gov. Rick Scott signed 44 bills into law Thursday, including a measure that will allow Floridians without concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns during mandatory emergency evacuations.He also signed bills aimed at improving the state’s child-protection and juvenile-justice systems, banning job discrimination based on pregnancy and creating tax-free savings accounts for people with disabilities.The new gun law (SB 290) went into effect as soon as Scott signed it. Backers say the measure will allow people to bring their weapons when forced to leave home because of hurricanes and other disasters.
“It’s really a no-brainer,” National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer said. “When people are forced to leave their homes, they have a right to carry their possessions with them – including their firearms to protect their property.”
A similar measure died in the Senate last year amid concerns by the Florida Sheriffs Association and senators on both sides of the aisle. Some were apprehensive about increasing the number of armed people on the streets without concealed-weapons licenses during emergencies.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, addressed those concerns this year by limiting the amount of time people can carry guns without concealed-weapons licenses to 48 hours, which can be extended by the governor.
Meanwhile, the child-protection law (SB 7078) began as what’s known as a glitch bill, expanding aspects of a sweeping reform measure that passed last year. The new law will increase reporting of medical neglect and will expand the role of the state’s Critical Incident Rapid Response Team, which the secretary of the Department of Children and Families can dispatch to investigate child deaths.
It will also require services to be “evidence-based and trauma-informed” – a recommendation of the Florida Institute for Child Welfare, which was created as part of last year’s law. Children’s services must be based on the idea that abused kids can recover from trauma by addressing the painful experiences they’ve endured, such as violent or addicted parents.
Additionally, an amendment to the bill caused battles in the House and Senate. That provision, which passed, will require employees and volunteers of certain membership organizations – such as the Boys and Girls Clubs, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts – to meet background screening requirements through the Department of Children and Families.
“Florida’s children now have greater protection against the evildoers in our society,” said Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Chairwoman Eleanor Sobel, a Hollywood Democrat who sponsored the bill and the controversial amendment.
The governor also signed a bill (SB 378) that will increase the number of times law-enforcement officers may issue civil citations to non-violent juvenile offenders.
Sponsored by Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, the measure will eliminate part of state law that limits juvenile-diversion programs to first-time misdemeanor offenders. That would allow civil-citation and other diversion programs to be used in second or subsequent offenses.
The bill will allow officers the choice of issuing simple warnings or informing children’s parents or guardians about misdemeanor offenses. Under the measure, juveniles could be assigned up to 50 hours of community service or required to participate in intervention programs, such as family counseling and substance-abuse and mental-health treatment.
Rep. Gwyn Clarke-Reed, a Deerfield Beach Democrat who sponsored the House version of the bill, said she was “delighted” Scott signed the measure into law.
“This new law gives important discretion to officers on the streets, critical opportunity to youthful offenders and more productive use of taxpayers’ money,” Clarke-Reed said in a prepared statement. “We should, when we can, offer kids who find themselves in trouble a path to productivity rather than a pipeline to jail.”
Over the past four years, the use of civil citations in Florida has increased from seven to 59 of the state’s 67 counties.
Both the child-protection and civil-citation laws go into effect on Oct .1.
Among the other bills Scott signed Thursday was a measure (SB 642) that will create the Florida ABLE program so that people with disabilities can save money in tax-free savings accounts for future services without losing their eligibility for state and federal benefits. Also, he signed a bill (SB 982) that bans discrimination based on pregnancy in employment, public lodging and food service establishments.
Independent and Indispensable
Rob Chaney, associate director and athletics commissioner for the Florida College System Activities Association, said the change is likely a move to set up the creation of women’s flag football teams on state college campuses.