• New Florida laws on murder witnesses, miscarriages, religion

    By: JOE REEDY, Associated Press

    Updated:
    TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida legislators passed 249 bills this year during their regular 60-day session and the four-day special session. Nearly half (121 to be exact) took effect on Saturday with the start of the state's fiscal year.

    Here's a roundup of some of the more important laws now in effect:

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    - Ridesharing: There are now statewide regulations for drivers who work for companies such as Uber and Lyft, including requirements for insurance and driver background checks. It also requires drivers to disclose the ride fare before a trip starts. Florida is one of 37 states that have statewide ride-sharing laws.

    - Witness protection: A public records exemption for two years is granted for murder witnesses who testify. Exemptions are already granted to victims of sexual assault, child abuse or confidential informants.

    - Body cameras: Officers will be allowed to review footage upon request before writing a report or giving a statement.

    - Miscarriage certificates: Families may request certificates of nonviable birth after miscarriages if the fetus is lost between the ninth and 20th weeks of gestation.

    - Textbooks: It is easier for parents and residents to challenge school textbooks and school library books. They may review instructional materials and then challenge them as inappropriate before a hearing officer.

    - Religious expression: School districts may not discriminate against a student or school employees on the basis of religious viewpoints or expressions. Students may express them in assignments, wear clothing displaying a religious message or engage in activities to the same extent that other activities are allowed.

    - Student loans: State colleges and universities, both public and private, are required to provide yearly information to students about their loans. This enables students to better prepare their finances once they graduate.

    - Recess: Each school district must provide at least 100 minutes of recess each week for students in grades K-5.

    - Boating: Discounts are provided for boaters who purchase locator beacons.

    - Environment: Companies are required to notify the state within a day of learning about a pollution spill, and the state is required to notify the public within a day after that.

    - Pay raises: State employees will see raises for the first time since 2013. Those making $40,000 a year or less will get a $1,400 pay raise, and those earning more than $40,000 will receive a $1,000 raise. There's also a 5 percent raise to state law-enforcement officers. Judges, state attorneys and public defenders will get a 10 percent raise in October.

    - Economics: An $85 million fund was established for the Florida Job Growth Grant fund, along with $50 million in repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike

    - Education: The budget will boost funding by $100 per student in grades K-12 under the Florida Education Finance Program. There also is increased funding for charter schools to locate near struggling public schools, teacher bonuses, and more money for parents to help pay for education for students with disabilities.

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