SARASOTA, Fla. - Nearly 160 new laws took effect in Florida Tuesday. They include everything from the military, to schools, health care and guns.
One will help authorities better track sexual offenders. Another law allows children of immigrants in the country illegally to get in-state college tuition. Another bans e-cigarette sales to minors.
Local school boards will now be able to choose which textbooks are used in their classrooms, and another law redefines the state's ban on late-term abortions.
Along with those laws, the Florida legislature passed a record setting $77 billion budget.
Local lawmakers say there are some great new changes, including the Florida GI Bill, which is intended to make Florida the most military-friendly state in the nation.
"It was an extremely busy year." Local Senator Nancy Detert says she tries to give incentives to veterans in most bills. This year was no different. "I think it is a reward state, and we want to attract veterans. They are good residents and they deserve to be here."
The Florida GI Bill deals with veterans who could not get discounted tuition because they had not lived here long enough. "We made a change to that law which says if you were a veteran from any state and you are currently living in Florida, you can get the in-state tuition."
A part of the $30 million in the new bill is $1 million per year for Visit Florida to market towards veterans, in hopes to bring more of them to the Sunshine State.
Detert says she would also like to let those who served know about what they can get on their driver’s license to prove they are a veteran for discounts. “One of the things I would like to see promoted a little more, is when you get your driver’s license renewed, for a dollar you can get a green ‘V’ put right on your license."
When it comes to kids, there are a number of new laws. Did you know Florida is the #1 state for identity theft of children? A new law looks to lock that up. "For a payment of $10, you can freeze your child’s credit. All three credit agencies are cooperating with this."
Detert championed a bill called the "Keys to Independence" for foster children, helping with fees, insurance, and education. "Only 2% of them had a driver’s license, and they were not equipped with today’s job market and the world."
A big one includes big changes to the Department of Children and Families. The state is putting new protocols in place and hiring hundreds of educated investigators. “How many kids die in our care? Over the past few years it was something like 477 kids. Some of those deaths could have been prevented," says Detert.
There are also more criminal penalties for abusing kids, a law keeping e-cigarettes away from minors, more textbook choices for schools, and making college more affordable for all.
Detert says she's already getting ready for next year. "There is always something to do."
Despite all the changes, government leaders are touting $500 million in tax and fee cuts.