When Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed the 2015-16 state budget in June, he touted huge tax cuts of $427 million to Floridians. But how do those tax cuts translate to the average citizen?
If you're a college student with two children, a gun club membership and a monthly cell phone and TV bill of about $100 per month, those tax cuts amount to about $120 per year.
Though if you're looking for more tax breaks, you could always pay more than $1 million for yacht repairs.
Scott approved a tax cut of 1.73 percent on cell phone and TV packages, eliminated sales tax on college textbooks for the next year and on gun club memberships from now on, and created a sales tax holiday from Aug. 7 to Aug. 16 on certain back-to-school supplies. He also put a sales tax cap of $60,000 on luxury boat repairs, which boat owners would have to spend $1 million to rack up in the first place.
Scott extended enterprise zones as well, which were set to expire in December without action. Enterprise zones were established in 1982 to encourage businesses to operate and hire people within economically distressed geographic areas by giving them tax credits on certain
items and hires. Manatee County has two enterprise zones: one in North Manatee County and Palmetto ,and the other in Bradenton. Local enterprise zone coordinators have said while they're good to have, current regulations aren't very beneficial to most small businesses.
In addition to work on the budget, Scott signed a total of 232 bills into law in 2015, most of which will take effect Wednesday.
The laws include increased punishments and ease of prosecution for sexual crimes; visitation rights for grandparents; decreased alcohol regulation; and improved drug overdose prevention.
A law that would make women wait 24 hours after consulting with a doctor to seek an abortion is one of the most controversial of the term. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit against the state because of the law, claiming it is unconstitutional, and a judge Tuesday issued an injunction blocking implementation of the law while the lawsuit is pending.
Crime and courts
Sexual crimes got a lot of attention in the last legislative session, and punishment for sex crimes seems to be one topic on which the Legislature can widely agree.
It is now illegal to post nude pictures of a person online with identifying information and without their permission under a sexual cyber-harassment bill signed by the governor. There has to be willful and malicious intent behind the posting, and identifying information such as a name, address or contact information.
Minors can now also secretly record people on private property for the purpose of capturing sexual or violent abusers. Before, recordings made on private property without a person's permission were inadmissible in court.
People convicted of soliciting prostitutes now face harsher penalties. First-time offenders face a $5,000 fine, 100 hours of community service and completion of an educational program on the harmful impacts of prostitution and human trafficking.
On the court side, grandparents of minors can now petition for visitation rights if both parents of the child are dead or missing, or if one is dead or missing and the other has been convicted of certain violent crimes. The grandparents must show "parental unfitness or significant harm" to the child. Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, who represents part of Manatee County, sponsored the legislation.
Both local breweries and distilleries caught a slight break on alcohol regulations in 2015.
Breweries can now sell 64-ounce growlers, when they could previously only sell 32-ounce growlers or gallon containers, of their beers directly to consumers.
Distilleries, rather than being limited to only selling two bottles of product total per year directly to customers, can now sell two bottles of each different label of their product.
A previous bill introduced by Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, repealed more limits on both industries, but it did not gain the necessary support to pass the Legislature.
In the interest of preventing more drug overdoses throughout the state, Scott signed legislation that now allows patients, approved caregivers and first responders to possess and administer opioid antagonists, which are used to prevent overdoses.
Medical professionals and pharmacists can prescribe the antagonist, which blocks the effects of opioids such as heroin or prescription painkillers, to patients at risk of overdosing. Caregivers and the patient can then keep the drug in their possession and administer it when necessary without fearing liability.
Emergency responders such as police officers, deputies and firemen can also possess the antagonist and administer it in emergency situations when health professionals are not present.
Kate Irby, online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055.