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- 2014 - January - 2nd -

Election changes, sex trafficking laws take effect with new year

By Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida

Bills that crack down on human sex trafficking, address problems from the 2012 election, allow foster care children to remain in the program until 21, and provide an incentive for companies to expand their fleet of natural gas vehicles become law Wednesday.

Here are highlights of bills taking effect Jan. 1:

Elections

HB 7013: The law — quietly signed by Scott before heading to Chile for a trade mission in May — is aimed at cleaning up voting problems that plagued parts of the state during the November 2012 elections.

The law allows up to 14 days for early voting, though local supervisors could remain at the current eight days, and allows for more flexibility with early voting sites. It would limit the length of some ballot summaries for constitutional amendments.

And it would dissolve a committee that sets the date of the presidential primary and instead requires that vote be held on the first Tuesday that complies with party rules. Both Republican and Democratic delegations to national conventions have lost members over the last several years as Florida vied for earlier primary dates.

Sex trafficking

HB 1325 and HB 1327: The measures establish a legal process for human-trafficking victims to get their criminal records expunged — typically for prostitution charges.

The new laws only apply to crimes committed while the victims were being forced, threatened or coerced. 

The measures ran through the Legislature as companions to a bill (HB 7005) that prevents the operation of massage establishments between midnight and 5 a.m. That bill –– which has exceptions for businesses that might offer massage services –– became law Oct. 1.

Natural gas 

HB 579: This measure exempts natural gas from the state fuel tax for five years, provides an incentive for companies to expand their fleet of natural gas vehicles and, starting in 2019, establishes a fuel-tax structure for natural gas that is similar to that for diesel fuel.

The Natural Gas Fuel Fleet Vehicle Rebate Program offers rebates of up to 50 percent of the costs of converting certain vehicles to natural gas-powered vehicles. An applicant would be eligible to receive a maximum rebate of $25,000 per vehicle, up to a total of $250,000 per year.

The bill also requires any person selling natural gas fuel at retail in Florida to obtain a license from the Department of Revenue. 

Foster care

SB 1036: This law gives young adults the option to stay in foster care until age 21. Those in the foster care system would be allowed to remain in the program past the age of 18 if they are completing high school, postsecondary or vocational educations, participating in job-training programs, working at least 80 hours per month or are unable to participate due to disabilities.

The bill analysis concluded that it wouldn't cost more to allow children to stay in the system until 21 because youths who age out of foster care often end up homeless, jobless or in jail.

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