a group of people standing next to each other on a stage
    Gov. Ron DeSantis signs an immigration bill during a gathering in Jacksonville in May. GOVERNOR’S OFFICE/Contributed

    A packed Florida legislative session yielded a little more than 200 new laws which took effect this month. 

    In 60 days, the Republican-controlled legislature passed a number of measures targeting immigration, education, public safety and affordable housing, to name a few. Those bills were signed into law by 2024 presidential hopeful and Gov. Ron DeSantis before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1. 

    Among the contentious items passed and signed into law was legislation allowing a person to carry a concealed firearm without a permit. The bill passed through the Florida House and Senate during session. It was signed by DeSantis on April 3. Those carrying a concealed gun may not need a permit, but they must have valid identification on them at all times in the event a law enforcement officer requests it. And they can’t carry a weapon in schools, government facilities and businesses that don’t allow guns on their property. 

    Out-of-state residents can also carry a gun without a concealed-carry permit in Florida, so long as they’re a U.S. citizen and 21 years of age or older. 

    For people who are serious about carrying a concealed firearm, Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay recommends that they take a gun safety class. 

    “It’s important that you’re familiar with your gun. It’s also important to understand when you can legally use a gun, the Stand Your Ground law and where you can and can’t go with a gun,” he said. “The one thing I don’t like about this new law is that it takes away the educational portion.”

    Ramsay added that law enforcement will likely encounter more people with concealed firearms on them — a concern for the safety of deputies. While Ramsay said he’s trying to keep an open mind, there’s concern that people will lack proficiency and familiarity with a gun. 

    “Sometimes it can be more dangerous if you’re not familiar with your gun. It’s more likely the gun can be taken and used against you,” Ramsay said. “If you carry a gun, it’s important you go to the range and shoot on some regular basis because shooting is a motor skill. If you don’t do it, you lose it.”

    Florida became the 26th state to enact constitutional carry legislation. Laws are still in place, however, that prohibit a person who’s not in law enforcement, the military or engaged in activities such as hunting from openly carrying a firearm. 

    Giffords Florida, the gun violence prevention organization led by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, called the new law “reckless,” as it will allow anyone to carry a gun in public without a background check or training. 

    “Instead of trying to enact policy to keep Floridians safe, Governor DeSantis shoved through a reckless permitless carry law that will allow almost anyone with a gun to carry in public, to please the gun lobby and help his presidential bid. He has failed our state and our children,” said Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, former Congresswoman and Florida senior advisor for Giffords Florida. 

    A new law is targeting undocumented migrants in Florida in a bid to counteract what DeSantis has called a “Biden Border Crisis.” As of July 1, private employers with 25 or more workers must verify that their new, permanent employees are authorized to work in the U.S. through the E-Verify system. For those who fail to use the system to verify employment eligibility and don’t comply within 30 days, fines begin July 1, 2024 at $1,000 per day.

    Undocumented immigrants who are unable to prove lawful presence in the U.S. but have a driver’s license from another state won’t be allowed to drive on Florida roads, per the new law. Law enforcement and authorized representatives with the Department of Motor Vehicles can issue a citation to the driver for driving without a license. 

    Hospitals that accept Medicaid are required to ask a question on their admission forms as to whether the person being admitted is a lawful U.S. citizen. Hospitals must also submit a quarterly report to the state agency on health care administration that details emergency department visits or admissions by patients who responded to the question. 

    “In Florida, we will not stand idly by while the federal government abandons its lawful duties to protect our country,” DeSantis said during a signing of the bill in May. “The legislation I signed today gives Florida the most ambitious anti-illegal immigration laws in the country, fighting back against reckless federal government policies and ensuring the Florida taxpayers are not footing the bill for illegal immigration.”

    In addition, $12 million was provided for the current fiscal year for the state’s “Unauthorized Alien Transport Program” — a DeSantis initiative sparked by the border crisis. Last year, the governor loaded two planes with migrants from San Antonio, Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. The move brought outcry and questions over whether DeSantis violated state law. 

    Another law bars transgender people from using public facilities that align with gender identities. And House Bill 1069 was signed into law by DeSantis that bars public K-12 schools from using a student’s personal title or pronouns if they do not align with the person’s sex. The bill also expands existing prohibitions on instruction related to sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade to include pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. The bill creates exceptions to the prohibition for required instruction in abstinence and HIV/AIDS.

    A bill by State Rep. Jim Mooney that provides for a fee in lieu of a security deposit option for landlords and their tenants also took effect. Fronting a security deposit for housing can be difficult for families on modest incomes, especially those in the Keys who put up thousands of dollars for first and last months’ rent. Now, landlords have the choice to offer their tenants a monthly fee to pay their security deposit. 

    Mooney’s legislation provides an avenue to secure a place without needing to pay the full security deposit. The fee doesn’t go toward the security deposit, as the funds can be used by the landlord to purchase insurance. However, a landlord can also offer the tenant who’s participating in the fee program the option to pay the security deposit on a monthly basis.

    “This gets you and your family where you need to be at that moment,” Mooney said. 

    In 2022, the Florida Legislature established a 12-year term limit for local school board members elected on or after Nov. 8, 2022. Legislators further modified the term limits to eight years last session. It was signed by the governor in May. 

    The state’s “Move Over” law was expanded this year, requiring Florida drivers to slow down and move over for broken-down vehicles on the side of the road. Previously, drivers were required to move over for first responders on the roadside.

    Jim McCarthy
    Jim McCarthy is one of the many who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures in Western New York. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 5-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club. When he's not working, he's busy chasing his son, Lucas, around the house and enjoying time with family.