Controversial Compensation Bill, Anti-Theft Legislation, and Protective Measures for Hospital Workers

Controversial Comp Plan Bill Signed

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday signed legislation that environmental groups argued will have a “chilling effect” on efforts to limit sprawling development in Florida. The bill (SB 540), which lawmakers passed during the legislative session that ended May 5, deals in part with legal challenges to local comprehensive growth-management plans. It will allow “prevailing” parties to recover legal fees in cases at the state Division of Administrative Hearings. More than 60 groups argued the threat of facing hefty legal costs would dissuade organizations and individuals from challenging comprehensive plan changes.

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“SB 540 will threaten ordinary Floridians with financial ruin for exercising their right to legally challenge amendments that conflict with their communities’ comprehensive plans — their blueprints for environmentally and fiscally sustainable growth,” the group 1000 Friends of Florida said in an email Wednesday after the bill was signed. “Floridians who lose such challenges could be forced to pay the attorney fees and costs of the prevailing local government and any developers that chose to intervene.” During debate on the measure last month, Senate sponsor Nick DiCeglie, R-Indian Rocks Beach, suggested that people who object to comprehensive-plan changes should work to elect new local officials instead of filing legal challenges. The bill’s supporters pointed to hearings that are held before comprehensive-plan changes are approved.

“There are sometimes up to nine opportunities for a citizen to express either support or not support for a comprehensive plan or a comprehensive-plan amendment,” DiCeglie said.

DeSantis Signs Catalytic Converter Theft Bill

With catalytic converters containing valuable metals, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday signed a bill aimed at curbing thefts of the vehicle pollution-control devices. Lawmakers almost unanimously passed the bill (SB 306) last month. Catalytic converters contain precious metals such as palladium and platinum. Supporters of the bill said thieves quickly cut catalytic converters off vehicles and sell the devices because of the metals. The bill includes creating third-degree felony charges for “knowingly” purchasing, possessing, or selling stolen catalytic converters. Also, the bill will create an “inference” that people with two or more detached catalytic converters knew or should have known they were stolen or fraudulently obtained.

New Law Aims to Protect Hospital Workers

Amid workplace-safety concerns, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday signed a bill that will increase criminal penalties for people who assault hospital employees and volunteers. Lawmakers passed the bill (HB 825) during the legislative session that ended May 5. State law has included increased penalties for people who assault emergency-room employees, but the bill expands those protections to other hospital workers. After the House passed the bill on April 20, the Florida Hospital Association released a statement that said hospital workers are six times more likely than average workers to suffer from violence. “This legislation will lead to better patient care by creating a safer working environment for our healthcare workers,” Mary Mayhew, president, and CEO of the association, said at the time. Assault charges typically are second-degree misdemeanors, but under the bill, they will be upgraded to first-degree misdemeanors for assaults on hospital workers. Similarly, battery charges are typically first-degree misdemeanors but will be upgraded to third-degree felonies.

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