Minimum wage hike, vaping changes take effect

A sales rep shows a vaping device to a customer at the MUV Dispensary, a medical marijuana store in downtown Orlando on June 12, 2020.

TALLAHASSEE – Minimum wage workers in Florida will get a voter-approved pay boost this week, while about two dozen new laws kick in, including a regulatory framework for electronic cigarettes.

After just over 60 % of voters approved a constitutional amendment in November, the state’s minimum wage will go from $8.65 an hour – about $18,000 a year for a full-time worker – to $10 on Thursday, with the rate for tipped workers moving up from $5.63 an hour to $6.98 an hour.

Under the constitutional amendment, the rate will increase incrementally each year until reaching $15 an hour – $11.98 for tipped workers – on Sept. 30, 2026.

The measure maintains a $3.02 tip credit that employers can apply to tipped workers.

Prominent Orlando attorney John Morgan spearheaded the constitutional amendment, pouring millions of dollars into its passage.

Supporters said it was needed to help low-paid workers. Also, for example, state Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, argued last 

year it will help counter an “anti-worker” agenda by Republican leaders and business groups in Tallahassee.

Stiff opposition

But the amendment faced opposition from Republican leaders, such as state GOP Chairman Joe Gruters, a Sarasota senator, and House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor. Among other things, they said it would hurt small businesses.

The change also was opposed by business groups, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association.

In addition to the higher minimum wage, a series of new laws will hit the books Friday after being passed during the legislative session that ended in April. Many new laws took effect July 1, the start of the state fiscal year.

Topping the list is a bill (HB 1080) that creates a state regulatory frame-work for the sale of electronic cigarettes. Among other things, the bill will raise the state’s legal age to vape and smoke tobacco to 21, a threshold already established in federal law.

Issue of regulations

House bill sponsor Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, said before the measure was approved that it was “necessary to stop youth vaping.

”But it drew opposition from prominent health groups, in part because it will prevent local regulations on such things as the marketing and sale of vaping products and tobacco.

Groups including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association unsuccessfully implored Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto the measure.

“By blocking the power of elected officials at the local level to protect kids --- and failing to take any meaningful action at the state level --- we risk another generation addicted to deadly tobacco products and the illness and premature death that come as a result,” the groups said. 

Other new laws

Among the other new laws taking effect Friday: 

  • Child welfare (SB 80): The measure makes wide-ranging changes in the child-welfare system on issues such as out-of-home placement, steps for re-instatement of parental rights and the process for transitioning youths out of foster care.
  • Child safety (SB 252): The bill creates the “Child Safety Alarm Act,” which requires vehicles used by child-care facilities to be equipped with alarm systems that prompt drivers to ensure no children remain on board when the vehicles are parked.
  • Crime Stoppers (HB 363): The bill makes it a third-degree felony to disclose protected communications provided to a Crime Stoppers organization.
  • Specialty tags (SB 676): The measure makes a series of changes involving specialty license plates, including establishing an “Army of Occupation” design for veterans who served overseas in wars between May 9, 1945, and October 2, 1990.
  • DNA (HB 833): The measure, in part, defines DNA samples as “exclusive property” of people submitting the samples and limits the use of the DNA for criminal databases unless people provide “express consent” for analysis.
  • Written threats (HB 921): The bill expands and updates laws about written threats and cyberstalking, including threats involving mass shootings or terrorism.
  • Corporate espionage (HB 1523): The measure, in part, creates second-degree felony charges for “trafficking in trade secrets,” with the charges bumped to first-degree felonies if the trafficking is aimed at benefiting foreign governments.

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