The 2017 Legislative Session has come to an end! We have worked hard to secure good policy for our constituents and the people of Florida. During our time in Tallahassee this year, some big issues were addressed: tax cuts, increased homestead exemption, more clarity on our self-defense and religious freedom rights, and increased funding for bright futures and higher education institutions.
This year, the legislature passed $180 million in broad based tax-cuts for Floridians. This includes a three day back to school sales tax holiday, a reduction to the business rent tax, a disaster preparedness sales tax holiday, and the elimination of sales tax on feminine products.
A bill was also passed that will provide significant tax savings for homeowners across Florida. The increased homestead exemption bill will proposes an amendment to the Florida Constitution to provide an additional homestead exemption of $25,000. Homestead property owners will receive an exemption from ad valorem taxes, except levies by school districts, for the assessed valuation greater than $100,000 and up to $125,000. If approved by Florida voters in November 2018, the amendment will take effect January 1, 2019.
We all have a right and responsibility to defend ourselves against harm. This year a bill was passed that requires that at the pretrial hearing the prosecution prove, by the standard of clear and convincing evidence, that the defendant’s use of force was not justified. The requirements of the bill are consistent with the foundation of our criminal law that a person is innocent until proven guilty.
I was able to pass SB 436 this year, which will protect all students and school personnel in their choice of religious expression. This legislation makes it clear that the Legislature supports the constitutional rights of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion for everyone associated with our public school system. While the government cannot impose a religion, they should not take away people’s right to free speech and their right to practice their faith. By codifying these religious liberties, we will ensure that the first amendment rights of our students are not hindered. This bill protects the expression of all religious beliefs, and protects a student’s decision not to express any religion.
We also passed historic increases to need and merit based financial aid and tuition assistance programs. This ensures the Bright Futures Florida Academic Scholars award covers 100% of tuition and fees and a $300 per semester textbook stipend. This will keep Florida’s top high school students in the state and help them to graduate will minimal student loans. It will also provide Bright Futures for summer term enrollment, in order to help students graduate on time and enter the workforce earlier. Additionally, it creates the Florida Farmworker Student Scholarship Program, to provide college opportunities to our state’s dedicated agriculture industry.
We have worked hard this year for the people of Florida, to ensure our liberties and freedom remain protected. Our constituents are always our priority.