New Laws: No bongs, no pythons

A python ban, horse thievery crackdown and no-limit poker games are some of 140 new laws going on the books today


The entryway of High Tides Tobacco and Gifts owned by Curtis Cybenko Wednesday, June 30, 2010.

Doug Finger/ Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 10:32 p.m.

Pipes, pythons, poker and prayer are but a few of the subjects covered in the 140 new state laws that take effect today.

New restrictions target underage drinking, ownership of Burmese pythons, black-market horse meat and the sale of pipes and bongs.

On the other hand, other laws will ease regulations on state-licensed poker rooms and tractor-trailer truck weights.

Starting with the incoming freshman class, students will have to meet higher standards to graduate high school. And those high school graduates headed for college will have to meet tougher criteria to qualify for Bright Futures scholarships.

Some of the highlights:

Pipe sale restrictions (HB 366): The new statewide crackdown on smoking pipes commonly makes it

a first-degree misdemeanor for stores to sell them unless at least 75 percent of the store's revenue comes from the sale of cigars, cigarettes and other tobacco-related products or no more than 25 percent of the store's income comes through the sale of those pipes.

At High Tides Tobacco & Gifts on Southwest 13th Street, shelves of water pipes line one wall and a sign in the doorway prohibits anyone under 18 from entering the store. Owner Curtis Cybenko said he is confident his shop will meet the percentage sales requirements of the new law. But he said he believes the law will drive some shops out of business, clog up an already crowded court system and lead to unintended consequences.

"I think a lot of people who try to take the moral high ground in this business are going to be doing things they don't want to do," Cybenko said.

Specifically, he said he thinks shops might begin to sell products he says he will not carry - baggies used to deal drugs and items used in the manufacture of drugs and potentially harmful synthetic substances such as K2.

Penalties for selling alcohol to minors (HB 33/SB 1068): The new law stiffens the penalties against those who repeatedly sell or give alcohol to those younger than 21. If, for instance, a store clerk or bartender is charged twice within a year with selling alcohol to a minor - a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by as many as 60 days in jail and a $500 fine - the second offense now will be a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of as much as $1,000.

The bill also provides a defense for selling to a minor if "the buyer or recipient falsely evidenced that he or she was 21 years of age or older" or "the appearance of the buyer or recipient was such that a prudent person would believe the buyer or recipient to be 21 years of age or older."

In Gainesville, underage drinking is constantly an issue for police, politicians and University of Florida officials.

While the city last year passed an ordinance cracking down on the bars and restaurants that repeatedly serve alcohol to those who are underage, it's the state's purview to punish the people.

Between June 30, 2009, and June 30, 2010, the Gainesville Police Department arrested 23 individuals under the state law, department spokeswoman Cpl. Tscharna Senn said.

Senn said she's hopeful increasing the penalties will make barkeeps and shop clerks more cognizant about the law.

"It's a good move because it makes people think twice before they decide to sell to someone who's under the age of 21," she said.

Tougher Bright Futures requirements (HB 5201): The requirements for the Bright Futures program, which pays for large chunks of Floridians' in-state undergraduate education, will begin going up as lawmakers hope to keep down costs.

For the most prestigious Bright Futures scholarship, the Florida Academic Scholars award, prospects graduating by 2011 or 2012 must earn an SAT score of 1270 or an ACT score of 28. Starting in 2013, they will need a 1280 on the SAT or a 28 on the ACT.

And in 2014 and beyond, they will need a 1290 on the SAT or a 29 on the ACT.

While the requirements are going up, the aid money is going down.

The credit-hour awards are dropping by $1, meaning the Academic Scholars recipients would get $125 per credit hour, while tuition and fees for this year's incoming freshmen at the University of Florida will be about $168 per credit hour, meaning they will be paying more out of pocket.

More than 26,000 of the university's 34,500 undergraduates get the award, 15,500 of those earning the top-tier award, UF spokesman Steve Orlando said.

While Orlando said the changes will make it more expensive to attend UF, it's still one of the best bargains for higher education in the country.

"It will be a little bit more of a financial burden for some people, but it's still a remarkable deal," he said.

School prayer (HB 31): The new law prohibits district school boards, administrative personnel and instructional personnel from taking affirmative action that infringes or waives rights or freedoms afforded by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in absence of certain consent.

Tom Wittmer, staff attorney for Alachua County Public Schools, said there does not appear to be any local complications from the law but that it's under evaluation. The law, inspired by a case in Santa Rosa County in which teachers were banned from participating in prayers at school events, might have broader implications.

The district's new uniform policy has been described by opponents as infringing on students' First Amendment rights. Wittmer said the policy, while restrictive of the time and place students may wear certain attire, "is not an infringement since students still have freedom of speech."

The district currently is being sued by the ACLU on behalf of several parents whose children were not allowed to wear "Islam is of the Devil" T-shirts at school in 2009.

High school graduation (SB 4): Under the bill, high school students will need to pass core science and math classes, starting with geometry for next year's incoming freshmen, in order to earn a diploma.

The requirements will grow gradually more stringent over the years and cover more math and science courses. The high school science and math portions of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test eventually will be discontinued.

Pythons and horses (HBs 709 and 765): Following a 2009 incident in which a 2 year-old Sumter County girl was killed in her home by a pet Burmese python and a large spike in the numbers of the abandoned exotic snakes now living in the Everglades, the purchase and acquisition of the snakes is now illegal. The state ban will not affect snakes purchased prior to today and also will cover other exotic reptiles, including Nile monitor lizards.

Following a rash of problems with horse thievery and black-market horse meat in South Florida, a new law makes it a felony to illegally purchase, distribute or transport horse meat for human consumption. The state already restricted the sale of horse meat.

Staff writers Christopher Curry, Harriet Daniels and Chad Smith and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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