Student-led prayer could soon be commonplace in Florida schools. It's one of about 150 state laws going into effect today.
Statewide legislation will give school districts the option of changing their policies. Collier County is opting out.
House Bill 317 gives districts the option to allow "inspirational messages" to be delivered by students, but does not require that it be permitted. If adopted, school personnel cannot partake in the prayer or influence its content.
Collier County Schools Superintendent Kamela Patton said in a statement the district won't be changing its policies.
"Based on our review, our policies and prevailing First Amendment law provide students with the appropriate means and protections for freedom of religious expression," Patton wrote. "Finally, based on our review as well, adopting such a policy could embroil the district in a constitutional challenge and related litigation which would not be in the district's best interests especially at this time when we have more pressing issues to be focused on such as academic accountability and district finances."
Religious leaders applaud the law.
"Someone should always be able to express their faith in a public place," said Pastor Doug Pareti with First United Methodist Church in Naples.
"We truly believe the faith issues belong at home and it's the parent's responsibility to bring their children up in the faith they feel is appropriate to them," he said. "But on the other hand, that's a student expressing their own feelings. That's a freedom of speech issue."
Billy Sparacio has coached football at both public and private high schools and has always started games and practices with prayer.
"I used football as a platform for Jesus Christ as much as I possibly could. I never forced it, but never had any of the students be upset with that," he said. "Character and all those other great attributes are all biblically-based principles and disciplines."
Now as a coach at First Baptist Academy, he's able to pray with his students more freely. Opening that door for students at public schools is a good move, he said.
"There's a saying that as long as there are tests in schools, there will be prayer." Sparacio said. "And the greater the country will be."
Representative from Lee County schools could not be reached Friday for comment on the student-led prayer policy.
Public schools will be held more financially accountable for student performance in core courses under a new law that also makes it easier for students to graduate early.
The law allows students who have completed 24 credits to graduate early and receive Bright Futures scholarships. The measure also ties funding for must-pass courses to student performance on tests in those subjects while clarifying eligibility rules for Advanced Placement and dual-enrollment programs.
Personal injury insurance
The changes to auto insurance affect the state's personal injury protection — or PIP — coverage.
Since 1972, Florida motorists have been required to buy such coverage to make sure anyone injured in a crash gets money to treat their injuries without delay. A driver's insurance company is required to pay up to $10,000 for medical bills and lost wages no matter who is at fault.
Bogus claims and faked accidents, though, are largely responsible for a $1.4 billion increase in PIP costs since 2008, state officials say.
The new law puts a 14-day limit on seeking treatment after a crash. Benefits also are capped at $2,500 unless a doctor, osteopathic physician, dentist, supervised physician's assistant or advanced registered nurse practitioner determines there's an "emergency medical condition."
Chiropractors cannot make that determination.
Counties could have to pay tens of millions of dollars in disputed health-care charges that have piled up for years under a Medicaid bill.
The most contentious part of the measure requires counties to pay disputed Medicaid bills unless they can prove to an administrative judge that the bills were unwarranted.
Counties argue that the state should fix its billing system, which they say is plagued with errors, before using the withholding mechanism in the bill to force counties to pay 85 percent of bills that might or might not be valid. Lawmakers who supported the measure said they should have been paying their bills all along.
Republican-led efforts to assist Florida businesses, a priority of both chambers and Gov. Rick Scott, continues with a roll back of unemployment taxes.
The tax paid by businesses for unemployment benefits was scheduled to go up to about $171 per employee, but the new law will reduce that to about $121 per worker.
A law allowing state agencies to drug test their employees kicks in but is being challenged in federal court. The law, which was overwhelmingly approved by the Legislature, would allow agencies to conduct random testing every three months.
House Bill 1001 prohibits those advertising for and brokering timeshares from scamming buyers, legislation Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi supports.
Bondi said in a weekly newsletter released in June that timeshare resale fraud complaints have been the top category of complaints received by her office in recent years.
The legislation is designed to address unfair and deceptive marketing and advertising practices by timeshare resale companies, she wrote. "By strengthening Florida's timeshare resale laws and focusing on marketing and advertising practices, we can protect timeshare owners from unscrupulous companies that may try to scam them during the resale process," Bondi stated.
The Associated Press and the News Service of Florida contributed to this report