TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – As we say goodbye to 2017, new laws will immediately go into effect at the stroke of midnight in 2018.
News Channel 8 legal analyst and associate producer Felix Vega has a preview of how those laws may affect you in the new year.
Property Taxes in 2018 and 2019
As the Republican-led Congress passed a sweeping tax overhaul into law in the final days of 2017, questions swirled around the new $10,000 property tax deduction for homeowners in Florida. The big question—could you pre-pay taxes above that $10,000 limit before the new year?
The short answer is no. First, Florida laws do not allow for homeowners to pre-pay their property taxes a year before they are due. Second, the key assessments that set your property taxes typically are not done until after the first of the year.
The key to the property tax question also centers on the value of your property. To hit the $10,000 deduction limit, your house would more than likely be valued over $500,000.
The state is also implementing a number of tax deductions in 2018. So check with who you choose to prepare your taxes to see what applies. Again, the new tax plan affects the return you will file in 2019 for the 2018 tax year.
State of Florida Employees Retirement Plans
Next on the financial legal docket, new state of Florida employees will see changes to how they manage their retirement savings.
Beginning Jan. 1, the default retirement system will be the state’s investment savings program—similar to a 401k account – unless you opt for a different program such as the state’s pension program.
Here’s the difference. Under the state’s pension program, according to the Florida Retirement System (FRS), employees would “vest” or be entitled to their traditional pension plan after six years of service before 2011. The vesting period changed to eight years after 2011.
After vesting, employees were given the option to switch to the investment/401k program when it was created in 2000.
The investment program, like 401k’s, is market driven by several investments chosen by the state. After leaving your state job, the investment plan can be rolled over after six months to a private 401k if you do not get another state job.
Florida Minimum Wage
As the “fight for 15” minimum wage increase movement gained momentum for a $15 an hour wage in 2016 and 2017, Florida’s minimum wage will go up by just 15 cents on Jan. 1 to $8.25 per hour for regular workers.
Tipped employees in the service industry will see a similar 15 cent increase to $5.23 per hour – two dollars below the national minimum wage rate last set in 2009.
According to a report by Florida International University’s Center for Labor Research, 44.5 percent of new jobs created in 2016 were low wage jobs. That means workers in those new jobs earned less than $10 per hour.
Florida voters approved a yearly statewide minimum wage increase in 2004 based on increases in the consumer price index (CPI).
Washington D.C. maintains the highest minimum wage at $11.50 per hour.
Getting Divorced and Parent Time-Sharing Plans in 2018
Over the past few years, the Florida legislature and the courts have begun overhauling family law rules for divorce and time-sharing agreements (formerly called custody agreements) for divorced and separated couples.
In 2018 a new “standard parenting time plan” will be available to parents in this situation that establishes set visitation times if parents can’t devise their own schedule or the courts order a parenting plan. It covers the following (with modifications):
- Every other weekend from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Sunday
- One evening per week
- All holiday breaks including Thanksgiving, winter, spring break and summer break
The goal is to shift focus to the best interests of the children, according to the new law and current family law trends.
Parents are being encouraged to work together to develop plans that work for both of them and the busy schedules of their children and avoid conflicts.
Additionally, the state of Florida has established the fl.smartchildsupport.com website through the Department of Revenue to streamline online payments for child support and management of child support cases for both sides.
Important note: The new standardized parenting plan is not available for situations where domestic violence or child abuse allegations are involved.
The 2018 Legal Landscape
The battle over gun rights will once again hit Tallahassee as the legislative session opens just after the new year.
Sarasota State Senator Greg Steube had already introduced two new bills centered around the rights of those Floridians who legally have concealed weapons permits.
The first deals with gun-free zones set up by private businesses or any place that would ban firearms that were not already regulated by federal or state laws. What senate bill 120 proposes is the right to sue those places that will not allow someone to arm themselves, but instead leave their firearm behind, for example in a car in parking lot, to sue a business if that concealed carry holder is injured on their property.
It also includes the right to sue if they are attacked by what is called a “vicious animal” in certain circumstances that a concealed carry permit owner could have shot that animal.
The second involves the right to carry a concealed firearm into a courthouse and surrender it at a secured checkpoint.
The Battle at the Supreme Court
Two cases may already define the 2018 Supreme Court session – one that has already been before the court over LGBT rights and another over your privacy rights when it comes to tracking your cell phone.
In 2012, a gay couple went to a Colorado bakery to buy a cake for their upcoming wedding.
Take note this was before same-sex marriage was declared constitutional by the United States Supreme Court in 2013 and again by the Supreme Court on the state level in 2015.
In 2017, the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, and into 2018, may be another redefining moment for the LGBT community when it comes to a new set of consumer rights, just two years after recognizing the right of the LGBT community to marry.
The Supreme Court also has an obligation under the First Amendment to weigh the rights of Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillip’s decision back in 2012 to not to make that cake.
Speaking of Privacy – Where have You, and Your Cellphone, Been?
Another new case before the Supreme Court in 2018 will look at police access to not just your smart phone, but the data collected by your phone and cell site towers you are near.
In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that in an emerging age of smart phones being our personal storage devices, a search warrant would be required to gain access to your phone.
This year, the new challenge will be access to cell site data collected by you carrier.
The argument: Does your expectation of privacy extend to that data collected by your carrier that is not stored on your phone, but still tracks your location?
For law enforcement, a subpoena would be enough to get those records.
But will the Supreme Court go the search warrant route for that information as well?
There’s an app for that
As more and more Floridians represent themselves in divorce proceedings, there is a new app that can help them navigate the Family Law system more effectively.
The “Florida Court Helps” app was designed by the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice. Among the resources you can access are:
186 Florida Supreme Court approved Family Law films that can be filled out on your device.
- Links and contact information for statewide help centers
- Easy to understand instructions for the first steps in the divorce process and what you can expect at each stage.
- Advice and contact for online resources for low-cost legal services, lawyer referral services and checking your eligibility.
According to the Florida Bar, more than a third of Americans who earn less than $50,000 a year use access the internet only on their phones.
The app is available for Apple and Android devices in their respective stores. You can also find links and instructions at Help.flcourts.org.
The Access to Civil Justice commission is designed to address the needs of disadvantaged, low income and moderate income individuals, according the the Florida Bar. It also seeks to remove economic barriers that block access to resources.
You can read more about the Commission’s work by going to http://www.flaccesstojustice.org.
We thought 2017 was quite the year, but we have a lot more to break down in our 2018 Legal Lessons every day already!
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