The 2023 legislative session in Florida brought two major changes that will alter the legal landscapes for businesses, according to Scott Shalley, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation.
HB 837 addresses tort reform and civil remedies, something Shalley said was “one of the first significant pieces of legislation to become law this session,” while SB 1718 requires all private employers with 25 or more employees to use the E-Verify system, a work eligibility platform provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The bill also reduces the statute of limitations to file a negligence claim from four to two years and creates what proponents say is a uniform and transparent process for the admissibility of evidence to a jury when calculating medical damages in a personal injury or wrongful death action.
In addition, when an action is brought against a property or business owner by a third party who was lawfully on that property and injured by the criminal act of another party, such as a negligent security action, the jury will be required to consider the fault of all persons. Lastly, it changes the state’s comparative negligence system from “pure” to “modified,” except in cases dealing with medical negligence.
“Meaning that if a plaintiff is found to be more than 50 percent at fault for his or her injury, he or she may not recover damages from any defendant,” Shalley said. “This game-changing legislation will change the legal climate for the better in Florida and reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits.”
The Florida Retail Federation supported the measure and supplemented its lobbying efforts with an “active public relations campaign,” Shalley said.
The bill, which took effect immediately, applies to all cases filed after March 24. Although, the changes to the statute of limitations apply prospectively to causes of action that ensued after the effective date.
SB 1718 also establishes new penalties for employers that knowingly hire undocumented workers, according to Shalley.
“Under the new law, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is established as the enforcing authority. The penalties for non-compliance may include fines in the amount of $1,000 per day as well as suspension or revocation of state-issued licenses,” he said.
The E-Verify requirement goes into effect July 1, while penalties begin next year on the same date. Shalley did not state whether the Florida Retail Federation lobbied for or against the measure. However, the organization does fight proposals that would limit the use of certain plastics and polystyrene.
“We continue to find ourselves working to defend against arbitrary and onerous proposals…while most proposals originate at the local level, we have successfully defeated a number of proposals at the state level as well,” he said.
“In addition, the Florida Retail Federation is continuing to work collaboratively with the office of the attorney general in the fight against retail crime. We have worked with [the attorney general] to secure funding for dedicated prosecutors who work to protect our retailers.”
Swipe fees are also an issue in the Sunshine State. They are one of the highest overhead costs for retailers – second only to labor. “We remain hopeful that [the U.S.] Congress will take action to provide for a more competitive environment,” Shalley said.
Retailers in Florida are gearing up for what is expected to be one of the biggest travel seasons in recent memory. Last year, the state hosted 137.6 million visitors, an increase of 12.9 percent over 2021, according to Shalley. Those numbers are expected to rise again this summer.
“The influx creates unique – albeit welcome – challenges as retailers work to accurately project inventory and staffing needs around regional spikes in local tourism,” Shalley said.
Likewise, merchants must also prepare for another hurricane season. Florida was battered last year by Hurricane Ian. The Category 5 storm claimed the lives of 141 people and caused an estimated $113 billion in damage. It was the costliest storm in state history, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“While simply a fact of life in Florida, hurricane season is always a time for heightened concern for our retailers,” Shalley explained. “Beyond the matters of personal safety and property protection, tropical events – or the mere threat of a named storm – can greatly disrupt the supply chain, personnel and other operational issues.
“Prior to the season, we work with industry partners to push out a great deal of information regarding hurricane preparedness.”
In other organization news, the Florida Retail Federation’s Food Industry has partnered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to provide food safety training to the retail industry.
The federation held its “Retail Days” in Tallahassee in March during the legislative session. The record-setting event featured Florida House Speaker Paul Renner and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo.