DeSantis signs new laws on opioids, gardens and street racing

Author: The News Service of Florida
Gov. Ron DeSantis
Credit: CBS/File

A measure that would allow attorneys for the state to have access to a prescription-drug database as they pursue a lawsuit against the pharmaceutical industry over the opioid epidemic was among 10 bills signed Monday by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Also signed was a bill (HB 82) that will prevent local governments from passing rules against homeowners’ vegetable gardens and a measure that cracks down on drag racing (HB 611).

The signings — nine were announced by the governor’s office Tuesday morning — came less than a week before all 10 of the bills will take effect July 1.

The drug database law (HB 1253) was a priority during this year’s legislative session of Attorney General Ashley Moody, who considered access to the records a critical weapon in the state’s lawsuit against the pharmaceutical industry.

The law allows lawyers working for the state to have access to information in a database that was created to prevent “doctor shopping” by drug addicts and traffickers.

Moody told lawmakers during the session the information in the database is needed to demonstrate that highly addictive prescription drugs “were being recklessly distributed.”

“Those who helped fuel this man-made crisis must be held accountable, and this new law will help us do that,” Moody said in a prepared statement Tuesday.

The legislation faced some backlash, including about a need to protect patient privacy, an issue that has surrounded the database, known as the “PDMP,” since its inception a decade ago.

The database contains patient-specific information about prescribing and dispensing controlled substances, the prescriptions that doctors order and prescriptions filled by pharmacies.

To ease privacy concerns, the bill contains limits on the information Moody’s office can receive and includes safeguards regarding court-issued protective orders and destruction of the information from the database after it has been used.

The attorney general’s office last year filed the lawsuit to try to recoup millions of dollars the state has spent because of the opioid epidemic.

The lawsuit was filed against manufacturers, distributors and sellers of opioids and includes a series of allegations, including misrepresentation about opioid use and filling suspicious orders for the drugs.

The database legislation was considered a quicker route than going to court to try to get such information, which Moody’s office believed could have created a years-long delay and increased the costs to the state.

The bill about homeowners’ vegetable gardens stemmed from a dispute between homeowners Hermine Ricketts and Laurence Carroll and the village of Miami Shores over an ordinance that banned front-yard vegetable gardens.

The couple had maintained a front-yard garden for nearly two decades but uprooted their vegetables when faced with the possibility of fines.

They challenged the constitutionality of the ordinance but lost in court, with the Florida Supreme Court declining to take up the issue.

House bill sponsor Elizabeth Fetterhoff, R-DeLand, said during the session the legislation involves fundamental rights and that government has “no business” telling Floridians they can’t grow their own food, no matter where they live.

The legislation aimed at drag racing came as a reaction to a 2018 street race in which a 24-year-old Ohio woman and her 2-year-old daughter were struck and killed while walking with a stroller along Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa.

The change removes the need for a law enforcement officer to either witness the race or secure an arrest warrant.

A House staff analysis of the bill noted the state once had alternatives to illegal street racing, such as sanctioned racing events at the Central Florida Racing Complex in south Orlando and the Countyline Dragway in Medley.

Meanwhile, the Senate sent five more bills to DeSantis on Tuesday, including an anti-hazing measure (SB 1080) crafted after Andrew Coffey, a Florida State University fraternity pledge from Lighthouse Point, died after drinking a bottle of Wild Turkey bourbon that had been taped to his hand.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, targets people who plan acts of hazing or solicit others to engage in hazing and would make it a third-degree felony if the hazing results in a permanent injury. The bill also would provide immunity to people who call 911 or campus security to report the need for medical assistance during a hazing incident.

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