New year means new state, local laws

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CLAY COUNTY – The new year brings resolutions and changes to people’s lives, including state and local laws.

Several new laws went into effect on Jan. 1, including a raise in civil limits for lawsuits, fines for texting and driving and an increase from 18 to 21 to legally purchase tobacco and vaping products.

County civil limits are doubling from a maximum of $15,000 to $30,000. That means judgments now can be as much as $30,000. Small Claims limits are increasing, as well, by 60% to a limit of $8,000.

In disputing exceeding $8,000, civil cover sheets must declare how much money is at stake in the case. For more details about changes to the court system, Circuit Court Community Outreach Director Mary Justino said people can visit KnowYourCourt.flcourts.org.

As to why these changes came about, Justino said guidelines were due for adjustments after remaining the same for more than 10 years.

“Inflation is at least part of the reason,” Justino said.

The new civil action limit of $30,000 will only last until January, 2023m when it will increase to $50,000. Justino said all of the changes don’t equate to additional money going into the pockets of the Clerk’s Office. It instead will go to the state’s Department of Revenue.

Justino said it will take about a year for the court system to see what impact the changes will have on annual filings.

The courts aren’t the only systems seeing changes. The biggest change now in effect is texting and driving. Texting and driving have been illegal, but before Jan. 1 it was a secondary offense. Now it’s considered a primary offense.

Before Jan. 1, a traffic stop couldn’t be made just for texting and driving. Now it can the sole reason for a citation.

Another big law that is now in effect is the legal age to smoke and purchase tobacco products like cigarettes, vaping cigarettes and cigars is now 21.

Also, the state’s minimum wage increased 10 cents an hour to $8.56.

If you’re looking specifically for assistance with new laws, Justino recommended calling your local law enforcement agency. For any questions concerning these new 2020 court changes, Justino said her office is prepared to help in any way it can.

“Our Civil Department staff has been briefed on the changes and we are ready to assist citizens,” she said.

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