The Florida Legislature enacted laws affecting local governments during the 2016 Session. One of them relates to public records requests to local government contractors. Local government and business law attorneys should ensure their clients follow these new statutory requirements.
Chapter 2016-20, Laws of Florida, amends Section 119.0701, Fla. Stat., by requiring public records requests related to contract for services with a public agency to be made directly to the public agency instead of the contractor. If the public agency does not possess the records, it must immediately notify the contractor of the request. The contractor must then provide the records to the public agency or allow the records to be inspected or copied within a reasonable time. A contractor who fails to provide the requested information within a reasonable time may be subject to penalties under Section 119.10, Fla. Stat.
Pursuant to the new law, a public agency must include a statement in contracts for services informing the contractor of the contact information of the public agency’s record custodian. The statement must also instruct the contractor to contact the record custodian with any questions regarding the contractor’s duty to provide public records. The following language, in at least 14-point boldfaced type, should be included in contracts for services entered into or amended on or after July 1, 2016:
“IF THE CONTRACTOR HAS QUESTIONS REGARDING THE APPLICATION OF CHAPTER 119, FLORIDA STATUTES, TO THE CONTRACTOR’S DUTY TO PROVIDE PUBLIC RECORDS RELATING TO THIS CONTRACT, CONTACT THE CUSTODIAN OF PUBLIC RECORDS AT … (telephone number, e-mail address, and mailing address).”
Contracts for services must also address whether the contractor will retain the public records or transfer them to the public agency after the completion of the contract. If the contractor keeps the public records, it must follow all requirements for retaining such records, including nondisclosure of confidential or exempt records.
It’s that time of the year. The 2015 Florida Legislative Session starts today and will last until May 1. Over 1460 bills have been filed. Only a few will make it to the end of the session and become law. Below are bills of interest to attorneys and legal professionals. Keep an eye on them as they may impact your practice areas if they pass in a few months. For your convenience, I’ll provide a status update at the end of the legislative session.
HB 47 State Minimum Wage
HB 47 increases state minimum wage from $6.15 to $10.10. It provides that an employer may not pay an employee at a rate less than the state minimum wage. It deletes the requirement that only individuals entitled to receive federal minimum wage are eligible to receive state minimum wage. (Identical Bill: SB 114)
CS/SB 102 Digital Assets
Known as the “Florida Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act,” this bill authorizes a personal representative to have access to specified digital assets and electronic communication of a decedent and provides compliance requirements to receive and collect digital assets. It also give a similar authorization to guardians, agents and trustees. (Similar Bill: HB 313)
CS/HB 113 Local Government Construction Preferences
This bill prohibits local ordinances and regulations from restricting competition for award of construction services based upon the location of the vendor’s office or place of business. It requires state colleges, school districts and other political subdivisions to make specified disclosures in competitive solicitation documents. (Similar Bill: SB 778)
SB 126 Social Media Privacy
SB 126 prohibits an employer from requesting or requiring access to a social media account of an employee or prospective employee. It also prohibits an employer from taking retaliatory personnel action for an employee’s refusal to allow access to his social media account. However, it provides that an employer is not prohibited from seeking access to social media accounts used primarily for the employer’s business purposes.
SB 150 Student Loans
This bill would require the Justice Administrative Commission and the Office of the Attorney General to implement a student loan assistance program to assist a career assistant state attorney, assistant public defender, assistant attorney general, or assistant statewide prosecutor in the repayment of eligible student loans. (Similar Bill: HB 45)
SB 462 Family Law
This bill provides that a collaborative law process commences when the parties enter into a collaborative law participation agreement. It prohibits a tribunal from ordering a party to participate in a collaborative law process over the party’s objection. SB 462 provides for confidentiality of communications made during the collaborative law process. (Similar law: HB 503)
HB 611 Residential Properties
HB 611 provides requirements relating to the request for an estoppel certificate by a unit or parcel owner including a 10-day timeframe to deliver the certificate. It also provides that an association waives any claim against a person or entity who would have relied in good faith upon the estoppel certificate if the association failed to deliver the certificate. It revises fee and supplemental fee requirements. (Identical Bill: SB 736)
As you can see I can’t cover all bills that may affect your practice areas. If you want to look and find bills, you can do a word or statute amended search under the Bills tab on the Florida House of Representatives website.
Attorneys know about freelance paralegals who come to their office to assist them with legal work. However, they may not be aware that these same tasks can be done remotely by a virtual paralegal. The technological advances of the last decade has allowed paralegals and attorneys to communicate, handle projects and file documents electronically. Virtual paralegals are part of an emerging trend that is here to last. Below are some frequently asked questions attorneys may have about virtual paralegals.
What is a virtual paralegal? A virtual paralegal provides on-demand paralegal services to licensed attorneys and law firms from a remote location. A virtual paralegal is not an employee, but an independent contractor.
What are the benefits of contracting with a virtual paralegal? Attorneys save money by avoiding overhead costs associated with a full-time employee. They also cut cost by only paying for the hours a paralegal work to complete a project. Law firms can make a profit when contracting with virtual paralegals because paralegals rate is lower than what law firms bill their clients. Best of all, virtual paralegals are highly skilled and educated professionals who keep up with legal trends and technology. You get an experienced paralegal you do not have to train.
Who contracts with virtual paralegals? Solo practitioners, law firms of all sizes, corporations and governmental agencies contract with virtual paralegals as long as paralegals work under the supervision of licensed attorneys. Solo practitioners and small law firms use virtual paralegals when they have fluctuating workloads and cannot afford to hire a full-time paralegal. Some law firms or corporations may need a virtual paralegal because their paralegal employee is on maternity leave. Law firms and governmental agencies also contract with virtual paralegals when their in-house paralegals are overwhelmed with projects that must be done now.
How much do virtual paralegals charge? It depends on the virtual paralegal's experience, the legal field and the tasks requested. Some virtual paralegals charge by the hour. Others use a reduced-rate retainer or have a set fee per project. Virtual paralegal rates are higher than full-time paralegal employee rates because we are operating a business and providing our own benefits.
How do I contract with a virtual paralegal? You must first discuss and explain the legal services your firm needs with Your Paralegal Help Desk. We will then give you a rate for the requested services and an independent contractor agreement will be presented for your approval. Once, we receive your approval and deposit, we will start work immediately.
How do you communicate with attorneys? Virtual paralegals typically communicate with their clients by emails, phone or online conferences.
How do you access our documents? There are many ways we can access your documents. We can use software programs to remotely log in on your computer. We can also use a cloud-based program or we can simply exchange documents by emails.
How do you protect our confidential information? Keeping your information confidential and secure is very important to us. We always do a conflict check before accepting a project. We also use a security software program to protect all information retained on our computers from unauthorized access. We use secure file sharing programs that are widely used by the legal community. Your confidential information will not be shared with third parties.
Why should we hire a virtual paralegal when we can contract with a temp agency? When you contract with a temp agency, you may get a different person each time you request a temp. However, if you contract with Your Paralegal Help Desk, our paralegal can be your "permanent temp" whenever you need her. You will get consistency, always receiving work from the same skilled virtual paralegal. Our goal is to build a long term relationship with you.
If you have any other questions about virtual paralegals and how they can assist your practice of law, don't hesitate to email or call Your Paralegal Help Desk. We are here to help you.
Next week we will talk about how an idea becomes a law in Florida.
Disclaimer: The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. Your Paralegal Help Desk's blogger is not an attorney and cannot give legal advice. If you have a legal issue, you should immediately seek the advice of a licensed attorney in your state.