Courtesy of Florida Politics
By Jesse Scheckner
Published March 13, 2022
She has an ambitious roster of policy proposals for her
first term in the Florida House.
For her first Florida House term, Republican Miami Rep. Vicki Lopez’s
legislative agenda has a little bit of everything, from helping first
responders and addressing condominium oversight to cracking down on
predatory business practices and human trafficking.
That’s due not to a lack of focus, but a broad range of interests.
“I’m excited about resilience. I’m excited about first responder mental
health, affordable housing and condo safety,” she said. “It runs the gamut,
but they’re all good priorities.”
Atop Lopez’s list of legislative priorities is a yet-to-be-filed measure to
amend a new law governing condominium oversight in Florida. Lopez’s bill,
which she expects to finalize in the next two weeks, is a companion to
legislation (SB 154) Republican Sen. Jennifer Bradley is running in the
Legislature’s upper chamber.
The bill would revise a law passed during a Special Session in May to shore
up condo inspection requirements after the June 2021 collapse of the
Champlain Tower South building in Surfside.
The law requires inspections of inland buildings occupied for 30 years. For
structures within three miles of the coast, inspections would have to occur
within 25 years of construction. Mandatory inspections would then take place
every 10 years after.
Bradley’s bill and the one Lopez is filing would set the state requirement
for inspection at 30 years everywhere, but it would allow local governments
to require inspections after 25 years based on “local circumstances,
including environmental conditions such as the proximity to salt water.”
The bill would also enable counties and municipalities to extend inspection
deadlines for buildings whose owners entered contracts with architects or
engineers and needed more time.
Further, condo associations would be allowed to forgo some costs related to
their structural integrity reserve — a funding pool to be set aside for
repairs — if experts “recommend that reserves do not need to be maintained
for any item for which an estimate of useful life and an estimate of
replacement cost or deferred maintenance expense cannot be determined.”
The new bill is needed, Lopez said, to fine-tune some aspects of the
much-needed law members of the Legislature enacted last year.
“These very large, systemic pieces of legislation — when you put them into
practice, there’s always something that needs fixing, so the intent of this
legislation was to ensure that buildings would be safer and that we would
never again see a Surfside situation, which was a terrible tragedy,” she
“We haven’t yet finalized the bill in the House, but there’s some parts that
concur with what the Senate is doing. I’m excited to lead that work, because
it’s so important to my district, and I know it’s important across the state
because other urban areas have quite a few condominiums, so it will impact
many parts of the state.”
Going “hand-in-hand with that bill,” Lopez said, is another measure she’s
sponsoring (HB 627) on affordable housing with Coral Gables Republican Rep.
Demi Busatta Cabrera.
A comparable Senate version of the bill by Miami Sen. Alexis Calatayud is
now on its way to the Senate floor.
Dubbed the “Live Local Act,” the bill aims to significantly increase
Florida’s affordable housing inventory by, among other things, adding
hundreds of millions of dollars to state programs targeting affordable
housing solutions and providing tax incentives to residential developers and
landlords who set aside portions of their properties at affordable rates.
Notably, the bill would also remove the ability of local governments to
impose rent controls — a practice currently only allowable under declared
states of emergency.
“A lot of people moved from New York and other states and came to the urban
areas (of Florida) because they were accustomed to living in urban areas,
and that’s what drove up the rents almost overnight in my area,” Lopez said.
“I’m looking forward to helping lead the work of affordable housing, and … I
think this will probably be the largest piece of legislation we see this
On a different track, Lopez is backing a bill (HB 169) to better care for
Florida’s first responders and corrections officers who experience a
Under the measure, police, firefighters, prison guards and other public
servants who work on the front lines and risk exposure to trauma would be
eligible for up to 12 sessions of licensed therapy, paid for by their
employers, without having to take time off from work to seek the help.
A companion bill Miami Republican Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez is carrying (SB
314) is already progressing through the Senate.
More than 6.6% of first responders have attempted suicide, according to the
Journal of Emergency Medicine — 10 times the national average. A study by
the Ruderman Family Foundation found that first responders are more likely
to die by suicide than in the line of duty.
The problem is so pressing an issue that Florida has a dedicated task force
dedicated solely to deterring first responders from taking their own lives.
But more needs to be done, said Lopez, who heard of three firefighters
committing suicide last month alone.
“I really believe if they had any kind of crisis intervention that we could
have prevented that tragedy,” she said. “The aftermath is what’s killing
Lopez said HB 169 would help to keep first responders and corrections
personnel from falling fully into post-traumatic stress disorder, being
removed from duty and then having to use their worker’s compensation while
seeking aid. Those she’s spoken with in the field are “very supportive.”
“They see a lot of death and despair in their jobs,” she said. “What’s
important is that if they experience a traumatic event, as it’s defined in
statute, that we get them the help they need immediately so they can
continue to work and flourish.”
Lopez highlighted two bills she is backing to quell the sexual exploitation
of vulnerable people. The first (HB 615) would give local governments and
the Florida Department of Health more tools to shut down illicit massage
parlors, which can be hotbeds for human trafficking.
“It came to my attention that we have establishments where there’s a lot of
sexual misconduct and activity taking place — even in areas you wouldn’t
think, like Collier and Charlotte counties. I have a long list of them,”
said Lopez, who has worked for years on human trafficking issues with the
Junior Leagues of Florida.
Republican Sen. Jonathan Martin is carrying a comparable version (SB 1338)
of the measure.
“I’m excited if I can do anything to prevent and stop the flow of human
trafficking through any kind of establishment,” Lopez continued. “I’ve met
with a lot of what I call good actors in the business and with licensed
massage therapists, and they are excited to help me shut down these places
because it gives the good people a very bad name.”
A longtime champion for criminal justice reform, Lopez is addressing a
similar issue in prisons through HB 929, which would close a loophole of
sorts regarding sex with inmates.
Under current state law, it is a third-degree felony for any employee of a
public or private correctional facility to engage in sexual activity with an
inmate or offender under department supervision. That prohibition does not
extend to volunteers or employees of contractors and subcontractors working
at jails, prisons and detention facilities. This would fix that oversight.
“It’s a huge issue for people to take advantage of inmates,” she said.
“People need to be safe when they are in a correctional setting.”
Lopez also hopes to prevent an entirely different kind of advantage-taking
through a bill (HB 617) she and Busatta Cabrera filed to deal with the
“predatory practices” of some private parking facility owners.
Republican Sen. Joe Gruters is backing an identical measure (SB 694) in the
The bill would require private parking lot operators to post clear and ample
signage informing customers that they are not a public parking facility. The
signage would also have to display parking rates, fine and penalty rates for
violations, and how to contact management.
“My bill doesn’t preempt them from charging whatever rate they want. If you
want to charge $1,000 an hour, you can do that, but you’re going to
certainly put a sign there saying so,” she said. “It’s really a consumer
protection bill. It allows the consumer to have all the information they
need prior to entering the lot, and then whatever decision they make based
on that information is up to them.”
Lastly, Lopez and fellow freshman Republican Rep. Fabían Basabe have teamed
up on legislation (HB 827) that would clear more state and federal funds to
local governments undertaking septic-to-sewer conversions.
Across Florida and particularly in Miami-Dade County, which abuts Biscayne
Bay, runoff from malfunctioning septic tanks is contributing to declines in
the health of major bodies of water. It leads to algal blooms and mass
marine life die-offs, including an August 2020 event that killed 27,000-plus
fish in Biscayne Bay.
The bill would authorize the Florida Department of Environmental Protection
to provide grants to counties and municipalities trying to reduce their
number of septic tanks, which are malfunctioning at higher rates as South
Florida’s water table rises.
Rodriguez is sponsoring a similar bill (SB 458) in the Senate.
“My district has an enormous amount of water. It borders water from the top
of Northeast 29th Avenue all the way down to Southwest 27th Avenue,” Lopez
said. “This will go a long way toward protecting that water in Biscayne
A former Lee County Commissioner, Lopez’s successful campaign for the seat
representing House District 113 in November marked her first return to
public office in decades.
HD 113 covers a central portion of Miami-Dade County, spanning all of Key
Biscayne and parts of Coral Gables and Miami, including Virginia Key and
PortMiami, one of the county’s two top economic engines.
The 2023 Legislative Session runs March 7 to May 5.