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5 ways Florida consumer laws break from the rest of the country

Florida's reputation precedes it when it comes to oddities. Headlines containing "Florida man" followed by bizarre crimes regularly make national roundups, while critter news such as "toilet iguanas" have an "only-in-Florida" feel.

Related coverage: How do so many iguanas get in Florida toilet bowls?>

But it's also a strange state for consumers. Florida has some rather one-of-a-kind laws, while other laws commonplace in much of the country are absent here. Here are some examples:

1. Pulled over for texting and driving? Not yet

Along I-275, the billboards are prominent: "Better left unread than dead." Safe driving groups, law enforcement and even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are pushing for motorists to put down their cell phones while driving. While many states have outright banned operating a mobile device while driving, Florida's laws are slightly different.

Technically, it is illegal in the Sunshine State to use a mobile phone or handheld "wireless communications device" to type letters, numbers or symbols while driving. But to actually get in trouble for it, a police officer must pull a driver over for some other offense. Even then, a ticket is only $20.

Some legislators and advocates are pushing to strengthen the law to make texting while driving punishable on its own, adding points on the texting driver's license should the action cause a crash.

2. Keep a gun range — in your backyard?

In what might feel like the most stereotypically "Florida" item on the list, it is legal in the Sunshine State to have a gun range in your backyard — so long as in the surrounding area there isn't more than one home per acre. The issue came to prominence in 2014 when Doug Varrieur, a Keys resident, set up a range in his backyard to shoot cans, according to a Miami Herald report.

According to the law at the time, residents were allowed to have such a setup as long as bullets didn't make their way to a public street or an occupied home. The law was tweaked in 2016 to prohibit shooting in a residential area or public place with more than one home per square mile.

3. Don't over-water your grass

Lush lawn lovers beware: there's a limit to how much water you can pump into your grass. Florida law requires that all automatic sprinkler systems have a fail-safe measure that turns them off "during periods of sufficient moisture" to help conserve water. Put into effect in 2010, the statute mandated that all systems that weren't in line with this requirement be replaced or updated.

Violators likely won't see jail time, but they will get slapped with a $50 penalty for a first offense, $100 for the second violation and $250 for all subsequent violations. And much like the recycled water pumping through such irrigation systems, the fines collected will be put toward water conservation efforts and enforcement of the statute.

Related coverage: Water Hogs: During drought, hundreds of Tampa Bay Homes guzzled a gallon of water a minute>

4. No credit card fees in the Sunshine State

If you've ever purchased something in Florida with a credit card, you might not have realized you were getting a small break on fees. Florida is one of just 11 states that prohibits retailers from charging a fee for paying with a credit card to cover what major card issuers charge retailers to accept such cards.

At most shops, that means an item is the same price when you pay with cash as it is when you pay with a credit card — unless there is a discount for cash. The law doesn't apply when a lower price is offered on an item when the customer pays by cash or check. This is most noticeable in gas prices, where stations offer a lower price for cash purchases on fuel.

5. No restaurant grades, either

Grades aren't just for school assignments. Many cities and states across the country require their restaurants to prominently post food safety letter grades for customers to see as a quick reference. But not in Florida.

The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation's Division of Hotels and Restaurants uses a category system from the Federal Department of Agriculture's 2009 Food Code. This "science-based" approach, DBPR said in an email, divide violations into three categories: high priority, immediate and basic. The resulting inspection report documents what the regulators found that day.

"This system better defines violation information for operators and consumers, making the process easier to understand," Kathleen Keenan, spokesperson for DBPR, said in an email.

Consumers must visit DBPR's website to find the results of an inspection.

Contact Malena Carollo at mcarollo@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.

5 ways Florida consumer laws break from the rest of the country 01/12/18 [Last modified: Friday, January 12, 2018 7:37am]
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