What did Florida’s elected officials do last month in preparation for the 2018 legislative session that begins January 9th? What amendments is the Constitution Revision Commission considering for our November ballot? Have our local state representatives been in the paper lately? November’s Month in Review shares some of the stories I found that address these questions.
As you read this post, consider what each bill, budget proposal or amendment says about its sponsor’s view of state government vs. local control, social policy or fiscal/tax policy. As informed voters, it is important to be aware of what’s being introduced and to let your representatives know if you do or don’t agree and/or how you want them to vote.
Top stories – the Florida Legislature
In my last post about state news, I wrote that state senate and house committees had been meeting and legislators had begun filing bills ahead of the 2018 session and shared some of the early-filed bills that interested me. In this post, I’ll share reports on several more of the almost 2000 bills submitted to date.
- Lawmakers want to keep affordable housing funds for just that. For years, the Legislature has been dipping into the Sadowski Housing Trust Fund. Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, wants to stop that. WFSU Public Media (SB 874)
- Revived bill regulating Fla. pregnancy support services again wades into abortion debate. Sen. Kathleen Passidomo says she feels the bill will do a good job of providing proper oversight. WSFU Public Media (SB 444)
- Sen. Baxley files bill to require ‘controversial’ science topics be taught in ‘balanced’ way. The bill has raised alarms with the Florida Citizens for Science. Orlando Sentinel (SB 966)
- All schools getting state construction funds should serve in emergencies, lawmaker says. The bill would require any school that receives state PECO funding to be at emergency officials’ disposal for shelter use or, if not up to code, other purpose needed. Tampa Bay Times (HB 779)
- Editorial: Unnecessary bill would let public boards meet more often in private. The bill would expand an exemption used routinely by city, county and state boards, commissions and councils: the right to meet behind closed doors in executive session. Treasure Coast Newspapers via Naples Daily News (SB 560)
This month, several articles were published about the controversial “Hope Scholarship” bill filed by Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples. It would allow public-school students to receive voucher-like scholarships to attend private schools if they have been bullied, harassed or subject to violence. (HB 1)
Supporters say it’s to help students who are victims of bullying. Critics say it’s more about expanding voucher programs, long one of the most-controversial education issues in Florida. News Service of Florida
- New scholarship for bullied kids gets OK from Florida House panel on a 9 to 5 party-line vote after more than two hours of questions and debate. Orlando Sentinel
- Opinion: Byron Donalds’ bullying bill wrong for public schools. It seeks to establish a new public avenue to fund private and religious schools at taxpayer expense. Calling this a “Hope Scholarship Program” so folks can donate $20 instead of paying that tax when registering a car, seems like a ploy to disguise what this really is. By Rosanne Wood, member – Leon County School Board, via Tallahassee Democrat and News-Press
Top stories – The governor’s budget proposal
Due to term limits, Gov. Scott cannot run for reelection next year. This month, he released his final budget proposal. Scott is widely expected to run for the U.S. Senate, challenging incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson. Treasure Coast Newspapers editorialized that “It’s easy to be cynical about Gov. Rick Scott’s final budget.”
- Gov. Scott pitches $87.4 billion election-year budget for Florida. It is by far the largest budget Scott has proposed since he took office seven years ago, and it’s a far cry from his initial budget that tried to slash classroom spending by 10 percent. Tampa Bay Times
- Gov. Scott wants more money for human services in 2018 budget. Miami Herald
- After years of job cuts, Gov. Rick Scott calls for more state workers. Tallahassee Democrat
- Scott funding request to address sea level rise seen as turnaround for administration. Politico Florida
- Scott pitches $178 million pro-veteran investment for 2018 budget. Sunshine State News
The budget will likely not be finalized until the final days of the legislative session in March.
Top stories – Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission
The Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) is a group of 37 people appointed to review and recommend changes to the Florida Constitution. It’s one of five ways Florida can amend its constitution, and it only happens once every 20 years. Proposals it approves will be on our ballots next November. Learn more.
In all, 782 public proposals and 103 commissioner proposals were submitted for the Commission’s consideration. In last month’s post, I reviewed the CRC timetable and some of the then–40+ proposals that had been submitted by commissioners. Here’s my pick of November’s top stories:
- Collier School Board’s Donalds proposes school board term limits, ending board salaries. Erika Donalds, wife of Rep. Byron Donalds, is one of 37 commissioners on the CRC. She was appointed by Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran. Naples Daily News (P 43; P 32)
- Proposal to infuse religion with state tax dollars advances. Repeal of the Blaine Amendment has been a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran since the Florida Supreme Court struck down a scholarship program students could use for private schools. Commissioner Erika Donalds argued for the proposal. Tallahassee Democrat (P 4)
- State commission to weigh changes to how school superintendents are chosen. Just three states hold elections for local school superintendents and Florida is one of them. But a constitutional amendment proposed by Commissioner Erika Donalds could change things. WLRN Public Media (P 33)
- Should successful Florida school districts get same flexibility as charter schools? A proposed amendment would grant all the freedoms given to charter schools to any county district that earns “high performing” status in the state grading and accountability system. Tampa Bay Times (P 93)
- E-verify requirement for businesses sought in Florida constitution. A proposal would require all employers in Florida to use the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Employment Authorization Program to determine the eligibility of new employees. Palm Beach Post (P 29)
- Editorial: Florida Constitution wrecking crew targets public schools. The Florida CRC is pursuing a radical agenda to undermine public schools and send public money to churches, mosques and synagogues. Sun Sentinel
- Editorial: Floridians need to bird dog the Constitution Revision Commission. Eighty-eight percent of state voters couldn’t correctly identify what the commission does. That result is a warning sign for Florida’s democracy. Orlando Sentinel
Commissioner Erika Donalds’ views about the role of government are evidenced by the amendments she proposed and will become clearer when she votes on each proposal as it moves through the approval process.
Those views are relevant to Collier voters to the extent they shape her goals and actions as a School Board member. School Board members are elected by voters county-wide in non-partisan elections; the next School Board elections are in August 2018. Donalds’ current Board term ends next year; she has not yet filed for reelection.
Five of Donalds’ proposals, including those mentioned above, were included in last month’s post. These are her final three:
- EDUCATION – P 45 – specifies that no provision of the State Constitution may be construed to limit the Legislature from making provision for other educational services that are beneficial to the children and families of this state
- EDUCATION – P 71 – specifies that the Legislature is authorized to enact general laws providing alternative processes to authorize the establishment of charter schools in the state
- P 77 – a placeholder stating that the CRC intends to revise provisions in the Constitution’s Article VIII – Local Government
Other state news
- Florida paid more than $11 million settling harassment cases since 1987. Amounts ranged from a $5,500 payment to a FSU student who alleged harassment from a supervisor to a $1.3 million payment to settle a class action lawsuit filed by nurses who worked at state prisons. Naples Daily News
- Supreme Court rejects governor’s bid to disqualify Justice Pariente. In the case of League of Women Voters of Florida et al v. Gov. Rick Scott, the legal issue is whether Scott or his successor has the authority to replace three Supreme Court justices who face mandatory retirement and whose terms all will expire on the day Scott will leave office. Tampa Bay Times
- Related: League petitions Supreme Court, warns of ‘constitutional crisis’ prompted by Rick Scott’s ‘midnight appointments’ to Supreme Court. Miami Herald
- Judge refuses to dismiss lawsuit alleging bias in teacher bonus program. The lawsuit, filed by the Florida Education Association, alleges that the program discriminates against older teachers and minorities because it uses teacher performances on college-entrance exams to help determine eligibility for the bonuses. Sun Sentinel
- House plans hearing on state scholarship programs following critical Orlando Sentinel “Schools Without Rules” series. The series documented how a scholarship system for Florida’s poorest and most vulnerable children operates with little oversight. Orlando Sentinel
- Judge weighs legality of abortion waiting period. Lawyers representing a Gainesville abortion clinic requested a summary judgment finding a 2015 waiting-period law is an unconstitutional violation of women’s privacy rights. Gainesville Sun
- Florida ranks 44th when it comes to mental health care access. Compared with states with similar populations, California was ranked 24th and Texas was ranked 39th. Health News Florida
It’s important to let your representatives know whether you agree or disagree with bills or proposals that will come before them and/or how you want them to vote. Find how to contact each of your representatives on the “Your Elected Officials” page of the Sparker’s Soapbox website.
In my next post, I’ll report on November’s top local government and school district news.