State News in Review – March 2018++

It’s a wrap!
After a three-day extension, the Legislature ended its 2017–18 session on Sunday, March 11, with the passage of a $88.7 billion budget. That’s not just a record for the state. It’s more than Gov. Scott’s $87.4 billion request, the House’s $87.2 billion proposal and the Senate’s $87.3 billion bill.

The budget

Important bills signed by the governor

The “train” bill (HB 7055) — which the Governor signed — includes dozens of changes for the state’s 67 school districts. They include:

  • a new “Hope scholarship” program, which offers vouchers for public-school students who are bullied or otherwise face harassment, to transfer to private schools;
  • a new voucher program that bolsters the existing Gardiner scholarships, which provide aid to disabled students, and could be used to expand the longstanding Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program;
  • a new voucher program that provides reading scholarships, which can be used for private services like tutoring for struggling readers in the third through fifth grades;
  • requiring schools to prominently display the state motto, “In God We Trust;” and 
  • overhauling rules governing charter schools, including raising evidentiary standards used by school boards in terminating charter contracts. 

Related: Florida leads nation in school vouchers, and there are more to come. Miami-Herald, 3/31/18 

Related: Private school voucher plan for bullied children becomes law. Herald-Tribune, 3/11/18 

Related: Private voucher schools face new rules but still free to hire teachers without degrees. Orlando Sentinel 3/12/18 

Related: Florida Senate deals blow to teachers unions. Palm Beach Post, 3/3/18 

Bills that failed

In the courts

An update on the Constitution Revision Commission
The Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) is a group of 37 people appointed last year 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 Florida ballots in November.

In all, 782 public proposals and 103 commissioner proposals were considered by the Commission. In late March, commissioners agreed to send 25 of them to the  Style & Drafting Committee, which will clarify, codify, arrange and group them, and draft the ballot title summaries to appear on the ballot. The CRC will meet again in April for a final vote.

It was another busy month!

In April: The Legislature may be called back for a special session if an updated gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe is reached. The CRC will likely finalize the amendments it will put on the November ballot. And state and local election campaigns will continue to heat up. On Monday, as long-expected, Rick Scott declared his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, challenging incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson. Many say Florida will be the “battleground for control of Congress.”

Stay tuned for next month’s Sparker’s Soapbox for updates!

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