Legislative Update: 2017 session poised to end on May 5

House and Senate budget conferees met throughout the weekend after agreement was reached on allocations to the various budget entities. This Legislative Update was delayed to report on those activities as it relates to higher education. Unfortunately, some of the compromises made are potentially harmful to UFF members. Note: The final UFF 2017 Legislative Update will probably be on May 8th should session end on time.

2017-18 Higher Education Budget

While some specific projects and facility issues are unresolved as of this writing, all budget entities are expected to be completed sometime on May 2nd. The major issues are agreed upon in principle. Here are the “highlights.”

  1. The overall funding for Florida Colleges is $1.215 billion, a reduction of $26 million from the current year. $30.2 million was reduced in the line item for Developmental Education. This reduction was vigorously opposed by every sector representing Florida Colleges and faculty. There were no reduction made due to carryover reserves held by the colleges as proposed by the House. Performance funding was maintained at $60 million with $30 million from college base funding and $30 million in state funds. Some specific projects are still not agreed upon so the bottom line may increase by a small amount.
  2. Estimated tuition and fees for Florida Colleges were set at $1.024 billion in the agreement.
  3. Universities are funded at $4.97 billion which includes $1.96 billion in tuition and fees. The universities have an increase of approximately $240 million over the current year. University Performance Funding was increased by a total of $20 million to $520 million. State performance funding grows to $245 million and base funding of $275 million is continued.
  4.  The budget will also establish two new program priorities of Senate President Negron, incorporated into SB 374. They are the World Class Faculty and Scholar Program at $70.6 million and the State University and Professional and Graduate Degree Excellence Program at $50 million.
  5. Preeminent State Research Universities receive $48 million in the budget deal and Emerging Preeminent State Research Universities receive a total of $4 million.
  6. With the anticipated passage of SB 374, the budget provides $3.14 million to establish the new State Board of Community Colleges which will oversee the Florida Colleges similar to the Board of Governors and the State University System.


Higher Education Policy

SB 374 has been agreed upon, in principle, and funded in the budget agreement but has not been adopted in final passage by the Legislature. A more complete report will be included in the Final UFF Legislative Update but “highlights” are as follows:

  • Removes state colleges from the oversight of the State Board of Education and put them under a new State Board of Community Colleges.
  • Enacts new performance metrics in both the college and university systems.
  • Establishes a 4-year graduation metric for universities.
  • Increases student financial aid and tuition assistance for Florida Bright Futures Academic Scholars in fall and spring terms and adds support to these students in the summer term.
  • Revises the state-to-private match requirements for contributions to the First Generation Matching Grant Program from 1:1 to 2:1.
  • Requires state university boards of trustees to adopt a student block tuition policy for adoption in the fall 2018 semester. A report to the Legislature is required by December 1, 2017 of the adopted policies, the Board of Governor’s review and approval process and the BOG recommendations for improvement of the block tuition policies.
  • Strengthens “2+2” articulation by establishing the “2+2” targeted pathway program.
  • Requires school districts to provide notification to students and parents about applying acceleration mechanism credit to a postsecondary degree.
  • Creates a scholarship program for students from farmworker families.
  • Adds funding pools for hiring and retaining top-level faculty and rewarding outstanding graduate programs.

SB 7030 – FRS, State Employee Health Insurance, and State Employee Pay Raises

On May 1st, this retirement bill became the delete-all bill that combined the state employee health insurance bill and the state employee pay raise into a package agreed upon by the House and Senate leadership. The bill passed the Senate Appropriations Committee and is on the way to the Senate floor and then the House floor for final passage later this week.

The bill as passed in Senate Appropriations will reverse the default choice for future employees from the defined benefit plan to the defined investment plan, except for special risk employees (police and firefighters). The logic here is that police and fire are long-term employees and faculty, K-12 teachers, and state employees are not! We have strong reason to believe this will negatively impact the future of the FRS defined benefit system. The Senate committee did change the decision making time from six to nine months. Employee unions are going to have to educate new hires on the plusses and minuses of both plans.

The amendment to SB 7030 added the state employee health insurance bill which has concerned UFF all session. The most significant provision of HB 7007, as described in the April 25, 2017 Senate Bill Analysis (shading and underlining for emphasis) is as follows:

“HB 7007 amends provisions of the State Group Health Insurance Program. The bill, for plan year 2020 and thereafter, requires the Department of Management Services (DMS) to offer four health insurance coverage levels of at least a certain actuarial value under the Program as follows: Platinum – 90 percent, Gold – 80 percent, Silver – 70 percent, and Bronze – 60 percent. The state will make a defined contribution for each employee toward the cost of purchasing a health plan. If the state’s contribution is more than the premium cost of the health plan selected by the employee, the bill specifies that the employee will be permitted to allocate unused state health insurance contributions to other benefits or as salary. The bill requires the DMS to recommend contribution policies and employee education strategies regarding the coverage levels and other benefit alternatives.”

What will be the defined contribution? No one knows if it will fund the 60% actuarial value, the 90% actuarial value or somewhere in between. This proposal, while being sold on the grounds of health insurance choice, health savings accounts, and a small amount of price transparency, will most certainly shift the cost of health insurance to those employees with medical concerns and those at greater risk in 2020, if not sooner.

There is no real plan to curb escalating health care costs except for more price transparency.

Other Legislation 

Fee Waivers for Graduate Assistants

SB 1276 waives 25% of fees for graduate teaching assistants and graduate research assistants. These fees consume up to 25% of a graduate assistant’s pay.

While still in play, the only real opportunity left for passage, unfortunately, is that the bill be placed on what is called a higher education train bill which combines bills blessed by both House and Senate into a single bill.

 Union Decertification

HB 11 would require that each certified bargaining unit of a registered employee organization must provide the number of eligible employees for union membership and the number of dues paying members to PERC. If the certified bargaining unit dues paying membership is less than 50%, that bargaining unit must petition PERC for recertification as the exclusive bargaining representative within one month after the date on which the bargaining unit applied for renewal. Then an election would be held through PERC for recertification of the bargaining unit.

HB 11 has passed the House but its companion SB 1292 has not been heard. But UFF and FEA will remain vigilant with only four days to go.

Secret Executive Searches

HB 351 would create an exemption from public record and meeting requirements for information associated with the applicant recruitment process and discussions associated with the applicant search for president, vice president, provost, or dean at any state university, college, or community college. UFF opposes this legislation that permits a cloak of secrecy around the process of selecting university and college leadership.

The bill passed the full House. On a positive note, the companion SB 478 has not been heard in any Senate committee of reference.

Guns on Campus

Neither SB 622 by Senator nor HB 6005 have been heard in any legislative committee. That is good news!