Legislative Update, March 6, 2018

Monday, March 5th, A Dismal Day in the Florida Legislature!!

At the end of the Senate session yesterday, it was evident that President Negron and the Senate had given Speaker Corcoran almost everything on his wish list.

HJR 7001 – Proposal to Require Supermajority Vote to Raise Taxes

This bill places on the November ballot a proposed constitutional amendment requiring the House and Senate to secure a two-thirds vote to raise taxes in Florida. We can only hope the Florida voters will not vote with their pocketbooks but will vote for representative government to decide issues which require funding, like support for our schools, colleges, and universities. Three Democrat senators (Book, Powell, and Stewart) voted in favor of the bill and one Republican, Tom Lee voted against. If the Democrat senators voted as a block, the bill would have failed as its passage required a three-fifths vote. This measure has the potential to wreak havoc on Florida’s limited tax base and will hurt programs that serve all Floridians. This might be a more horrendous decision than others in this update.

Note: Voters will have to approve the measure by a 60% or higher vote in November.

HB 7055 — K-12 Education “Train” and Union Decertification

HB 7055 passed on a 20-17 vote from the Senate yesterday and will go to the Governor. The bill contains the decertification language related to unions representing K-12 instructional personnel which are below 50% density. We are unsure how it will impact our K-12 DRS schools at UF and FAU.

These senators voted NO on 7055: Book (D), Bracy (D), Braynon (D), Farmer (D), Gibson (D), Grimsley (R), Hukill (R), Lee (R), Powell (D), Rader (D), Rodriguez (D), Rouson (D), Stewart (D), Taddeo (D), Thurston (D), Torres (D) and Young (R).

The bill also contains more unwelcome news for Florida tax policy. The bill expands the use of general revenue for school voucher programs with one program allowing students who are bullied to receive a private school voucher paid for from sales tax on vehicle purchases. It is not clear if the decision will be the automobile dealer or the motorist buying the vehicle who makes the decision. More in the final update at the end of session.


SB 7026 — School Safety Bill 

This legislation passed the Senate 20-18 and goes back to the House for final approval. The bill will raise the age to buy guns in Florida from 18 to 21, will establish mental health programs, will establish a 3-day waiting period for gun purchase, and will establish a school marshal program that will allow some staff to be armed.

The measure to arm school staff was a compromise offered by Senator Garcia (R-Miami) which exempts “individuals who exclusively perform classroom duties” from the marshal program. Principals, counselors, librarians, and support staff could be trained for the program. This still raised concerns from the 18 voting against the bill and FEA as more guns will be in schools and not in the hands of trained law enforcement. At the end of the day, student voices from Parkland and other victims of mass shootings won some legislative victories but their voices about more guns in schools and assault weapons went unheeded (personal opinion stated here).

SB 4 — “Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2018”

SB 4 establishes the “Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2018” and has passed both the House and Senate and will go to the Governor for his signature. This was the priority of Senate President Negron. There are positives in this bill. The bill expands Bright Futures and other financial aid provisions and incentivizes postsecondary institutions to emphasize on-time graduation. The bill also expands policy and funding options for state universities to recruit and retain exemplary faculty and enhance the quality of professional and graduate schools.

The bill, as amended in the House, will cause the Board of Governors to consult with universities regarding performance funding and distribution of performance funds and will also have an independent entity review the system and consult with the Board of Governors. The hope is that this study will result in an end to the flawed and punitive practice where “low three” institutions do not receive performance funds that year.

The bill also includes the “Campus Free Expression Act.” This provision has been modified to include only the university or college in the “cause of action” provision. However, language about material disruption by students and/or faculty as contained in the bill could have a chilling impact on protest speech. ACLU also shares this concern.