LEGISLATIVE UPDATE, Week 3:  “This Bill Is About Union-Busting, Plain and Simple”

March 24, 2017

“This Bill Is About Union-Busting, Plain and Simple”: Those are the remarks by Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith on Wednesday, March 22nd as the House Government Accountability Committee debated HB 11 by Rep. Scott Plakon (R-Longwood). This openly anti-union measure would add an additional requirement to an employee union’s annual renewal with the Public Employees Relations Commission. HB 11 requires 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.

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. Application for PERC recertification requires either voluntary recognition of the union by the employer or petition to PERC for recertification upon submission of call for union representation election cards from at least 30% of the full bargaining unit. Then an election would be held through PERC for recertification of the bargaining unit.

Kevin Watson of FEA, Rich Templin of AFL-CIO, and over fifty additional attendees at the meeting spoke or waived in opposition to the bill. Americans for Prosperity and the Chamber of Commerce waived in support of Plakon’s bill. Watson educated the committee on the Florida Constitution and Chapter 447, Florida Statutes, that strikes a fair balance between the “right to work” and “the right of employees, by and through a labor organization, to bargain collectively shall not be denied or abridged.” Templin argued that safeguards exist to ensure unions are accountable and wondered why lawmakers wanted to hold unions “to a higher standard than any other democratic enterprise we have in the state,” including the Legislature with equating payment of dues to support for a cause. The bill passed on a straight party-line vote of 14-8. HB 11 has been placed on the House Special Order calendar for Wednesday, March 29th. Call your state representative and ask them to vote against this unnecessary legislation!

Its companion, SB 1292, has four committee references and has not been heard by a Senate committee.

HB 7007 by Health & Human Services Committee and Brodeur (R – Sanford) was passed by the House of Representatives on a party-line vote of 77-37 with two other Democrats (Katie Edwards and Shevrin Jones) voting No after roll call. Brodeur Care, as described by Rep. Lori Berman (D – Boynton Beach), establishes health plan choices for state employees and university faculty which will lead to cost shifting to older and more medically-needy state employees when these plans are rolled out in 2020. Ironic that this bill was being heard at the same time Congress was nearing a vote on healthcare and the debate is eerily similar.

Rep. Loranne Ausley (D – Tallahassee) did not accept the Brodeur premise that the bill is about choice. “He says that anyone who likes their current plan gets to keep what they have but that is not what the bills says,” Ausley explained. “What we are creating is an entirely new system that has a lot of uncertainty.”

There was no discussion of how this bill would reduce medical costs or who would pay which premiums. If the claims continue to increase at the medical inflation rate, the question is who is stuck with the bill?

The companion bill, SB 900, by Senator Tom Lee (R – Brandon) has not been heard in committee as of Week 3.

HB 3 by Representative Bryan Avila (R – Hialeah) is the House version of the “Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2017.”

HB 3 passed by an 11-3 vote of the House Postsecondary Education Subcommittee on March 20th. HB 3 differs from its SB 2 in that it includes summer support for Bright Futures to all recipients and not just Florida Academic Scholars. HB 3 also requires block tuition at state universities with the caveat that students would not pay fees on classes exceeding 15 hours per semester.

The Senate and House bills also are different when it comes to changing the performance metric on graduation rates. For colleges, the House maintains the 150% normal completion time rate where the Senate reduces the measure to 100% of normal time. For universities, the Senate measure is a 4-year graduation rate and the House would measure both the current 6-year graduation rate and a 4-year rate with added weighting on the 4-year rate. The House bill also omits several scholarship and funding initiatives of the Senate version.

UFF concerns with the legislation are changes to performance metrics may result in more limited access for students, failure to advocate for need-based scholarships, uncertainty of how block tuition will impact university funding, and the Legislature’s reluctance to recognize that not all institutions are the same. One might even suggest, why are any of these changes necessary?

Some Legislative Briefs

SB 622 by Senator Greg Steube (R – Sarasota), GUNS ON CAMPUS

SB 622 is legislation to allow carrying of concealed weapons on college and university campuses. The bill is deceptively titled and at first glance appears to only impact athletic events. But it removes college and university facilities from the list where guns are not permitted. The bill has not been scheduled for a committee hearing at this time.

Status: No activity in week 3 on SB 622 or its House companion HB 6005 by Representative Plakon.

Fee Waivers for Graduate Assistants

HB 1073 by Representative Chuck Clemons (R-Alachua, Dixie, and Gilchrist) and SB 1276 by Senator Stargel (R-Lakeland) will waive 25% of fees for graduate teaching assistants and graduate research assistants. These fees consume up to 25% of a graduate assistant’s stipend.

Status: Matt Dauphin, Chris Segal, and Elif Oz form the FSU-GAU Chapter along with UFF Executive Director Marshall Ogletree met with Senator Stargel to discuss how we might address the GA issue should the larger bill about college affordability not be heard.

HB 1125 and SB 1456 – Performance Funding Study

These bills by Representative Ramon Alexander (D – Tallahassee) and Senator Jeff Clemens (D – Lake Worth) will have OPPAGA study both Florida and national higher education performance funding models. It is hoped that a formal study might lead to a more credible and fair system of judging true performance based on the institution’s mission and providing recurring incentives and eliminating unjust penalties.

Status: UFF met with Rep. Alexander about exploring opportunities to amend the study on other higher education legislation.

HB 351 Secret Executive Searches

The bill, sponsored by Representative Bob Rommel (R – Naples), will 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, 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.

Status: No activity on this bill or its companion, SB 478, by Senator Kathleen Passidomo (R- Naples) in Week 3.

SB 374 “College Competiveness Act”

The so-called “College Competiveness Act” would establish a new State Board of Community Colleges and remove those institutions from the purview of the State Board of Education. One of the major concerns about the bill was the de-emphasis on 4-year baccalaureate degree programs. Amendments were adopted that allowed those programs to grow at a rate faster than the original bill. The next stop for SB 374 is the Appropriations Committee. UFF still has concerns over access and the impact that possible budget cuts would have especially in the remediation programs.

Status: No activity in week 3. At this time, there is no House companion.