Florida's Legislative Preview
A roundup of what interest groups, lawmakers and the governor are seeking this year.
» Presidential Priority — Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Destin) is pushing reforms aimed at improving job prospects for students.
» Higher Ed — The Board of Governors is seeking $118 million — equivalent to a 15% tuition increase — that will be tied to performance goals for the state’s 12 public universities. The schools say the funding would help them avoid raising tuition, something the governor opposes. The board is also asking for $50 million for maintenance and wants the Legislature to deregulate university construction to allow greater flexibility in funding, including the promotion of public-private partnerships. The board is also promoting an expansion of higher education online.
» Private College Funding — The Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida (ICUF), is looking for a boost in the Florida Resident Access Grant (FRAG), state aid available to Florida residents who attend private schools. ICUF President Ed Moore says a decline in funding for the grant, from a high of $3,000 per student to the current $2,150, has caused a drop in enrollments of Florida-based students and put more pressure on public institutions.
» Easier Access — Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) has penned legislation that would grant in-state tuition to veterans stationed in Florida. Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) has introduced a bill that would allow dependent children of undocumented parents to pay in-state rates as long as they attended a Florida high school for four years and apply to a state college or university within a year of graduating.
» K-12 — Gov. Rick Scott’s budget calls for $100 million for digital learning, $75 million for school safety and $2,500 teacher raises. Meanwhile, the Florida Chamber of Commerce is calling for an expansion of virtual and charter schools along with legislation that would provide employment options and legal representation for teachers who don’t want to join a union, and funding to implement the teacher merit pay program, which gives additional compensation or bonuses to high-performing teachers.
» State Board — The state Board of Education is requesting $891 million in new funding, which includes $198 million to address growing enrollment in the state’s preK-12 schools and state colleges and $442 million for an “education technology modernization effort.” The funds (part of a total budget request of $15.2 billion) would go toward upgrading internet bandwidth and wireless access at the state’s 3,000-plus public schools. The board’s other priorities include:
• Adding a financial literacy requirement for high school graduation and adding “entrepreneurship skills” to a required middle school career and education planning course;
• Stronger language requiring districts to make unused facilities available to charter schools;
• Revisions to teacher preparation programs so they’re better aligned with current expectations in classrooms and schools and include accountability measures.
» Regulations — Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam wants legislators to remove some inspection and regulation requirements on businesses that pose “less (of a) threat to consumers than others.” He also wants to remove notary requirements on business registrations; reduce the security from $50,000 to $25,000 for fitness clubs; and exempt charities that receive less than $25,000 from registration and financial disclosure requirements.
» Election Reform — GOP leaders and Gov. Scott are looking to revise the state’s election laws following the long lines and slow vote count that plagued the 2012 elections. Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater), chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, has been gathering testimony from supervisors of elections from around the state, examining whether the reduction in early voting days from 14 to eight and the restrictions of early voting sites played a part in the delays. Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla (R-Miami) has already filed a bill to add one more day of early voting on the Sunday before Election Day and to extend early voting hours from 12 to 14 each voting day.
» Ethics Reform — Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Destin) and House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) are looking to overhaul a number of ethics and campaign finance rules, starting with imposing stronger conflict-of-interest rules on elected officials. Gaetz convinced his fellow senators to strengthen the Senate’s rules on disclosing a conflict of interest. Previously, senators did not have to disclose a conflict of interest until after voting on a bill. Now, they must disclose the conflict and abstain from voting.
Other changes the chambers’ two leaders say they plan to pursue, including:
• Making public officials’ financial statements more readily available to the public;
• Prohibiting lawmakers from using funds in their political committees to pay for personal expenses;
• Limiting “co-employment” of public officials — “when a person with no background in particular is hired as a consultant or employee by some entity that lives off government money — that kind of employment, I believe, is unethical,” Gaetz says;
• Giving the Florida Ethics Commission the authority to collect fines against candidates who violate ethics and election laws. Gaetz says the state wrote off “almost $800,000 in fines” this year.