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Senate refuses to fast track ‘parent trigger’ legislation

The Senate is divided again. This time it is over the so-called "parent trigger" bill that would empower parents of children in failing and low-ranked schools to set in motion the firing of a principal and the shift in the school to a charter school.
The bill passed the House on Thursday on a party-line vote and Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher tried to pull the Senate companion by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto out of its last committee and directly onto the floor. But, after Democratic Leader Nan Rich objected, the motion failed to get the required two-thirds votes of the 40-member Senate and failed on a 20-19 vote.
Thrasher had a back up plan. He announced that the Senate will hold a rare Saturday morning meeting of the budget committee -- at 8 a.m. -- to take up the lone bill. "Be there or be square,'' he said after the vote.
The bill is a top priority of former Gov. Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future but is bitterly opposed by Florida's teacher's unions who say that it fails to give enough safeguards to schools and teachers.
It promises to also divide the Senate's already splintered Republican caucus. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, called the bill appears designed to expand the "empires" of for-profit charter school organizations.
"A huge number of schools could potentially be put out there for organization by the charter school industry,'' he said. "It's going to be like union organizating with pledge cards and everything. They can go out there and get signatures and I think this needs to be carefully investigated."
Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, supports the extra hearing for the bill.
"I think there are members who are very passionate about this issue,'' he said. "There's precedent in other states -- California has done that. I think the members should have every opportunity to debate it, discuss it."
The Senate divided bitterly earlier this session when Thrasher and Senate President Mike Haridopolos pushed through a bill to privatize state prisons, another issue that was strongly opposed by a state worker union. The measure was defeated 21-19.