As an election year looms, Florida’s Republican legislative leaders announced they will focus on an agenda that continues to refine their attempts to provide more skills-based education, cuts taxes by $500 million, keeps sexual predators off the street and gives military veterans free tuition.
The list of priorities, called “Work Plan Florida 2014” was outlined by House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, before a meeting of reporters and editors in Tallahassee on Wednesday.
“The state of Florida has had a tremendous transformational turnaround in the last three years,’’ Weatherford said, noting the 6.2 unemployment rate and rise in tourism.
He attributed it to “disciplined, focused, conservative leadership” and said his agenda is “doubling down” on their achievements.
“I believe in the redistribution of opportunity,’’ he said. Their joint agenda will freeze tuition in 2015, expand private school vouchers, and focus on restoring “trust and integrity into our grading system.” They did not provide any details on how much they intend to spend on expanding school vouchers.
Gaetz said he wants Florida to be the nation’s top destination for military veterans and the least favorable destination for sexual predators.
He said they will endorse a $500 million tax cut but, unlike targeted tax cuts of the past, it will be “broad based tax cut that will target low income and working Floridians.” He explained that is a reference to the Senate's $236 million proposed cut in auto tag fees, which is expected to save most Florida drivers $12; the remaining tax cuts are focused on businesses.
Finally, Weatherford will renew his effort to revise the state’s pension fund to steer more of the accounts to privately-managed investors which, Gaetz said, would provide “more options for making retirement for Floridians secure.”
Meanwhile, as Republicans nationally remain divided on economic and social policies, the leaders appeared to focus on a modest list of initiatives with populist appeal. Neither leader mentioned any proposals to address the fact that Florida still leads the nation in mortgage foreclosures and is second in the nation in the number of uninsured Floridians under the age of 65.
The veterans proposal will waive licensing fees for military veterans who move to Florida, waive out-of-state tuition for veterans and fund scholarships for Florida National Guard members. The total cost is estimated at $14 million.
The crack down on sexual predators aims at increasing public notification, expanding registration requirements to better track and monitor sexual offenders and strengthen civil commitment laws.
Here's their joint announcement:
President Gaetz and Speaker Weatherford Announce
Work Plan Florida 2014
Tallahassee–Florida Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) and Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) today announced their joint 2014 Work Plan Florida Agenda. Addressing a group of reporters and editors from across the state who gathered in Tallahassee for the annual Associated Press Editors Forum, the President and Speaker outlined the 5-point agenda they will pursue during the 2014 Legislative Session.
“There are hundreds of issues that arise during a legislative session. Some come from outside Tallahassee, some from time deadlines, and some from the constitution. Speaker Weatherford and I have decided to work together to go beyond these basic responsibilities and lift up other issues we want to solve,” said President Gaetz. “We’ve traveled thousands of miles together, listening to people all over Florida. We’ve heard from our members, who’ve heard from their constituents and of the hundred things we could do, these are the five things we will do and they form our bicameral 2014 Work Plan for Florida.”
“Work Plan 2014 represents the second year of an aggressive, inclusive reform agenda,” said House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel). “I look forward to working with President Gaetz during the upcoming Session on these issues, which are important to the future of our state.”
“The 2014 Work Plan centers on steps we can take to keep Florida on the road to economic recovery. By reducing taxes and fees by $500 million, government is taking less money from the hardworking Floridians who earn it, leaving more money for the day-to-day needs of Florida’s families,” continued President Gaetz.
Work Plan 2014, Joint House and Senate 5-Point Agenda
1. ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY THROUGH EDUCATION
Expand pathways out of poverty through education and jobs
Increase the Value and Accessibility of Higher Education
- · No tuition increase for 2015
- · End soaring cost increase for Florida Prepaid College Board
- · Reduce tuition differential
Expand Education Choices for Families In Poverty
- · Raise cap for Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program
Cement Link Between Education and Jobs
- · Reward performance in higher education
- · Increase student access to Career and Professional Education (CAPE) Industry Certifications opportunities
o Remove 0.3 weighed FTE funding limit on CAPE
o Florida CAPE Digital Classroom
2. FLORIDA GI BILL
Establish Florida as the top “Welcome Home” state for the military, veterans
and their families
Expand Education and Employment Opportunities
- · Waive out-of-state tuition for veterans
- · Fund scholarships for members of the Florida National Guard, including online programs and book stipends
- · Waive licensing fees for returning veterans
Invest in Florida’s Military Infrastructure
- · Finish commitment to restore and renovate Florida’s armories
- · Fund base buffering efforts to preserve Florida’s military missions and protect our military bases
3. PROTECT VULNERABLE FLORIDIANS
Increase safeguards for Florida’s children and seniors
Improve Protections Against Sexual Offenders
- · Keep offenders off our streets and away from our children
o Increase the length of sentences and extend monitoring after release
- · Better inform our communities, law enforcement and families
o Require individuals registered in the sexual offender database to provide more information
- · Improve coordination between government and law enforcement
o Enhance communication between state and county officials when a sexual offender is released from prison
Child Welfare Reform
Fund Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) to reduce the Critical Needs Waiting List
Fully Fund Maximum Current Year Expansion of the Guardian Ad Litem Program
Keep seniors safer by making the administration of Assisted Living Facilities (ALFs) more transparent and accountable
Increase Funding for Child Advocacy Centers
Better Address Human Trafficking
4. $500 MILLION TAX CUT
Reduce the amount of money government takes from Floridians who earn it
- · Reduce Taxes and Fees
- · Lower Vehicle Registration Fees for All Florida Drivers
5. IMPROVE GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY AND EFFICIENCY
Achieve reform of the Florida Retirement System and continue to improve
- · Strengthen the retirement system for public employees
- · Develop an Information Technology Governance Strategy for State Government
- · Continue to Improve Florida’s Ethics Laws
- · Implement Lobbyist Compensation Audits
- · Clarify Legislator Residency Requirements