February 20, 2017

Florida Legislature's own research reveals disparities in school recess

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@ByKristenMClark

For more than a year, whenever a “recess mom” has come to the Florida Capitol and pleaded with lawmakers, they have told stories of their child’s lack of access to daily recess — offering anecdotes from their child’s school or school district to showcase the inequities of unstructured playtime offered in Florida’s public schools.

Informal surveys of parents in some counties, like Pinellas or Miami-Dade, have seemed to support their assertions.

IN-DEPTH: “Quest for daily recess: Moms renew fight for more free play in Florida Legislature”

But if lawmakers need official, solid evidence of the disparities in school recess, they need look no further than the findings of their own research analysts.

The Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability (OPPAGA) last fall surveyed all 67 county school districts about their recess policies and also sought responses from 2,900 public elementary and middle schools.

The results revealed broad inconsistencies in whether school districts and specific schools actually offer daily recess, and if they do, how frequently and for how long.

The data — presented to some senators last week — comes as the Senate Education Committee is poised to vote Tuesday on legislation that would require 20 minutes of daily recess in all Florida public elementary schools, or 100 minutes a week.

Read more here.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald

February 17, 2017

Rick Scott ratchets up feud with House Republicans with robo calls

ScottAPfile

Gov. Rick Scott (AP)

@JeremySWallace

Gov. Rick Scott isn't done singling out Republicans in the Florida House of Representatives who voted against one of his biggest priorities.

Following a week that he toured the state publicly calling out Republicans for voting to kill Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, Scott is now using a political action committee he controls to launch automated telephone calls to voters in 9 key House districts to complain about those legislators even more.

"Unfortunately your state Rep - Paul Renner - is playing politics with Florida jobs," Scott said on the recorded phone call in Jacksonville. "He voted to kill our state tourism and jobs program and that will destroy our economy and will lead to higher taxes."

The ad is paid for by Let's Get to Work, the governor's political committee.

Scott is irate over a bill that passed a House subcommittee that would kill both Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. The bill passed on a 10-5 vote in the Careers & Competition Subcommittee. However, the bill has almost no chance of ever becoming law because the Senate does not have a similar bill. Both chambers need to pass identical bills for a bill to even make it out of the Legislature. And even if they did pass the same idea, Scott would have veto power to reject the Legislation.

That reality hasn't slowed Scott one bit. His whirlwind tour of the state included him accusing lawmakers of turning their back on the economic momentum the state has built since 2010 and called the "politicians" who don't understand how important tourism marketing is to the state.

Scott's automated phone calls target these members: Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole; Halsey Beshears, R-Monticello; Randy Fine, R-Brevard; Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice; Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa; Mike La Rosa, R-St. Cloud; Alex Miller, R-Sarasota; Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, and Renner.

Renner said Scott's pressure isn't going to change his vote on the bill to kill both agencies. He said he's taking a stand on principle and doesn't believe in "corporate giveaways."

"I think in our community, the more people hear about the facts about those programs they will be offended," Renner said.

Renner said he thinks a better way to grow jobs is through broad based tax cuts that help more businesses than a tax incentive package could.

Lawmaker wants mental health screenings for conceal-carry applicants

Campbell_daphne@ByKristenMClark

Individuals who want a state-issued permit to carry a concealed gun in Florida would first have to pass a mental health evaluation under a new proposal from a Miami-Dade County senator.

The measure (SB 956) comes six weeks after a gunman who had shown signs of mental illness shot and killed five people and injured six others in a baggage claim area of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

State Sen. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami Shores, said the impetus for her proposal came not only from the airport shooting but the ongoing gun violence in Miami-Dade — such as in her district, which includes Liberty City.

“Everybody’s talking about gun violence, but what do we do about it?” Campbell said. “We have to do something. ... It’s crucial. People’s lives are in jeopardy. How are we going to protect our people? That’s why I add this piece to make it harder and stricter on people who want to get a gun permit.”

About 20 gun-related proposals have been filed for the upcoming 2017 legislative session, but Campbell’s is the first related to mental health — particularly in the wake of the Fort Lauderdale shooting.

Full details here.

Photo credit: Miami Shores Democratic state Sen. Daphne Campbell, shown here in the Florida House in 2015, has proposed a bill that would require people applying for a concealed weapons permit in Florida to undergo and clear a mental health evaluation. Florida House.

Gasp, Gov. Rick Scott uses the 'p' word to slam opponents

  ScottTimesArchivesphoto

@JeremySWallace

It wasn't just that Gov. Rick Scott went into the back yards of a half dozen state representatives to call them out by name for voting for a bill he opposes.

It's how he did it that has state legislators still fuming.

In Tampa, in Flagler Beach, and Brevard County Scott had a similar script, telling business leaders that he was "shocked" at the 9 House Republicans on the Careers & Competition Subcommittee that dared vote for a bill to kill Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. But then he threw salt into the wound calling them the unthinkable: politicians.

"There's politicians in Tallahassee - and one of them is your state Rep. Jay Trumbull - who voted to abolish Enterprise Florida and abolish Visit Florida," Scott said in Panama City on Tuesday. On Monday in Flagler Beach he used the "P" word after calling out Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa, and Paul Renner, R-Jacksonville.

In the political world, the p word has become essentially a curse word. And it's not sitting well with State Rep. Randy Fine, a Brevard County Republican, who on a talk radio show this morning took issue with Scott's language. Fine told News Talk WMMB-AM 1350 host Bill Mick that the people he serves with are doctors, lawyers, package delivery people, farmers and business people.

"Do these people sound like politicians to you?" Fine asked Mick. "These people are not politicians."

Fine told Mick that he is expected to meet with the governor one-on-one soon, but said in the meantime he's hoping to urge Scott to "bring down the temperature" in the debate over Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida.

"I hope we can come together and we can focus on an agenda that going to move the state forward," Fine said. "I hope we can sort of take down the volume here a little bit."

Fine sent Scott a letter on Wednesday after he he learned Scott was going to go to Brevard County to call him out. In it, Fine said it would be better for them to sit down and talk rather than "talking at each other in the media." The letter didn't stop Scott from going to Brevard County on Thursday to specifically call out Fine for being one of the 9 Republicans to vote to kill the tourism and economic development agencies.

Nine little words that just might cause a legislative train wreck

The 2017 legislative session begins in Tallahassee in about two-and-a-half weeks and the Senate and House are still hashing out details of a critical joint rule so that writing a budget can get underway.

FullSizeRender(11)Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, tells the Times/Herald that he and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, are making progress, but stumbling blocks remain, including a standoff over nine words found in House Rule 5.14: "An appropriations project bill may only request nonrecurring funds." That's a cornerstone of Corcoran's plan to transform and add transparency to how individual lawmakers' spending priorities work their way into the budget every year.

But it's a non-starter in the Senate.

Recurring money is generally used for fixed annual costs, such as paying state workers' salaries. Nonrecurring or one-time money, from a lawsuit settlement or an unexpected uptick in lottery ticket sales, is like a one-time salary bonus, and generally pays for one-time expenditures like water projects.

Corcoran insists on using nonrecurring money for appropriations projects so that they have to be justified every session by every Legislature. Negron disagrees. "Projects that are put forward by members of the Legislature should not be given short shrift and disadvantaged," he said. "It seems self-defeating."

Senators interpret the House rule to mean that any program that seeks a dollar more than it received last year is subject to the House's three criteria: It must be filed as a stand-alone bill, must be reported favorably by at least one House committee, and must be funded with one-time nonrecurring money. Negron says that would impose hardships and confusion for programs that have to pay workers' salaries and have permanent overhead expenses.

Negron agreed that a program he supports could be impacted by the nonrecurring money provision: PACE Centers for Girls, a statewide program that helps at-risk youth. "That's a good example. There are lots of examples. There are programs that we have that serve patients with Alzheimer's disease ... I don't think there's anything wrong with having recurring funding." PACE Centers received about $19 million in the current year's budget. PACE Centers for Girls has three lobbyists, Frank Mayernick Jr., Tracy Hogan Mayernick and Jodi Lea Stevens.

Nearly two weeks ago, a threatened Senate lawsuit against the House, followed by a dare from Corcoran that he would pay the Senate's filing fee, slowed communication. Negron says he shared Corcoran's goal of making the budget more transparent, but that the autonomy of each chamber must be respected. Negron was asked to name a date by which an on-time adjournment would be impossible if the two sides can't agree. His reply: "I'm actually encouraged that we're doing it now as opposed to addressing it in week five or six."

As of Thursday, the legislative tracking site LobbyTools.com reports, House members had filed 759 separate project bills with a total cost of nearly $1.5 billion. Many won't make the cut, and if the two chambers can't agree on how they will be paid for, none of them may survive. Corcoran has said he and Negron have made headway on an agreement on a detailed questionnaire that every project sponsor must complete, and the House has agreed to relax the timetable for when projects must be filed until the fifth week of the session, which this year is the week of April 3.

Ex-Enterprise Florida head says House GOP video misleading

Swoopefile

Former Enterprise Florida CEO Gray Swoope (Tampa Bay Times File Photo)

@JeremySWallace

A propaganda video that House Speaker Richard Corcoran is using to build support for killing Enterprise Florida includes a heavily manipulated quote that makes it appear that even the former head of the agency has turned on it, when he hasn’t.

In the 3 minute video, the former CEO of Enterprise Florida Gray Swoope appears to say “Enterprise Florida may have lost its way.”

But the quote is a trimmed version of the sentence he actually said and takes him out of context, Swoope told the Times/Herald in an interview.

The quote is taken from a television interview from 2013 in which Swoope actually makes the case that Enterprise Florida was getting the job done and deserved credit for helping the state rebound economically. Swoope said in the context of the interview it was clear he was talking about the agency losing its way before Scott hired him in 2011 to help change the organization.

“I, 100 percent, believe in the model,” Swoope said of what he thinks about Enterprise Florida now.

Corcoran’s spokesman Fred Piccolo, said they were not trying to make it appear that Swoope was against the agency now. He said they just were showing that at one point Swoope thought the agency had lost its way.

Here’s the full quote of what Swoope said in the 2013 interview on Capital Dateline, a cable television program:

“Well, first of all I think that for some time Enterprise Florida may have lost its way in not being mission focused. And one of the things I promised Gov. Scott is if given this opportunity that Enterprise Florida would go back to its true mission of being the private, not for profit organization that is focused on - laser focused - on job creation and trade development. And so if you look at the results over the last two years, I think the numbers speak for their selves. If people really want to look at it. If that’s their true meaning -  do they want to understand what we do. Look at the number of projects. They’re up 40 percent. The number of jobs is up 74 percent. And capital investment - where businesses vote with their pocketbook - is up 95 percent in two years. I think that tells you there’s been a dramatic turnaround in the focus of Enterprise Florida.”

Here’s the video Corcoran released to House Republicans on Wednesday night during a closed door meeting.

 

Florida teachers union leaders: We want better pay for all, not a new legislative 'gimmick'

Spanish3 aventura lnew cmg@ByKristenMClark

Leaders of local and state teachers unions tell the Herald/Times that they are eager for more details on the Florida Legislature's planned expansion of teacher incentives. But -- with lingering criticism of the two-year-old "Best & Brightest" bonuses -- they aren't very optimistic that lawmakers will come up with a true solution to poor teacher compensation.

"These guys don’t get it. Hiring teachers is not the problem. Retaining them is," Mike Gandolfo, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, said in a text message.

Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of United Teachers of Dade, called the proposed expanded incentives "a gimmick" by lawmakers "to avoid paying our teachers adequately."

MORE: "$200 million for teacher incentives? Florida lawmakers crafting plan to do it"

"Teachers don’t want bonus pay; they want real pay," she said, adding that permanent increases to the base student allocation — which could help districts afford to pay teachers more — "is really the only thing that’s going to help with our teacher shortage."

Joanne McCall, president of the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said in a statement: "The devil is in the details. We can’t give any indication of what we think of this proposal until we know about who qualifies and how teachers could access this money."

McCall said Florida’s teachers salaries are $10,000 below the national average and need to be made more competitive with other states.

"If this proposal works to alleviate this discrepancy, we could support it," McCall said.

"If it's another scheme like 'Best & Brightest' that doesn’t address the core problems of paying teachers and education staff professionals adequate and competitive salaries, we’d have problems with it," McCall said. "We didn’t create the system but we do what is asked, and if a teacher meets the requirements of the complicated evaluation system they should be paid for it — not some — all."

Tampa Bay Times staff writer Colleen Wright contributed to this report.

Photo credit: EL NUEVO HERALD

February 16, 2017

Senate keeps DC law firm hired to fight redistricting -- to fight the Florida House

Joe Negron Richard CorcoranWhy would Florida's Senate president spend $71,600 on a Washington D.C.-based legal firm with no offices in Florida to represent them in legal battles over the Florida Constitution, and with the Florida House?

That's the obvious question for Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who has signed two contracts, and assumed a third, from former Senate President Andy Gardiner, with Sidley Austin, a mega-firm in D.C. with offices across the globe -- except Florida.

Negron signed the third contract with the firm on Nov. 18, shortly after House Speaker Richard Corcoran disclosed rules that will bind the Senate to an unprecedented budget protocol, complete with disclosure requirements and prohibitions on recurring line items.

"This is a very unique area of the law given that it is unprecedented for one chamber to promulgate rules that would purportedly control the actions of another chamber,'' Negron told the Herald/Times said. "Those are issues we can look to precedence from the United State Supreme Court and to Florida courts."

He said he has authorized Sidley Austin to advise the Senate on the House rule relating to the appropriations process and it is "looking at the legal relationship and separation of powers."

"I believe their firm has expertise not only that is beneficial to us but has also done work in other states and brings a national perspective that brings significant value to the Senate and how we navigate the matter,''

The firm recently drafted a brief to challenge the House rules in court. Negron has refrained from filing that action, saying instead negotiations are ongoing.

"The House and the Senate are negotiating to work out quickly a joint budget rule that promotes transparency and a good process,'' he said. "We are continuing to talk."

Unlike the House, whose lawyers do not believe that a draft lawsuit is shielded from Florida public records law, the Senate refuses to release a draft copy of its work.

Continue reading "Senate keeps DC law firm hired to fight redistricting -- to fight the Florida House" »

Senate keeps DC law firm hired to fight redistricting -- to fight the Florida House

Joe Negron Richard CorcoranWhy would Florida's Senate president spend $71,600 on a Washington D.C.-based legal firm with no offices in Florida to represent them in legal battles with the Florida House?

That's the obvious question for Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who has signed two contracts, and assumed a third, from former Senate President Andy Gardiner, with Sidley Austin, a mega-firm in D.C. with offices across the globe -- except Florida.

Negron signed the third contract with the firm on Nov. 18, shortly after House Speaker Richard Corcoran disclosed rules that will bind the Senate to an unprecedented budget protocol, complete with disclosure requirements and prohibitions on recurring line items.

"This is a very unique area of the law given that it is unprecedented for one chamber to promulgate rules that would purportedly control the actions of another chamber,'' Negron told the Herald/Times said. "Those are issues we can look to precedence from the United State Supreme Court and to Florida courts."

He said he has authorized Sidley Austin to advise the Senate on the House rule relating to the appropriations process and it is "looking at the legal relationship and separation of powers."

"I believe their firm has expertise not only that is beneficial to us but has also done work in other states and brings a national perspective that brings significant value to the Senate and how we navigate the matter,''

The firm recently drafted a brief to challenge the House rules in court. Negron has refrained from filing that action, saying instead negotiations are ongoing.

"The House and the Senate are negotiating to work out quickly a joint budget rule that promotes transparency and a good process,'' he said. "We are continuing to talk."

Unlike the House, whose lawyers do not believe that a draft lawsuit is shielded from Florida public records law, the Senate refuses to release a draft copy of its work.

Continue reading "Senate keeps DC law firm hired to fight redistricting -- to fight the Florida House" »

House Democrats call out Republicans' closed-door meeting

@MichaelAuslen and @stevebousquet

11212016_190301_cruz_8colHouse Minority Leader Janet Cruz on Thursday responded to a closed-door caucus meeting held by Republicans in Tallahassee to discuss taking down Enterprise Florida.

"Transparency when conducting the people’s business is of the utmost importance and that’s why our caucus room is always open to the public," Cruz, D-Tampa, said in a statement.

Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, assembled his Republican members at an upscale bar not far from the Capitol called The Edison on Wednesday night, where he played a video targeting Enterprise Florida, instructed members to "stay on the moral high ground" and blocked a Times/Herald reporter from observing the meeting.

Several Democrats voted against a Corcoran-backed proposal to gut Enterprise Flat a committee meeting last week. But Cruz said the minority party wants to reform the program.

"It’s also no secret that Enterprise Florida is an agency in serious need of reform and House Democrats look forward to having that debate," she said. "Floridians deserve an end to corporate welfare that benefits large corporations and the ultra-wealthy and a renewed focus on growing jobs here at home by supporting our local small businesses."

Photo by Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times