June 19, 2018

FWC sets new requirements for airboat operators, spurred by death of University of Miami grad

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@elizabethrkoh

Airboat operators carrying passengers on their boats will soon have more stringent requirements to pilot their vessels, after a deadly crash that killed a University of Miami graduate last year.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved new course requirements Tuesday, following the passage of a law that directed the agency to set new regulations for commercial airboat operators earlier this year. The legislation, named for 22-year-old victim Ellie Goldenberg, requires airboat operators to complete a more comprehensive training course and pass an exam to pilot the powerful boats, which are popular with tourists in the Everglades.

In the last several years, commercial airboat tours have had little official oversight, with no required licenses for operators or specific safety classes. Though airboat operators are currently required to complete a general eight-hour boating safety course, no background checks are required and no education specific to airboating is mandated. The flat-bottomed boats, propelled by powerful airplane-like engines, do need to be registered with the FWC and have basic features like a muffler for the engine’s sound. But insurance is often not required and airboat operators have been otherwise unregulated.

A Miami New Times analysis found more than 75 accidents involving private and commercial airboats in the last three years, with at least seven deaths and more than 100 injuries.

The rule approved by the Fish and Wildlife Commission Tuesday will require operators to be certified in CPR and first aid, subject to a fine. Anyone operating an airboat with passengers must also take a course with at least 24 hours of instruction, including 8 hours of classroom time and 14 hours on the water. Courses will be required to cover several topics, including state and federal boating requirements, navigation rules, environmental concerns, ecosystem awareness and the causes and prevention of airboat accidents.

Airboat operators will also have to pass a final exam of at least 50 questions, and course instructors will have their own standards too: at least 120 hours of experience operating an airboat in the last three years and no felony convictions in the last five years.

“Public safety is important to the FWC, and with the Legislature’s guidance, this new rule provides additional requirements for airboat operator courses which will improve safety measures for passengers aboard an airboat for hire,” commission chairman Bo Rivard said in a statement.

The law behind the new rules was approved during this year's legislative session after Goldenberg, a recent theater graduate at the University of Miami, was killed during an Everglades airboat tour last May. The 22-year-old died the day after she received her diploma when, during the tour her family took to celebrate, the craft flipped over and trapped her underneath. The other passengers on the boat and the operator survived.

Blood tests showed the airboat operator, Steven George Gagne, had high levels of THC, the active compound in marijuana. But Gagne was not charged with a crime after prosecutors said they were unable to definitively prove Gagne was piloting recklessly. Among the obstacles in charging Gagne was the fact Florida law does not set a standard for how much THC can be considered operating a vehicle or vessel “under the influence.”

Goldenberg's death spurred her family to push for legislation in Tallahassee that would tighten requirements in airboating. The bill, which was nicknamed “Ellie’s Law,” directed the FWC to set stronger standards for airboat operators and for required courses before they can pilot the crafts.

The rules will go into effect by Jul. 1, 2019.

Goldenberg's father, David, said the rules were a "step in the right direction" but insufficient in addressing his daughter's death. He said he intends to return to lawmakers next year to increase the penalties for violating the new boating requirements to make sure the law "has some teeth."

An earlier version of the legislation made violating the new regulations a more severe second-degree misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for up to 60 days, though it was amended down to a more lenient penalty.

"A misdemeanor means nothing — it's not even a slap on the wrist," he said. He said he also intends to advocate for a law punishing drug use among operators: "Just because there's no marijuana law in Florida yet is not a good enough reason," he said. Gagne "walked off scot free and he killed my daughter."

Photo: The airboat that crashed last year in the Everglades, killing recent University of Miami graduate Ellie Goldenberg. [Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office]

June 06, 2018

Florida school officials seek clarity on rules for private-school scholarships to bullied students

 
 

They made clear Wednesday their concerns that the program could be ripe for abuse by families more interested in getting vouchers than in protecting  children who really were victimized.

"The way the statute reads, we would have to make the scholarship [notification] available even if the allegations were not merited," Santa Rosa County assistant superintendent Bill Emerson said during an hour-long rule-making conference call. "What we're asking is if we've interpreted that correctly."

State Department of Education officials couldn't disagree.

Adam Miller, executive director of the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice, responded to Emerson by reading from the law, which was included in HB 7055 passed in the spring.

It reads, in relevant part, "a student enrolled in a Florida public school in kindergarten through grade 12 is eligible for a scholarship under this program if the student reported an incident" listed in the law. Those include bullying, fighting, sexual harassment and several other offenses.

Once a principal receives a report, the school must investigate the incident. Miller continued reading:

"Upon conclusion of the investigation or within 15 days after the incident was reported, whichever occurs first, the school district shall notify the parent of the program and offer the parent an opportunity to enroll his or her student in another public school that has capacity or to request and receive a scholarship to attend an eligible private school, subject to available funding."

What if two students were equally involved in a fight and neither reported it? Would the district have to inform families of the scholarship program, asked St. Johns County government relations liaison Beth Sweeny.

Not if the student doesn't initiate a report, Miller said.

But what if both students report being involved in a fight or another of the listed offenses?

"Then the notification would go to both," Miller answered.

This scenario has been a driving concern of the scholarship critics, who pointed out that the law as written does not prevent someone from creating a situation simply to get a state-supported private school scholarship.

A May 30 report from the PreK-12 Education Impact Conference estimated that 7,302 Hope Scholarships will be awarded to students in the 2018-2019 school year, with the most going to kids in sixth through eighth grades because of the bullying rates in those groups.

The report estimates that $27 million will be collected for the pilot year, which will come from people who elect to have the sales tax from a car purchase directed toward the Hope Scholarship fund, per the new law. That money is expected to be available to start being distributed to students in late 2018.

The Senate attempted to rewrite the bill to offer scholarships to students with "substantiated" incidents, but the House did not agree.

Proponents questioned why a family would disrupt its school life unless the children had true safety problems. The bill sponsors repeatedly said their goal was to give victims a way out.

They did leave the door open for less egregious incidents to qualify.

"The reasonable parent is not going to say, 'Oh my gosh, I have to move my child,' because of a minor random incident," sponsor Rep. Byron Donalds said in November, when presenting the measure in committee. "Would they still be afforded the information? Yes they would."

Emerson said the districts were asking the Department of Education to consider tightening up that aspect within the rule. Miller said that couldn't happen.

"We don't have the ability to revise what is explicitly provided for in the law," Miller said.

The department will continue to take comments on the proposed rule on its website until the State Board of Education votes on it. That vote is tentatively set for July 18.

This report was written by Tampa By Times reporter Jeffrey Solochek and Tallahassee bureau reporter Emily L. Mahoney contributed.

 

June 05, 2018

The NRA is asking politicians, Will you repeal parts of this year's school safety bill?

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NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer.

The National Rifle Association is famous for assigning letter grades to politicians based on how they respond to the organization's questionnaire.

And this year, the NRA's chief lobbyist in Florida, Marion Hammer, is clearly still fuming over the most recent legislative session, in which lawmakers passed several gun-related reforms in the wake of the Parkland shooting.

This year's survey asks politicians whether they will repeal parts of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act (the NRA calls it the "Gun Control/School Safety" bill). It's not a popular idea and so far has limited public support.

The survey was sent to Anna Eskamani, a Democrat who's running for a state House seat in Orlando. 

She noted it was sent a week before the two-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, which was the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history at the time.

"Hard pass, and heading to the recycle bin," she wrote on Twitter today, along with a picture of the envelope.

The four-page questionnaire by the NRA and the Unified Sportsmen of Florida is full of defenses of the Second Amendment, and it calls out "anti-gun school administrators" who don't support concealed carry permit holders on campuses.

Here are some of the questions (and photos of the questionnaire by Eskamani are below):

1. In our view, completion of this questionnaire and signing your name is giving your word. NRA and USF members as well as other constituents in your district trust you to keep your word. Do you agree that your answers are giving your word and that we expect you to keep it?

 2 (c). Do you believe elected officials commit an act of malfeasance if they violate their Oath of Office and support legislation that contains provisions that they believe are unconstitutional?

3. The 2018 "Gun Control/School Safety" bill contained gun control provisions that we believe are unconstitutional. In addition to the lawsuits that have been filed against the state to overturn these provisions, pro-gun legislators have pledged to file legislation to repeal the gun control provisions.

3 (a) The new law prohibits adults between 18-21 years of age from purchasing a firearm. Adults 18 and older can vote, sign contracts, become law enforcement officers and join the military. Will you support legislation to repeal this provision of the law?

3 (b) The new law also imposes a 3-day waiting period between the purchase and the delivery of any firearm. There is no empirical evidence that waiting periods stop crime or violence. Will you support repeal of the 3-day waiting period provision of the law?

3 (c) Additionally, the law imposes a ban on the sale, transfer and possession of bump stocks, which are used to increase the rate of fire of semi-automatic rifles AND any accessory, device or kit that can be used to increase the rate of fire of a firearm. This language, which is undefined, is so broad that it could include anything that improves the function of a firearm, including scopes, competition triggers and forgegrips, to name a few such items. The law makes anyone who sells, transfers or possesses these items, which were acquired legally, a felon. Will you support repeal of the bump stock, accessory, device and kit provision of the law?

5. Licenses to carry Concealed Weapons & Firearms are issued only to persons who are 21 years of age or older. The constitutional right of self-defense does not end when a person enters the campus of a college or university. Do you believe that anti-gun school administrators should be stopped from discriminating against persons licensed by the state to lawfully carry firearms for self-defense?

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Walmart pushes for exemption from state anti-fraud database

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A Walmart Neighborhood Market

Florida's check-cashing industry has been notorious for allowing criminals to commit money laundering, workers-compensation fraud and tax refund schemes.

So when state lawmakers in 2013 passed a law requiring licensed check-cashers to report, in real time, the people and checks passing through their doors, law enforcement called it a big step in the right direction. Florida is believed to be the only state with a database like it.

But the nation's largest retailer is displeased.

For the last year, Walmart has been pushing to be able to cash bigger checks without participating in the database, arguing that its own anti-fraud programs are a "highly effective" substitute.

The company asked for a temporary waiver last year so it could cash bigger FEMA assistance checks in the wake of Hurricane Irma. And in this year's legislative session, it pushed for a bill that would have effectively gutted the state's database, rendering it nearly useless.

Walmart believes that Florida's unique restrictions are too onerous, and it wants to change them so it can serve more customers.

"For us, this issue is not about fraud, it’s about serving our customer’s needs," Walmart spokeswoman Monesia Brown said in a statement. "We think the current limit in Florida is outdated and our customers agree."

The issue received little attention during session. Walmart's bill quickly died after the state's Office of Financial Regulation, which manages the database, came out strongly against it.

But it received attention last week, after Politico reported that Walmart went above OFR's head in the middle of the Legislative session, appealing to state CFO Jimmy Patronis on the bill. Last week, the head of OFR announced he was resigning, under pressure from Patronis.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who sponsored the bill, said that with the current head of OFR leaving, Walmart could be effective avoiding the state regulators.

"I think the new head of OFR, having a different perspective, could pave a new path forward," Brandes said.

The state's financial regulators had serious concerns about this year's bill, however.

Businesses that specialize in cashing checks have to be licensed by the state, record the IDs and thumbprints of customers cashing checks larger than $1,000, and send the information into the database.

But large companies that don't specialize in check-cashing, like Walmart, are allowed to cash checks of up to $2,000 per person per day without recording any information about the customer. Information about the checks and who cashes them also does not go into the state's database.

It's a loophole that Walmart wants to expand, so that it can cash up to $7,500 in checks per person per day without the state's safeguards.

State regulators fear that would be disastrous. Since 94 percent of all checks in the state's database are less than $7,500, the vast majority of criminals could simply go to to Walmart to cash their checks without scrutiny.

"The amount of data and the usefulness of the CCDB [check-cashing database] would be substantially reduced, and its fraud-detection abilities would be virtually eliminated," one OFR document states. "The potential impacts of Senate Bill 1126 are cause for great concern."

For decades, law enforcement and businesspeople fought to get the state to crack down on the industry. Two statewide grand juries and a state task force all recommended greater scrutiny of check-cashing stores, which they called in 2008 a "shadow banking industry" responsible for laundering hundreds of millions of dollars each year in the state.

The new database, rolled out in 2015, allows state regulators to see in real time who is cashing checks and where. Before, regulators had to rely on the store's own electronic logs, and they weren't able to track criminals who jumped from store to store to pass fraudulent checks.

The database is used by the IRS' Miami and Tampa offices and by police around the state, and officials chalk up some arrests to the new system.

But Walmart believes its own security justifies increasing the limit to $7,500.

"While we understand the intent of the state’s limit - the risk of fraudulent checks - we believe our advanced in-store technologies, expert investigators and asset protection associates are highly effective in deterring, identifying and researching fraudulent activity," Brown, the company spokeswoman said.

The company's lobbyist, Jeff Johnston, said that Walmart wants to serve a population that doesn't have bank accounts, and that it did not want to hamper the state's anti-fraud efforts.

"We never had any intentions to hurt the database, blow up the database," Johnston said. "From what we’ve been told, it’s doing very, very good things."

He said the Walmart is not opposed to sharing some data with state regulators, but it has no interest in becoming a licensed check-casher.

"There are no other states that have a database or would require us to do what Florida has asked," Johnston said. "We’re not designed that way."

For Brandes and the House sponsor of the bill, Rep. Lawrence McClure, R-Dover, the issue is whether the restrictions hamper businesses from operating in the state.

"We don’t want to do something that isn’t in the best interests of Florida’s business climate," McClure said.

May 24, 2018

Special session to boost education funding? It's not happening. Republicans vote for status quo.

By Jeffrey Solochek, Tampa Bay Times Corcoran and Sheve Jones

To almost no one's surprise, a last ditch effort to bring Florida lawmakers back to Tallahassee for another conversation about public education funding has failed.

A group of House Democrats, led by Reps. Shevrin Jones and Nicholas Duran, used an obscure law by which 20 percent of the Legislature could require a poll to determine whether a special session would take place.

Three-fifths of the members in each chamber would have to agree. The vote fell far short.

In the House, all 41 Democrats supported the measure. Not a single Republican did.

In the Senate, all 16 Democrats backed the call. Not one Republican joined them. In fact, the nearly half the Senate Republicans did not even participate in the survey, including former president Tom Lee (Hillsborough), future president Wilton Simpson (Pasco) and president pro tempore Anitere Flores (Miami-Dade).

Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced the survey results Thursday, after the noon deadline had passed. The outcome was all but certain two days earlier, though, as the emerging tally made clear the 60 percent threshold wouldn't be reached.

The Democrats made their push amid school leader complaints that the state's public education budget for the coming fiscal year did not include enough added funding to cover rising daily costs, while also not meeting the Legislature's demands for increased school security and mental health services.

Republican leaders fired back with a video insisting the state's education funding had reached record levels, and arguing the detractors misrepresented the budget. Gov. Rick Scott also stood by the spending plan, which he signed despite calls for a veto by superintendents and others.

Rep. Jones, the ranking Democrat on the House Education committee, said it was unfortunate the effort failed.

"I'm thankful for my Democratic colleagues for understanding and keeping true to our values, which we have consistently been fighting for," he said. "We will continue our commitment to fight on behalf of our teachers and on behalf of our students.

"How do we do that? The people will always rise."

Students, parents and educators are becoming fed up with a legislative system that does not share that priority, Jones said, suggesting the electorate will take matters into its own hands.

"We fight on," he said.

Soon after Detzner's official pronouncement that the special session hadn't passed, the Florida Education Association issued a statement noting that Scott easily could have called lawmakers back on his own, if he had the will.

"This is very sad news for our schools, but no surprise given the current political landscape," FEA president Joanne McCall said in the release. "It's sad news for all of us, because the whole state loses when public education is harmed. The only bright spot I see, going forward, is that we can change our political landscape this fall at the polls."

House Democratic leaders who called for the session could not be immediately reached for comment.

Related: Florida Dems use obscure law in last-ditch effort to call Legislature back for more school funding 

Photo: Rep. Shevrin Jones confers with House Speaker Richard Corcoran in a recent Florida legislative session. [The Florida House]

 

May 17, 2018

South Florida Dems use obscure law in last-ditch effort to call Legislature back for more school funding

 

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Rep. Shevrin Jones confers with House Speaker Richard Corcoran in a recent Florida legislative session. [The Florida House]


At the end of session, superintendents and the statewide teachers' union called for the Legislature to redo their education funding in the budget they were about to pass. When a special session seemed imminent on gambling issues, again, they made the same call, without success.

 

Now, Democrats have organized a last-ditch effort to use an obscure state law to poll lawmakers on their willingness to come back for a special session to address education funding.

State Reps. Shevrin Jones of West Park and Nicholas Duran of Miami said Thursday that they and 33 others have filed petitions with the Florida Secretary of State for the poll. This method of calling a special session circumvents the Republican Legislative leadership, who typically are the ones who must call any special sessions and declare its purpose.

The 35 total members are all Democrats from both the House and the Senate, though not all members from their party are included on the list. The required threshold is 32 members to force a poll:

The list of 35 total Democrats from the Florida Legislature who are forcing a poll for an education special session. (Provided by Rep. Shevrin Jones)
The list of 35 total Democrats from the Florida Legislature who are forcing a poll for an education special session. (Provided by Rep. Shevrin Jones)

Both Jones and Duran hail from the two counties, Broward and Miami-Dade, hit hardest by a change in the way the state calculates school funding this year, designed to direct more dollars to smaller districts. They, like the rest of the House members who aren't termed out, are up for re-election.

"In the aftermath of Parkland and the waning days of session, the Legislature took action for the safety of our schools," Duran said. "In our rush to do something we didn’t account for the conesequences of that bill 7026 and now the school districts are facing those consequences."

Since the passage of this year's budget as well as SB 7026, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, school districts have been scrambling to comply with the new safety requirements as well as their normal operations. Several are considering raising local property taxes.

Democrats tried the same tactic after the Pulse shooting in the summer of 2016, in an effort to force a special session vote on guns. They failed to garner enough support to call the session.

This year's final vote on the budget was taken on March 11, the Sunday after the legislative session was supposed to end but it went into overtime after the Feb. 14 Parkland shooting changed the entire direction of the session and caused lawmakers to reconcile with issues like school safety and gun rights not previously taking center stage.

Jones was not present for the vote on the budget. He said it was because after the Legislature's official end date he needed to go back to his full-time job as the executive director of the Florida Reading Corps, a branch of AmeriCorps. Duran voted yes, along with many other Democrats who argued against the budget but who ultimately voted for it.

"When  our members were presented with the budget, they were presented with something they did not like," Jones said. "But (some are) going to vote for it because there are some good things in there."

Despite the fact that Republicans have said repeatedly that they are proud of the investment they made this year in education, Jones said this poll at the very least will require every lawmaker to go on the record in an election year with their position on the current school funding levels.

It's unlikely the Democrats will succeed, but now that the Secretary of State has received Jones and Duran's petition, that office will send out the poll today. Lawmakers will have until noon on May 24 to respond, according to Sarah Revell from the Secretary of State's office.

May 08, 2018

Advocacy group asks Dept. of Corrections to turn over its budget documents

Julie Jones and prisonersA advocacy group representing a coalition pursuing prison and sentencing reform has filed a public records request with the Florida Department of Corrections in an effort to find out if other options were considered before the agency moved forward with a plan to cut $28 million from treatment and transition programs. 

Read more: Legislature left $28 million hole in prison budget. Now essential programs are cut.

"There are a number of better alternatives to addressing FDOC’s budget shortfall than cutting critical programs that are proven to help incarcerated people transition from prison to healthy, productive lives and prevent them from reoffending," wrote Shalini Goel Agarwal with the Florida Office of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a member of the Florida Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform in the records request. "For instance, dozens of other states have adopted bipartisan criminal justice reforms that are reducing prison populations, saving tax dollars and improving public safety,''

The group says the agency, "the Scott administration and legislators have turned a blind eye to Florida’s excessive incarceration policies, and the financial strain resulting from over-incarceration."

The coalition suggests that Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers should have considered using rainy day funds "before announcing these misguided and dangerous budget cuts."

Specifically, it is looking for access to: 

● Electronic copies of all emails dated from March 11, 2018 to present related to the
recently announced budget shortfall and/or cuts to program funding sent to or from
Secretary Julie Jones, Chief Financial Officer Kimberly Banks, Budget and Financial
Management Chief Mark Tallent, and/or Community Programs Chief Shawn Satterfield.
● Copies of any cost analysis or report related to these budget cuts.

Download FLCCJR DOC records request - FINAL 050818

May 07, 2018

Top Democrat calls for "thorough review" of state move to trim Medicaid eligibility

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@elizabethrkoh

A top Democrat is calling on federal officials to conduct a “thorough review” of the state’s request to shorten the window for Medicaid retroactive eligibility, after demanding its application be corrected to reflect some senators’ concerns about what she called an "ill-advised" policy change.

Incoming state Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson wrote a letter Monday to the administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, criticizing the state’s decision to save money by shortening how long non-pregnant adults can retroactively qualify for Medicaid coverage. Gibson also criticized the state Agency for Health Care Administration’s application for saying it was “not aware of any concern or opposition raised by any member of either party” during budget talks.

State lawmakers approved a budget in the final days of the legislative session which authorized shortening the current 90-day period those patients can retroactively have medical bills covered under Medicaid after they apply. The current policy allows eligible patients under Medicaid to have recent medical expenses covered and ensures facilities are paid for services they provide.

The proposed change, which must be approved by the federal government, would shorten that period to up to 30 days within the month that eligible patients apply for Medicaid coverage. The state agency estimated the change would save about $98 million and could impact about 39,000 people.

In its application to the federal government, the agency's Deputy Secretary for Medicaid Beth Kidder wrote that because the change does not alter any qualifying criteria, provider rates or benefits, the change "cannot accurately be described as a 'cut.'"

But opponents say it is just that, questioning the state's estimates and saying the new 30-day policy could harm patients who might miss the application window and be forced to bear high medical costs, as well as leave facilities with unpaid bills and pressure to submit applications more quickly.

Gibson, in her letter, called on the agency to conduct “a thorough review of grossly shortening retroactive eligibility for life-saving medical care.”

The policy, “if approved... will saddle senior citizens, veterans, those with disabilities, and all of their families, with massive medical debt even able-bodied individuals would find impossible to pay,” she wrote.

She also objected to the agency's assertion it was unaware of any objections from legislators during the budget discussion. Some Democratic senators — including Sens. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach, and Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami — questioned how patients with sudden traumatic injuries might be affected in budget talks and on the Senate floor.

The Jacksonville senator first issued a press release Friday afternoon calling on the agency to issue a correction, which prompted Agency Secretary Justin Senior to call her that night and say changes would be made, she said in a statement.

“In justifying its request, the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) falsified the record of events preceding the state legislature’s approval of the change during the debate over the upcoming state budget,” Gibson wrote Monday.

AHCA spokeswoman Mallory McManus said the agency wrote it was not aware of concerns “as no Senators contacted our Agency to ask questions or raise concerns." She said the agency would share Gibson’s comments with federal officials Monday but declined to clarify if it was submitting those comments as a correction.

“At the end of the day this was part of a budget that was passed by both the Florida House of Representatives and Senate, and is legislatively mandated,” McManus said.

If the request is approved, Florida would join four other states — including New Hampshire, Indiana, Arkansas and Iowa — in trimming the period of time patients have retroactive coverage. It would, however, be the first state that did not expand coverage under the Affordable Care Act to do so.

The state has until July 1 to have the change approved, when its budget goes into effect.

Photo: Florida Senate

April 19, 2018

As Florida lawmakers consider special legislative session, statewide teachers' union calls for more school funding

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ALESSANDRA DA PRA | Times


The Florida Education Association aimed to put Florida's political leaders on the spot on Thursday, calling for them to address school funding if they are all required to come back to Tallahassee for a special session on gambling issues.

"The Florida Education Association calls on Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders to address the shortfall in education funding before the start of the next fiscal year," reads a statement from the group, released Thursday. "With political will, the money can be found."

The statement follows a similar request made last week by the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.

The group pointed out that Gov. Rick Scott vetoed $64 million's worth of projects in the 2018-2019 budget, money that will be kicked back to the state's general revenue account.

The FEA also references an agreement reached Wednesday between the state and the Seminole Tribe which guaranteed the tribe will pay $300 million in the next year to continue its exclusive right to offer banked card games like blackjack. However, the Legislature assumed the agreement would hold when it drafted its budget and therefore the $300 million is already spoken for.

In this year's budget, the per-pupil portion of classroom education funding saw an increase of only 47 cents, much lower than in previous years. And law enforcement and districts  have been scrambling since the Legislature required that every school have an armed person on every campus, whether that be a trained school staff member or a law enforcement officer.

Before the budget was passed in March, the state's superintendents and school leaders already asked the Legislature to increase the per-pupil spending. That didn't happen.

A decision over whether a special session will be held is expected by early next week. If lawmakers do come back up to Tallahassee, either the governor or the House Speaker jointly with the Senate President have to specify the specific purpose or purposes of the special session. Unless they declare that education funding is part of that purpose, it's unlikely the FEA's requests would be addressed.

When asked if Gov. Scott would include education funding as part of the "call" for a special session, the governor's office disputed there is a shortfall in education funding.

April 09, 2018

A month after Legislature failed to act on #MeToo, report finds Florida lags on women’s pay

Jacobsbook
Rep. Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek (right) and Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, (center) both were sponsors of bills to combat sexual harassment during the 2018 session. The bills failed. SCOTT KEELER | Times

Florida women get smaller paychecks, participate in the workforce less often and have fewer professional or managerial jobs than the majority of their counterparts in other states, according to a report released Monday by several state and national groups.

Florida ranks near the bottom of the country for these metrics, and the Institute for Women's Policy Research, a national group which contributed to the report, gave Florida overall a "D+" for its overall performance on this issue. A state group called the Florida Women's Funding Alliance commissioned the report.

While the causes of these failures are complex, these findings came exactly a month after the Florida Legislature failed to address a problem that leadership from both chambers had said was a priority to fix: sexual harassment in the workplace.

"Research has shown that when women experience sexual harassment or worse in the workplace, the most common response is not to report it and take action to fix it — the most common response is they will quit or if they have series of experiences they'll leave the occupation entirely," said Julie Anderson, a senior research fellow for the Institute.

"So rather than staying in one place or advancing, the lateral moves and leaving contributes to the wage gap."

After the #MeToo movement hit the Florida Legislature with the disgraced departure of two male lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct, both Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran promised to address the issue.

But there were signs the bill, which would have established a sexual harassment task force and created stricter policies for state agencies and contractors, lacked momentum. Then the House attached its sexual harassment language to a broader ethics package the Senate had never heard in committee. The measure died in the Senate on the final night of the session.

"There is zero tolerance for sex harassment or any type of harassment … and that's already been implemented through our rules," Negron said outside the Senate chamber after it adjourned without taking up the bill. "The bill that came over from the House had deficiencies."

Rep. Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek, was a co-sponsor of the House's version and said after she began working on this issue, women came out of the woodwork and told her their horror stories of harassment, including having to leave their jobs because of it.

"The issue, for a lot of women, they are simply not going to tell," she said. "They are going to endure it or leave the workplace and that hurts our state, our work force and our families."

Monday's report, which analyzed Census data, also found the gender wage gap is much greater for black and Hispanic women, who make about 59 cents for every dollar white men earn.

Despite this bad news, Florida has one of the smallest gender wage gaps in the country — about 88 cents for every dollar a man makes — and is on track to be the first state to close it at the current rate.

How is that possible?

Because in Florida, men's wages are falling faster than women's, according to Census data. This trend is happening in other states and began as early as 1975, and was furthered by the disappearance of manufacturing and construction jobs — jobs held mostly by men.

"That's why we say it's only 'progress' in air quotes," Anderson said. "Because we want everyone's wages to go up."