Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School sign, wrapped in crime scene tape, reads "#MSDSTRONG" on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, in Parkland, Fla. A mass shooting that killed 17 people took place at the school last week. ALESSANDRA DA PRA | Times
A proposal to require teachers' unions to have at least 50 percent of all eligible union members pay dues or risk being decertified has seen plenty of twists and turns in the Florida Legislature this session. But it took on new meaning after the Parkland shooting, during which three teachers were killed protecting their students.
On Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to add this union rule to the Legislature's comprehensive education package, House Bill 7055.
"My friends just got slaughtered for saving kids' lives," said Anna Fusco, president of the Broward Teachers Union, after the vote. "And then they want to sit up there and act like it's not ... about busting our union."
The union rule was voted out of the bill in its previous committee stop in the Senate, while Parkland students were visiting the Legislature less than a week after the shooting. Sen. Perry Thurston, Jr., D-Lauderhill, gave an emotional speech about the teachers who had "jumped in front of the gunman," and he forced committee members to voice their votes individually.
But after Tuesday's vote it is back in the bill, which is likely headed for the Senate floor within days. It has already passed the House.
The Senate committee vote was primarily along party lines, with one Republican, Sen. Anitere Flores from Miami, voting with the Democrats against the education package. She said her opposition was because of the union portion.
Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said this bill ensures unions are represented only by people that the majority of the group agrees with. It requires that teachers' unions have at least 50 percent of all eligible union members pay dues or they must appeal to keep their certification.
"It's about legitimacy," he said.
Supporters of Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy group funded by the Koch brothers network, also motioned their support. The group has sent out mailers praising HB 7055 and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, by name.
Although the bill only applies to teachers' unions, bargaining units for crane workers and other trades came to the meeting to oppose it.
Fusco said her union is well above the required threshold. But it's about principle.
"People can't afford it and they still reap the benefits," she said of non-dues-paying teachers. She added that the members of the Florida Legislature aren't required to get 50 percent of all eligible voters to choose them — just 50 percent of everyone who votes.
"They want to put us at a higher level than when they get voted in. It's disheartening."