April 20, 2017

Speaker Corcoran's message to parents wanting school recess: Be patient

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@ByKristenMClark

Speaker Richard Corcoran told reporters Thursday that there’s plenty of time in the final two weeks of the 2017 session for the Florida House to vote on a bill that would require more time for recess in public elementary schools, but he would not commit to holding a floor vote as parents demand.

When asked if the House would take up a parent-supported bill (SB 78), which passed the Senate unanimously two weeks ago, Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, said during a press conference: “What I’d say on that is: We have two weeks left. There’s a lot of activity on the recess bill that’s still happening, and anything is possible.”

The House version of the recess bill — which was significantly watered-down and is no longer supported by parents, health and physical education experts, or the lawmaker sponsoring it — is stalled in a committee that’s not scheduled to meet again. There is no visible action by House members that indicates that status would change.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

April 19, 2017

Florida parents want a House vote on recess. Will they get it?

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@ByKristenMClark

All that Florida parents want is guaranteed daily recess for their elementary school children. Just 20 minutes a day to allow for a brain break and some playtime.

But for the second consecutive year, that relatively simple request seems increasingly in jeopardy — despite overwhelming public and legislative support — thanks to obstruction by a few influential lawmakers in the Florida House.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, won’t have a conversation about school recess, and his top lieutenants offer only deflection when asked what the House will do.

Parents want a vote. In the two weeks since the state Senate unanimously passed its bill to require daily recess in public elementary schools, parents have mobilized, calling for SB 78 to be brought to the House floor.

“The PEOPLE have spoken and they want this bill!” Orlando “recess mom” Amy Narvaez wrote in an email to House leadership earlier this month that was obtained through a public records request.

But despite the public outcry, House leaders have shown no inclination to act.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Omari Accius 6, enjoys recess at Citrus Grove Elementary School on Thursday, February 9, 2017. Florida lawmakers are again considering a statewide mandate for daily recess in public elementary schools. Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald

April 17, 2017

Major education policy will be decided in conference negotiations. Will it be transparent?

Richard Corcoran Jose Oliva@ByKristenMClark

Florida lawmakers thisweek set into motion a budget process that will result in several highly consequential policy reforms affecting public education to become law this year in one form or another.

But if years of precedent are any indication, what exactly those final laws might be will now be determined through deal-making and negotiations that will take place largely in private, behind closed doors and out of the public eye.

The policy ideas — each tied to hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer funding — range from reforming oversight and student financial aid for the state’s public colleges and universities to financially enticing privately run public charter schools to compete with failing K-12 neighborhood schools.

MORE: “House fights over $200 million incentive for charter schools, but bill passes”

Citing the fact that such policies are linked to the annual budget lawmakers are constitutionally required to pass, both chambers of the Legislature made a pivotal choice on Thursday to send these substantive education bills to a conference committee. That panel of House and Senate members will be tasked with hashing out a compromise on both the policy and the funding.

Conference is a common annual process for the budget, but lawmakers in recent years have shied away, in most cases, from using it as a vehicle to pass drastic policy reforms that are otherwise amended, debated and voted on on the House and Senate floors.

By comparison to the day-to-day legislative process, conference committee proceedings typically are not transparent and are more unabashedly a display of a preordained outcome.

Leaders in the Republican-led House and Senate reject that conference committee decisions haven’t been open, but at the same time, they’ve also pledged to make the meetings more transparent and accessible to the public this year.

“We’ll have public comments in the conference committee meetings if people want to talk,” Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, told reporters.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Rep. Richard Corcoran, a Land O’Lakes Republican who is now House speaker, talks with Rep. Jose Oliva, R- Miami Lakes, on the House floor during the 2016 session. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

April 04, 2017

Daily school recess mandate passes Senate. The House remains this year's challenge.

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@ByKristenMClark

Nearly 1.3 million elementary school students in Florida are a major step closer to being guaranteed 20 minutes of recess every school day after the state Senate unanimously endorsed the concept Tuesday.

The easy win for SB 78 — sponsored by Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores — comes one year after chamber leaders wouldn’t even consider the idea.

“This bill is here as a result of moms from across the state having to listen to their children come home — their 7-year-old son come home — and say, ‘Mom, I’m so tired. I hate going to school; I hate going to school because there’s nothing for me to look forward to.’ ” Flores said. “This was a real grassroots effort of moms from across the state, saying: ‘Can you please help? Can you please be the voice in Tallahassee that I can’t be?’ ”

Requiring daily recess in elementary schools is overwhelmingly favored by parents who have lobbied aggressively for the change in Florida law. It’s also supported by a majority of state lawmakers.

But it still faces a potential repeat of 2016 — when the proposal stalled over a single lawmaker’s opposition.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Loana Paine 6, plays on the slide during recess at Citrus Grove Elementary School on Thursday, February 9, 2017. Florida lawmakers are again considering a statewide mandate for daily recess in public elementary schools. Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald

Corcoran: 'It's not one person' determining House's school recess bill

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@ByKristenMClark

Florida senators are poised to pass a bill this afternoon that would give 1.3 million elementary school students a guarantee of 20 minutes of recess every day, something parents have clamored for for more than a year.

The Senate's bill (SB 78) is the preferred version for passionate "recess moms," who have lobbied for a statewide daily requirement in public schools. The House version -- previously identical -- was significantly watered down last week by a subcommittee, so now "recess moms" want House Speaker Richard Corcoran to move forward with the Senate's measure after today's vote.

Corcoran won't commit to doing that -- and he rejects that one person in the Florida House might be dictating the direction of that chamber's proposal.

“It's working its way through the process, and we’ll see what happens,” Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, told the Herald/Times Tuesday morning.

When asked specifically if he'd take up the Senate bill, he said: “I’ve said it from Day 1 until Day 60, these institutions shouldn’t be top-down; these institutions should be an egalitarian place where everyone has an equal voice — and we’ll keep doing that.”

MORE: "Did Miami lawmaker intervene to dilute school recess bill? He won’t say."

On whether one lawmaker was determining the fate of the House's bill, though, Corcoran added: “It’s got to be voted on out of committee; anyone can offer amendments, so it’s not one person.”

Miami Republican Rep. Michael Bileca, Corcoran's education policy chairman, is the only lawmaker who publicly opposes mandating daily recess in Florida's elementary schools. 

Bileca wouldn't say last week whether he intervened to water down the House's bill in a way that eliminates that daily requirement. (House sponsor Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, said the changes were necessary to ensure his bill would move through House committees. Assuming the recess bill clears its next committee, too, it would then have to go before Bileca's committee before it could reach the House floor.)

Corcoran last year joined Bileca in opposing the school recess legislation; they were the only two in the 120-member House to vote "no." But Corcoran supported this year’s original bill, he reiterated Tuesday, because a provision was removed that would’ve barred teachers from withholding recess as a punishment. (Bileca had opposed that provision, too, along with the legislative mandate.)

UPDATE: The Senate passed its recess bill unanimously. Full story here.

Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau 

April 03, 2017

“ ‘Schools of hope’ will hopefully be a beautiful thing,” Florida House Speaker says (video)

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@ByKristenMClark

Legislation unveiled last week to encourage nonprofit charter-school operators to bring "schools of hope" to communities in Florida that have perpetually failing schools has been a labor of love for House Republicans this session.

The policy (HB 5105) was spearhead by Miami Republican Rep. Michael Bileca, the House education policy chairman -- with Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., the House Pre-K-12 education budget chairman, ensuring the bill's $200 million price-tag was included in the House budget proposal.

MORE: Are ‘schools of hope’ the solution to Florida’s perpetually failing public schools?

The bill will be a major factor in budget negotiations this month, and it's a top priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, who said he hopes the "schools of hope" will be "a beautiful thing."

"When you can get those people to come and educate those students, so they no longer have that generational poverty and they have dignity and they have a future -- that’s a priority," Corcoran told reporters.

Watch more of what Corcoran had to say below:

Video credit: Florida Channel

March 27, 2017

PolitiFact: A look at Richard Corcoran's claims about Enterprise Florida and Lockheed Martin

CorcoranTBT

via @allisonbgraves

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran told a story about Lockheed Martin as an example of how easy it is to walk back ambitious job goals prescribed in state incentive contracts.

Speaking recently at the Panhandle Tiger Bay Club, Corcoran said, "I say, I promise you 305 jobs, and then I come back to you and say, ‘Hey, I'm not close on the jobs. Can you help me out?' You know what they do? ‘No problem, we'll amend your contract. How many jobs can you deliver?' Six. ‘Fine. Now, the contract says you will deliver six jobs.' And then we go out and tout it community to community as a success."

Corcoran continued: "That's a true story, Lockheed Martin." 

Corcoran's tale has some truth but oversimplifies what happened. PolitiFact Florida has the Truth-O-Meter rating

March 07, 2017

Fact-checking Gov. Rick Scott's speech to Legislature

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@amysherman1

Gov. Rick Scott vigorously defended the state’s agencies for business incentives and tourism marketing in his State of the State address, delivered just steps away from the fellow Republican attacking the governor’s priorities.

Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran did not call each other out by name in separate opening-day speeches, but each man used pointed language to double down on his view of the fiery Enterprise Florida/Visit Florida debate.

"It’s easy to throw out catch phrases like ‘picking winners and losers’ and ‘corporate welfare," Scott said in reference to Corcoran’s attacks on Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. "But that’s not what we are doing."

Corcoran warned that the House would not back down: "And for anyone waiting for us to slow down, to drop the big ideas, to stop trying to shake up the system, to cower in the face of attacks, or to cave to the demands of special interests; here’s our message to you: We will not."

From PolitiFact Florida, here’s a rundown of the governor’s remarks with context and a fact-check of a Democratic response.

Victory No. 2 for Richard Corcoran: Court orders Lottery to start over on ticket contract

In a stunning rebuke to Gov. Rick Scott and his Lottery secretary, a circuit court judge invalidated a contract the state signed with a ticket vendor IGT Global Solutions, saying the agency overstepped its budgetary authority when it committed to the 14-year deal and obligated the state to nearly $13 million more than the Legislature had authorized.

The 15-page ruling by Leon County Circuit Court Judge Karen Gievers said that Lottery Secretary Tom Delacenserie “lacked the legal authority to enter into the IGT contract” when it obligated the state to nearly $13 million more than the Legislature authorized.

She agreed with House lawyers that state law prohibits an agency from both soliciting and signing a contract that exceeds the amount of money authorized by the Legislature and declared the contract “void and unenforceable,” sending the agency back to the drawing board to sign a lease for the full-service vending machines that provide customers with Powerball and other game tickets.

“Today's decision is a victory for the taxpayer and the rule of law,'' said Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, in a joint statement with Rules Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami, and Judiciary Chairman Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor.

"It reinforces the idea that respecting the separation of powers is not an arcane idea or an out of date philosophy. In truth it is one of the bedrock principles of our republican government and is essential to protecting the liberties and livelihoods of Floridians.  No branch of government is above the law and the people's House will use every power within our means – from the committee room to the courtroom – to ensure those liberties and livelihoods are protected.”

Gov. Rick Scott, whose office oversees the Lottery, issued a statement immediately saying he would challenge the ruling.

"The Florida Lottery continues to make record contributions to our public schools and today's ruling jeopardizes billions of dollars for Florida students,’’ he said in a statement. “I strongly disagree with today's decision and we will appeal."

It is the second victory for Corcoran, who sued the agency after his budget staff discovered it had inked the agreement in what appeared to be an attempt to get around the Legislature’s refusal to authorize the state to leasing more full-service vending machines.

In December, Corcoran also sued over a contract signed by Visit Florida, another one of the governor’s agencies, for refusing to disclose its $1 million contract with rapper Pitbull but he withdrew the lawsuit when the agency agreed to make the deal public.

During a hearing before Gievers on Monday, Barry Richard, the lawyer for the Florida Lottery defended the contract during a court hearing Monday, arguing that state law requires the agency to “maximize revenues” by operating as an “entrepreneurial enterprise” and said the House’s objection was an illegal attempt to “micromanage an individual contract.”

But House lawyer Adam Tanenbaum countered the agency acted first and planned to get permission from lawmakers later. 

On Tuesday, during his speech on the opening day of the legislative session, Corcoran was confident that the House would prevail.

"That trial was (Monday), and I can assure you, we will win," he predicted hours before the ruling came down.

The contract, which was signed in September 2016 to run until 2028, changed the way the state pays for leasing ticket sales machines by giving the company a fixed percentage of sales from each machine, rather than pay them with a flat $500 per machine fee.

Summer Silvestri, Lottery’s procurement director, testified that by agreeing to extend the contract to 2031, the agency was able to negotiate a lower percentage fee, saving the state an estimated $18 million over the life of the contract.

But under the new deal, IGT would have gotten a slice of the sales of tickets, machines and other services. Based on projected sales, that would increase the amount the Lottery must pay IGT by an estimated $12.9 million in the budget year that begins July 1, according to the House.

For Corcoran, the fight is more than a dispute over a contract. It goes to the heart of the budgetary power that Corcoran claims has been abused and corrupted in Florida, in part because state agencies and lawmakers have let special interests reign.

During the hearing, Gievers, a former lobbyist and child advocacy lawyer, seemed aware that her ruling on high-stakes issue would likely end up in appeals court. She repeatedly urged the lawyers to complete the record in the event the hearing would be reviwed on appeal.

Here's Giever's ruling.  Download Gievers order

Here's our story on the court hearing on Monday. 

All eyes on Corcoran as Florida session begins

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via @stevebousquet

LAND O'LAKES -- Richard Corcoran puffed on his cigar, picked up a shotgun and blasted a clay pigeon out of the sky, and then another.

As the orange discs broke apart, the speaker of the Florida House reached for another favorite weapon — his iPhone. In the woods of Pasco County, he spoke in hushed tones about his ongoing battle with Gov. Rick Scott over Enterprise Florida’s use of taxpayer money.

Riding a golf cart with two of his six kids on a Friday afternoon, he was helping local Republicans raise money while sharpening his aim.

Corcoran is the most unpredictable force in Florida politics in decades. He’s a fearless political marksman who uses laws, rules, tweets, videos, lawsuits and sheer nerve to lay waste to what he calls “a culture of corruption” in Tallahassee.

Senators, judges, lobbyists, college presidents, teachers and business owners are all among his targets — with none bigger than Scott.

Some can’t stand him, but they can’t ignore him. None should be surprised about his agenda.

Six years ago, Corcoran and his allies wrote it down in a plan called Blueprint Florida.

Years before Donald Trump crashed the scene with his anti-establishment rhetoric, Blueprint Florida promised to overhaul a system fixated on personal advancement.

That manifesto lives on with Corcoran, who is outraged by the system that shaped him and now wants to tear it down as he considers a populist campaign for governor.

The irony is not lost on his opponents. Ridiculed as a “career politician” by the governor of his own party, he forges ahead.

Corcoran finds his prey in his war room — the speaker’s office at the Capitol in Tallahassee. On a recent afternoon, he marked up a Senate proposal for flaws, shouting and underlining. He sipped a Diet Coke, popping an Andes mint in his mouth and tossed an F-bomb at an enemy.

“I’m the most disruptive person,” Corcoran said.

At least on this point, both his friends and enemies agree.

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times