April 29, 2017

Corcoran: Gov. Rick Scott is 'the problem with recess,' not Legislature

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@ByKristenMClark

House Speaker Richard Corcoran offered a curious statement shortly after midnight Saturday: It’s not lawmakers who have a “problem with recess” — it’s Gov. Rick Scott.

Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, made the remark in a tweet with no additional explanation. The Herald/Times has requested clarification from Corcoran’s office and also sought comment from Scott’s spokeswoman. (This story will be updated when they respond.)

“Recess moms” were immediately perplexed by Corcoran’s mystery tweet, which was in direct response to a question from an advocate for daily school recess.

More here.

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

House, Senate agree to small increase in K-12 public school spending

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From Brandon Larrabee at the News Service of Florida:

The House and Senate agreed to a relatively modest increase in per-student funding for public schools Friday, as negotiations continued over state spending for the budget year that begins July 1.

Under an agreement reached by leaders, per-student spending through the state's main formula for schools would increase 0.34 percent, or $24.49 a head. Discussions on other education projects were expected to continue.

Lawmakers' ability to significantly increase per-student funding was hampered by two decisions that carried out other House priorities: to not allow local education property taxes to rise with real estate values, and to plow more than $400 million into teacher bonuses and the House's "schools of hope" proposal.

Neither of those two items is included in the main formula, known as the Florida Education Finance Program, or FEFP. But lawmakers involved in the education budget talks said not accounting for the additional spending doesn't give a full picture of what the Legislature is doing for education.

"It's been our theme from the very beginning that we're going to laser-target those students in the high-need areas," said Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., a Hialeah Republican who chairs the House's education budget subcommittee.

Continue reading "House, Senate agree to small increase in K-12 public school spending" »

April 28, 2017

Black lawmakers, Democrats irate after senator says slavery memorial would 'celebrate defeat'

Stand Your Ground (3)@ByKristenMClark

House Democrats and members of the legislative black caucus are offended and irate after a conservative Senate committee chairman said Friday the reason he didn’t hear a bill to create the first slavery memorial in Florida was because he didn’t want to “celebrate defeat.”

“I would rather celebrate overcoming the heartbreak of slavery. I wouldn’t want to build a memorial to child abuse; I wouldn’t want to build a memorial to sexual abuse,” Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley told the Herald/Times for a story that was published online midday Friday. “I have a discomfort about memorializing slavery. ... I would like to take it in a more positive direction than a memorial to slavery.”

His comments came as the House voted unanimously that day — with roaring applause — to build the Florida Slavery Memorial near the Capitol in Tallahassee. Despite the House support, the proposal stalled in the Senate because Baxley had what another senator described as a “philosophical objection” to the concept.

Baxley — the chairman of the Senate Government Oversight & Accountability Committee who is known for his conservative positions and supporting symbols of the Confederacy — never scheduled a hearing because he said a memorial recognizing slavery would be too negative.

“It was very perplexing to say the least but can easily be taken as an insult,” Rep. Kionne McGhee, a black Democrat from Miami and the sponsor of the slavery memorial bill (HB 27), said of Baxley’s explanation. “His verbiage — if I were to read it as is — without an immediate clarification, it is borderline racism.”

Full story here.

Photo credit: Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala. AP

Welcome to Camp Tallahassee's Superlatives 2017: Who's going to be most likely...?

SuperlativeAs the Florida House was engaged in deep discussion Friday over things like whether to give more power to law enforcement to crack down illegal immigration, two freshmen House members were circulating a little survey in search of a colleagues "most likely to fall asleep," or the "best dressed" or the "life of the party."

Patterned after the popular summer camp and high school practice, Rep. Alex Miller, R-Sarasota, and Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, circulated the "2017 member superlatives" aimed at deciding which of the 120 members of the House should be given important designations.

"The Women’s Caucus is pleased to request your anonymous responses to the 2017 member superlatives,'' they wrote. "Please drop off at Rep Alex Miller or Rep Jackie Toledo’s office on the 14th floor (or in person). All 120 members of the House are included. Please submit responses by 5 pm on Monday May 1st."

Here's what they're looking for: 

Best debater; Best closer; Best policy wonk;Most likely to fall asleep; Most likely to put members to sleep; Most likely to promise free lunch & extra recess; Most likely to be on a reality TV show; Most likely to be late for committee;Teacher’s pet; Most Helpful; Best Office; Best dressed – male; Best dressed – female; Mr. Congeniality;  Ms. Congeniality; Funniest member; Life of the party;  Most likely to not know names; Most likely to moonlight as an Uber driver; Favorite new male freshman; and, of course, Favorite new female freshman.  Download 2017 Superlatives

Meanwhile, it was a busy day in the Florida Capitol. House and Senate budget conference committees met briefly to negotiated details to the $83 billion budget, but spent no time publicly discussing or debating the details. The Florida House passed a bill to create a slavery memorial at the state Capitol complex (HB 27) and the House agreed to seal criminal records from the public eye but didn't discuss it (HB 118.) 

'Schools of hope' compromise hatched -- in secret

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@ByKristenMClark

Lawmakers secretly struck a tentative compromise Thursday on one of the most consequential education reforms of the 2017 session — a $200 million program to help students who attend perpetually failing K-12 public schools in Florida.

Specifics of the proposed deal were not released, as some of it was still being finalized, House and Senate pre-K-12 education budget chairmen said late Thursday. But the general description of the agreement was enough to earn initial support from some House Democrats, who had — until very recently — staunchly opposed the concept.

“We’re happy they listened to us and a lot of the ideas we had in committee,” said Broward County Rep. Shevrin Jones, the top Democrat on the House Education Committee, who helped negotiate the compromise on the Democrats’ behalf. “We’re happy with the direction they’re going in.”

That direction, Jones said, involves the House seeking middle ground with what school superintendents have asked for and with the Senate’s more blended proposal: Provide more financial aid and other resources to failing traditional public schools first, before implementing more drastic options, such as inviting competition from new charter schools.

More here.

Photo credit: Altamonte Springs Republican Sen. David Simmons and Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. -- the Senate and House pre-K-12 education budget chairmen -- talk with reporters after a budget conference committee meeting on April 27, 2017. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau.

House considers letting elected officials have secret meetings

@ByKristenMClark

The Florida Constitution and the state’s famed Sunshine Law give residents the right to know about and observe meetings held by the elected officials who represent them and make decisions on their behalf.

But a bill going to the state House floor on Friday would effectively thwart significant aspects of that constitutional guarantee and potentially render it meaningless by allowing local elected officials — from city and county commissioners to school board members — to meet behind closed doors and discuss public matters in secret.

The proposed law (HB 843) from Naples Republican Rep. Byron Donalds would exempt from open meetings requirements any gatherings between two members of a local, county or state agency board or commission. Those officials wouldn’t have to give any notice about their meeting and they wouldn’t have to keep any records of what they discuss. (The exemption would apply to boards or commissions with at least five members.)

Donalds argues that the Sunshine Law needs to be more practical in letting local elected officials conduct public business.

RELATED: “House votes to make secret the applicants for top college, university posts”

“If we’re going to be honest with ourselves and have a balance between proper governance and transparency, it is incumbent on local officials to be able to talk with each other so they come up with the best solutions possible,” said Donalds, whose wife, Erika, is an elected school board member in Collier County.

“This is where we have to be adults about this,” Donalds added. “Not every conversation is ready for public consumption.”

More here.

April 27, 2017

College, university emergency response plans will be out of Sunshine

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@ByKristenMClark

The substance of plans Florida’s public college and universities have for responding to campus emergencies or threats will soon be kept secret, under a proposed law that is on its way to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.

The measure creates an exemption in Florida’s public records law that shields from disclosure such materials as photographs, presentations, sheltering arrangements, training manuals and equipment and supplies related to emergency response strategies.

Senators approved HB 1079 by a 36-0 vote on Thursday without any debate, a week after the House also passed it unanimously.

More here.

Photo credit: Miami Herald file photo

April 26, 2017

House says applicants for college, university presidencies should be a secret

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@ByKristenMClark

Floridians would have no way to know everyone who applies to be the next president or other top administrator of a public college or university, under a proposed exemption in the state’s public records law that passed the House on Wednesday.

Lawmakers voted 103-11 to approve the carve-out, which was sought after a former Republican lawmaker unsuccessfully applied to be Florida Gulf Coast University’s next president this year.

It’s unlikely the bill (HB 351) will become law this spring, because the Senate version was never taken up in committee for senators to consider. Nevertheless, the measure has raised concerns.

The exemption would greatly diminish the transparency of how colleges and universities fill influential positions — which lawmakers themselves frequently apply for after, or even before, they leave the Legislature.

More here.

Photo credit: Rep. Bob Rommel, R-Naples. Florida Channel

April 24, 2017

'The House is prepared to walk away,' K-12 education budget chairman says

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@ByKristenMClark

If House Republicans follow through this week on plans to vote on a budget for 2017-18 that simply mirrors this year's, they will have to scrap a slew of top education priorities they had sought this year and worked for months to craft -- including their $200 million "schools of hope" plan to provide incentives for specialized, high-performing charter schools to set up in predominantly low-income areas.

"Our responsibility, constitutionally, is to pass a budget, so if it means that's what we have to do and walk away, then that's what we have to do," House pre-K-12 education budget chairman Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, told the Herald/Times mid-afternoon on Monday. "We come back next session -- which, September starts committee [weeks] -- and we go back at it again."

The House's backroom offer over the weekend of what its calling a "continuation budget" was rebuffed by Senate leaders, leaving the two chambers deadlocked. The House isn't backing down, though.

MORE: "Stalemate in the Florida Capitol as budget talks collapse"

Diaz said the plan is: "We're going to take last year's budget and put it on the floor and pass it, which means it's a take-it-or-leave-it offer -- which means there's no conference [negotiations]. That means they [the Senate] would have to turn down that bill for us to not have a budget and send us in to special session. That's where we are right now."

The status of budget negotiations could change by the hour, but for now, "the House is prepared to walk away with a continuation budget. We're fine with it," Diaz said. "It's a budget that will obviously not include all of these new twists and wrinkles and doesn't address those things that we think are a very high need and emergency needs, as we've said, but at the end of the day, we have to pass a budget."

"If that's where we have to go, that's where we have to go. We can't go climbing to the $85 billion that the Senate wants," Diaz added.

Diaz said he and his counterpart in the Senate -- Senate pre-K-12 education budget chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs -- are still talking privately to find middle ground on key budget issues affecting public schools. But he said their conversations are limited because they don't have budget allocations, a figure of how much money they would have to work with.

"It doesn't matter what we talk about because we don't have allocations," Diaz said. "We're talking about concepts and things that are important and how to help these kids in these low-income schools, et cetera, et cetera -- but it's all conceptual."

Photo credit: Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, addresses a luncheon audience at the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, Fla. on Jan. 26, 2017 with Miami Republican Rep. Michael Bileca, left. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

House's testing bill set to expand, setting up negotiations with Senate

SP_409499_KEEL_2_FLGOV@ByKristenMClark

Lawmakers in the Florida House plan to take a priority proposal aimed at reforming the standardized testing schedule in K-12 public schools and transform it into a broader education policy bill — a move intended to set up negotiations with the Senate with less than two weeks left in the 2017 session.

Members of the House Education Committee will vote Monday afternoon to expand HB 773 through a 76-page amendment — filed late Sunday by bill sponsor Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah. The amendment would replace the bill so it incorporates language not only from Diaz’s original measure but also from at least five other education bills lawmakers have considered to varying degrees.

Such a strategic move is typical at this point in session but often draws criticism over a lack of transparency. Individual policy bills that stalled in committee can find new life through omnibus bills lawmakers create by attaching those smaller proposals on to a single, expanded bill that’s still on track to reach the floor.

Senators last week similarly expanded their testing proposal (SB 926), although the tangential education policies being added to each chamber’s testing bill don’t yet align.

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times