June 07, 2017

Who will miss the Legislature's special session? Several lawmakers.

Florida Legislature (24)

@ByKristenMClark

For reasons such as family travel plans, cancer treatment or events surrounding the one-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, several lawmakers won’t be at the state Capitol this week when the Legislature reconvenes to resolve budget disputes.

At least one senator and 10 House members — most of whom are Republicans — had received excused absences, as of Tuesday afternoon, from the House speaker and Senate president to miss either all or some of the three-day special session that begins Wednesday.

Sen. Dorothy Hukill, a Republican from Central Florida, is the lone senator. After being diagnosed with cancer last year, she has been recovering from medical treatments for several months. (She also missed the entire regular session this spring and the Legislature’s organizational session after the general election in November.)

“My recovery from cancer treatment and surgery has progressed very well. Unfortunately, my physicians are recommending that I not travel in an abundance of caution following my recent follow-up treatments,” Hukill wrote in a letter to Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, seven Republicans and three Democrats in the House will also be absent for a variety of reasons, according to a list provided by the office of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.

Full details here.

Photo credit: AP

June 06, 2017

Mallea, Perez and Mayaudon will battle for Jose Felix Diaz's House seat

Jose Felix Diaz goodbye

@ByKristenMClark

Two Republicans and one Democrat qualified by a Tuesday deadline to run in a special election this year that will determine who will replace Miami Republican Jose Felix Diaz in the Florida House.

The primary contest between Republicans Jose Mallea and Daniel Anthony Perez will be held July 25. The winner of that race will face off against Democratic newcomer Gabriela Mayaudon in the special general election on Sept. 26.

Those are the same dates when a special election for the District 40 Senate seat will also be held. Sen. Frank Artilesresignation in April from that seat — after an offensive and racist tirade against two senators — created a game of dominoes in Miami politics. Diaz resigned his District 116 House seat last month to run for Artiles’ seat, which sparked the need for the additional special election.

More here on the candidates who qualified in the House District 116 race.

Photo credit: AP

June 05, 2017

Senate budget bills, Stand Your Ground change among 24 proposals sent to Gov. Scott today

SP_410740_KEEL_17_FLGOV

@ByKristenMClark

Several high-profile bills lawmakers passed during the 2017 session were officially sent to Gov. Rick Scott's desk this afternoon -- including a controversial shift in the state's Stand Your Ground law, an expansive public records exemption that would permanently seal millions of criminal and arrest records, and a higher education reform bill that's a top priority of Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

Scott now has 15 days to decide whether they should become law. He can either sign them, veto them or let them become law by default.

Negron's higher ed bill (SB 374) was one of several budget-related measures from the Senate that were sent to Scott on Monday, marking another key step in the process of adopting spending for the 2017-18 fiscal year that begins July 1. (Scott approved the main budget act on Friday, with several substantial vetoes that included base state funding for K-12 schools -- a chunk of spending lawmakers will do-over in a three-day special session later this week.)

The Senate's "conforming" bills are complementary to the main budget and deal with specific issues, such as colleges and universities, the state pension system, health care and the clerks of court. The House has its own conforming bills, among which is HB 7069, a highly contentious K-12 public schools bill; none of those have been sent to Scott yet.

The change to Florida's Stand Your Ground law (SB 128) -- which shifts the burden of proof in pretrial hearings to prosecutors -- passed the Legislature on the final day of the regularly scheduled session as part of a deal to also pass a bill dealing with religious expression in public K-12 schools (SB 436). That legislation was also sent to Scott Monday.

Meanwhile, SB 118 could virtually eliminate Floridians’ access to many individuals’ criminal histories in the name of addressing stigma against those accused, but not convicted, of crimes. It has drawn opposition from open government advocates and is one of several bills the First Amendment Foundation has asked Scott to veto.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

May 18, 2017

In Liberty City, Richard Corcoran lauds rogue Democrat for supporting 'Schools of Hope'

Liberty_Square_Groundbreaking_MJO_15

@ByKristenMClark

Miami Democratic Rep. Roy Hardemon had an unlikely and influential ally showering him with praise in his legislative district Wednesday: House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“[Hardemon] doesn’t care who’s got power. He doesn’t care what the status quo is. He doesn’t care whether he gets elected,” Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, said in brief remarks on stage for the groundbreaking of the Liberty Square redevelopment project, with Hardemon at his side.

Hardemon, a freshman lawmaker, secured himself in Corcoran’s good graces last week, when he broke from the House Democratic caucus to support a controversial $419 million K-12 public schools bill that Corcoran and House Republicans unveiled and successfully pushed through in the final days of session.

Hardemon was the only Democrat in either the House or Senate to vote in favor of HB 7069.

“He doesn’t fear. What he cares about is his community,” Corcoran said, before touting a key provision of HB 7069 that’s meant to help neighborhoods like Liberty City.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, left, R-Land O’Lakes, sits with Rep. Roy Hardemon, D-Miami, while they attend the groundbreaking ceremony to for the Liberty Square Rising project in Liberty City on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. Matias J. Ocner / For the Miami Herald

May 12, 2017

Issues involving race played dominant role in Florida's 2017 session

SP_410740_KEEL_4_FLGOV

@ByKristenMClark and @MichaelAuslen

It was an emotional peak in the long legislative session: Lawmakers — black, white, Hispanic — stood in somber solidarity in a Capitol rotunda to formally say the state of Florida was sorry for what it did seven decades ago to four black men who were victims in one of the most racist episodes in state history.

What few knew at that moment of unity on the morning of April 18 was that just 13 hours before, a state senator had cursed at a black female lawmaker using a sexist remark and a racial slur directed at other legislators.

As news of the confrontation spread hours after the state’s apology to the families of the Groveland Four, scandal engulfed the Capitol. Four days later, that senator — Miami Republican Frank Artiles — resigned.

The coincidental contrast between the long-awaited apology and Artiles’ offensive tirade at a private Tallahassee club marked a climax in a nine-week legislative session when race played a dominant role. Policy proposals and unrelated events intersected at the Capitol in ways that emphasized racial divides that still exist in 2017.

Full story here

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

May 09, 2017

Why 2 House members missed the vote on HB 7069

Edwards@ByKristenMClark

Sometimes a poorly timed lunch break or trip to the bathroom can have consequences.

Broward County Democratic Rep. Katie Edwards said Tuesday she was taking heat from her constituents about why she wasn’t in the room when the House voted Monday on a $419 million education policy bill — one of the most consequential and controversial pieces of legislation lawmakers passed in the 2017 session.

Edwards, of Plantation, opposes HB 7069, but she was one of 11 House members who didn’t officially vote on it. (Eight of those 11 were excused to miss the last day of session.)

Edwards said her absence during the roll-call vote was simply a matter of poor timing. “Unfortunately I stepped away from my desk to use the ladies room,” Edwards explained in an email to the Herald/Times.

Tampa Bay-area Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-Treasure Island, also missed the vote for a simple reason. She said by email that she was “eating in the back and [the vote] came up quicker than I thought.”

Read more here.

Photo credit: Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times.

May 08, 2017

Senate narrowly approves $419M schools bill, while saying it needs immediate fix

@ByKristenMClark

Lawmakers struggled to pass a controversial $419 million, 278-page K-12 public schools bill on Monday, the final day of the annual session — as senators acknowledged parts of the rushed legislation were flawed and would need to be fixed when the Legislature reconvenes in 2018.

However, the prospect of a possible veto by Republican Gov. Rick Scott was floated even before the Monday night vote, which would stop the legislation from becoming law.

The Senate endorsed HB 7069 by the narrowest possible margin after two hours of lackluster and largely negative debate, voting 20-18 to pass it.

Three Republicans joined the 15-member Democratic caucus in opposition: René García of Hialeah, Denise Grimsley of Sebring and David Simmons of Altamonte Springs — who, as the pre-K-12 education budget chairman, handled the bill on the floor and struggled to defend it.

MORE: “Parents, school leaders urge ‘no’ vote on mammoth education bill”

Earlier in the day, the Republican-led House made quick work to pass the bill within an hour, by a 73-36 vote with all but one Democrat — Miami Rep. Roy Hardemon — opposed.

HB 7069 was a top priority of land O'Lakes Republican and House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s. Miami Republican Michael Bileca and Hialeah Republican Manny Diaz Jr. — the House education policy and pre-K-12 budget chairmen, respectively — were heavily involved in crafting it.

But in a manner that drew heavy criticism, the large and wide-ranging bill was negotiated and finalized in private and made public for the first time Friday evening — less than 66 hours before the House voted and 71 hours before the Senate voted. (Simmons said he saw a first draft of HB 7069 only at 7 p.m. Thursday.)

“This isn’t a finished bill, it’s got problems — big problems,” Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said. “It’s a litany of bad ideas … that do not take the needs of the student into account.”

More here.

Lawmakers will decide major K-12 policy, spending today -- and rest of 2017-18 budget

02BALLET BUS_CPJ (1)

@ByKristenMClark

A swift outcry of condemnation came over the weekend from many parents, teachers and school administrators who want the Florida Legislature to reject a $419 million, 278-page K-12 public schools bill — which was decided behind closed doors, which lawmakers cannot change and which they’ll have had only about 72 hours to review when they vote Monday.

House and Senate members will decide the fate of HB 7069 as part of several up-or-down votes on a 2017-18 budget package. The Legislature extended its annual session until 11:59 p.m. Monday with the intent of passing an $82.4 billion spending plan, its single constitutional obligation.

MORE: “All eyes on the Florida budget as lawmakers return to state Capitol for one final act”

Public education advocates, like the Florida PTA and other groups, and superintendents — including Miami-Dade County Public Schools chief Alberto Carvalho — aim to convince their elected representatives to vote “no.” Such an outcome is unlikely but not unprecedented, and it would potentially call the entire budget into question because of the major dollars attached.

“I’ve spoken to so many senators — both parties — who are opposed to so many portions of that bill,” Broward County Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, said. “The question is: Will they have the fortitude to vote no?”

More here.

Photo credit: Carl Juste / Miami Herald

May 06, 2017

In final session votes, lawmakers trade 'Stand Your Ground' for religious liberties in schools

Stand Your GroundBy Jim Turner
News Service of Florida

A change to the state’s “stand your ground” self-defense law is heading to Gov. Rick Scott after the Senate agreed late Friday to go along with a House proposal.

The House and Senate both wanted to change the law but had clashed on a legal issue in the bill (SB 128).

But with time running out in the legislative session Friday, the Senate voted 22-14 — with Tallahassee Democrat Bill Montford joining Republicans in support — to accept the House proposal.

The move came in exchange for getting the House to accept the Senate’s more far-reaching language on a separate measure (SB 436) dealing with religious expression in public schools.

“I thought that it was a reasonable resolution to both matters, and they’re both constitutional issues,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who sponsored the “stand your ground” bill. “And we wrapped it all up in a bow, and we resolved them both in a satisfactory manner.”

More here.

Photo credit: AP

May 05, 2017

Mammoth education budget bill will decide testing, recess, teacher bonus policies and more

Florida Legislature (7)

@ByKristenMClark

At the insistence of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, numerous major changes to education policy for Florida’s K-12 public schools — from teacher bonuses and daily recess, to testing reforms and expansions for charter schools — were crammed into a single mammoth bill on Friday, with $414 million in spending attached.

All of the policies in the the 278-page bill (HB 7069) will pass or fail as one on Monday, when lawmakers vote on the annual budget.

No changes can be made to the bill. House and Senate members have less than two days to make sense of it before they must cast an up-or-down vote.

If lawmakers’ pass it, the bill ties the hand of Republican Gov. Rick Scott. Should he want to veto the bill, he would be politically responsible for shooting down every policy in it — particularly the parent-demanded daily recess measure.

Corcoran told reporters it wasn’t political strategy to link all of the policies together, but he showed his cards a week ago when he tweeted after midnight Saturday that “the problem with recess is the governor not the Legislature.” (He pointed out Friday that that tweet ended up being true and was simply “just a week early.”)

But the sheer size and scope of the new version of HB 7069 caught many lawmakers by surprise — even those closely involved in negotiating the compromise between both parties and both chambers.

Several senators, in particular, were troubled by the process and said the bill wouldn’t automatically have their support.

Full details here.

Photo credit: Senate President Joe Negron, center right, watches as Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran, left, and House members work out budget differences during a budget conference late afternoon Friday, May 5, 2017 at the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. Mark Wallheiser/AP