March 28, 2017

'Racist, bigoted' bills in Florida Legislature condemned by immigrant advocates

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@ByKristenMClark

Dozens of immigrant advocates, including many from South Florida, descended on the Florida Capitol on Tuesday to send a message to the Republican-led Legislature: Back off.

“We are tired of having the same conversation with our legislators, as if we — as immigrants — do not contribute to the state of Florida,” said Francesca Menes, policy and advocacy director for the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “We contribute economically to the state of Florida. Our families are here, and we are here to stay.”

Representatives from the coalition and several other immigrant advocacy groups came together at a press conference, where they were joined by dozens of supporters, including Democratic lawmakers.

“[We are] standing here, demanding that we stop all of this, because our families are sick and tired of being threatened of being separated,” Menes said.

More here.

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

Florida House's school recess bill no longer requires daily recess

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@ByKristenMClark

Florida parents seeking more recess time for their children suffered a setback Tuesday, when state lawmakers significantly watered down a proposal that was supposed to require 20 minutes of daily recess for all public elementary students.

Members of a House subcommittee were willing to give students more recess time during the school week — but not nearly to the extent that parents have fought for for more than a year and that many lawmakers previously supported.

The original bill — which remains intact in the Senate — called for “at least 100 minutes of supervised, safe, and unstructured free-play recess each week,” 20 minutes per day, for the nearly 1.3 million Florida children in kindergarten through fifth grade.

But under the House’s amended bill, recess would be legally required at most two days a week, and a third of all elementary students — 430,000 fourth- and fifth-graders statewide — won’t have any guarantees of recess.

The changes to HB 67 by the Pre-K-12 Innovation Subcommittee drew immediate criticism from “recess moms” and opposition from health and wellness experts because it clashes with research-based recommendations that endorse daily recess, separate from physical education classes.

Although 56 House members — or roughly half of the 120-member chamber — had signed on to co-sponsor the original version, bill sponsor and Orlando Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia said Tuesday the revisions were necessary to ensure the bill would be considered in committee.

Full details here.

Photo credit: Kindergarten students head out to the playground for 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

March 27, 2017

Florida House panel strips foreign language swap from computer coding bill

Coding@ByKristenMClark

The Florida House isn't supporting a controversial proposal to let high school students count computer coding as a foreign language course, likely stalling the concept for the second-straight session.

Instead, a House subcommittee on Monday passed an amended version of HB 265 that removes any mention of foreign languages and focuses more on how the state Department of Education can better promote computer science learning in Florida's public schools.

The original proposal -- which was first pitched in 2016 but didn't pass -- hasn't gotten very much traction so far this session. The Senate version of it (SB 104) cleared its first of two committees during an early committee week in January, but it hasn't been taken up again since.

Monday's hearing in the House Pre-K-12 Quality Subcommittee was the first for the House bill.

More here.

Photo credit: Miami Herald file photo

March 24, 2017

Florida House committee proposes changes to school recess bill

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@ByKristenMClark

Next week would have been make-or-break for this year’s efforts by the Florida Legislature to implement mandatory daily recess in public elementary schools.

While the Senate bill (SB 78) sailed through committees and awaits a floor vote, the House bill had yet to move — and next week is the last week policy subcommittees are expected to meet.

But “recess moms” are in luck.

Clearwater Republican Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, has scheduled the recess bill (HB 67) to be heard Tuesday morning in his House Pre-K-12 Innovation Subcommittee.

However, Latvala’s committee is proposing some hefty changes, which might not leave all “recess moms” happy.

More here.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald

March 22, 2017

Republicans accused of advancing 'union-busting' proposal with little chance at becoming law

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@ByKristenMClark

Florida’s public-sector labor unions — which represent thousands of workers ranging from school teachers to public utility linemen — would have to convince their members to pay up or else risk being shut down, under a controversial plan by House Republicans that is now headed to the floor despite little chance at becoming law.

HB 11 is a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, but it drew resounding backlash from Democrats and labor leaders who say the measure is nothing more than a politically motivated attempt to bust up unions.

It passed the Government Accountability Committee on a 14-8, party-line vote Wednesday, its second of only two committee stops.

Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, argues his proposal is about “transparency and democracy” because it would ensure labor unions serving government workers are accountable to and financially supported by at least a majority of the workers the union is supposed to represent.

“I think that’s a good thing to be responsive,” Plakon said, adding: “Public-sector unions should have to operate in a transparent fashion, under democratic majority-rule. ... This empowers members of the bargaining unit and it also pushes the unions to have to respect their members by asking for dues.”

But Florida is a right-to-work state, so employees cannot be forced to join or pay dues to a union. Union leaders say Plakon’s proposal contradicts that state law, and it would essentially force labor organizations to continuously “campaign” for enough dues-paying members — or risk being shut down.

“I think it’s very clear that this bill is about politics, not about policy,” Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, said. “This bill is about union-busting, plain and simple.”

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

March 16, 2017

Some religious schools could be allowed to have guns

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@ByKristenMClark

Private schools with a religious institution on-site could decide for themselves if they want to allow armed security or concealed guns on their property, under a proposal that got preliminary approval from a House subcommittee on Wednesday.

The measure (HB 849) from Polk County Republican Rep. Neil Combee would carve out certain religious private schools from the Florida law that prohibits anyone except law enforcement officers from carrying guns in K-12 schools and colleges and universities, regardless of whether those schools are public or private.

Combee said houses of worship — such as churches, mosques or synagogues — that also have a daycare or school on their property cannot have armed security, because doing so would violate the state’s ban on guns in schools and certain other “gun-free” zones. 

More here.

Photo credit: Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk County, presents a concealed weapons bill to the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, Wednesday, March 15, 2017, in Tallahassee, Fla. Steve Cannon / AP

 

March 15, 2017

Lawmaker: House should 'put Florida Supreme Court in position of telling us that we're wrong'

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@ByKristenMClark

Some Florida House Republicans have issued a challenge to the state’s top court — saying if the Legislature moves forward and enacts a constitutionally questionable measure seeking to impose harsher penalties on undocumented immigrants, then the Florida Supreme Court should prove them wrong.

HB 83, which passed its first House committee Wednesday, is rife with questions about its constitutionality because it subjects undocumented immigrants convicted of severe crimes to enhanced charges — and potentially longer prison sentences — solely on the basis of their immigration status.

But some House Republicans said a bill’s potential unconstitutionality shouldn’t be a factor in whether lawmakers approve it.

“I would submit to you that perhaps we sit in here one day and the Florida Supreme Court has told us this vote is wrong,” Tampa Republican Rep. James Grant said, but “I would encourage all of us to put the Florida Supreme Court in the position of telling us that we are wrong.”

More here.

Photo credit: State Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa. Florida House.

March 14, 2017

Controversial 'sanctuary cities' bill advances in House

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@ByKristenMClark

Communities in Florida that are considered “sanctuaries” for undocumented immigrants, such as Broward and Palm Beach counties, would have to do away with those practices or risk fines and other penalties from the state, under controversial legislation that passed its first legislative committee on Monday.

If the bill becomes law, county and local law enforcement agencies would also be required — at their taxpayers’ cost, with no guarantee of reimbursement — to comply with federal immigration detention requests, which are currently only optional.

Although the proposal (HB 697) easily advanced out of the House Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee by a 9-5 vote, it drew unanimous opposition from at least 20 audience members who spoke — including immigrant advocates.

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

March 13, 2017

Gov. Scott's ideas for teacher incentives didn't resonate; Legislature has own plans

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@ByKristenMClark

Back at the end of January, Gov. Rick Scott made teachers a top priority in his budget recommendations to the Legislature for next year.

But his proposals aren’t getting much traction, now that lawmakers are delving into the nitty-gritty of their own ideas.

More here.

Photo credit: AP

March 10, 2017

The House, Senate proposals to expand 'Best & Brightest' are out

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@ByKristenMClark

More top educators in Florida would have a crack at an annual state bonus in the 2017-18 school year, under initial legislative proposals to expand a controversial, 2-year-old teacher incentive program.

While there’s more room for compromise this year, House and Senate plans, unveiled this week, likely won’t appease all critics because they keep intact a core premise that teachers’ unions have vehemently opposed.

To entice and reward the “Best & Brightest” teachers and — for the first time — principals who work in Florida public schools, lawmakers still want educators to demonstrate both “highly effective” teaching skills but also personal academic prowess in order to qualify for the extra cash.

Teachers and principals who tested well on the SAT/ACT back in high school could still use those scores as one way to meet the requirements, and going forward, lawmakers want to also let them use other, similar benchmarks — such as qualifying scores on graduate school entrance exams or teacher certification tests.

More here.

Photo credit: AP