March 23, 2017

Bill promoting religious expression in school passes Florida Senate

Stand Your Ground (3)@ByKristenMClark

Florida’s public schools would have to let students lead religious prayers during the school day and at school-sanctioned events, under a controversial proposal that the state Senate approved Thursday, mostly along party lines.

Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, heralded his bill (SB 436) as a way for lawmakers to “take a stand for liberty,” because it makes explicitly clear the rights to religious expression that students and teachers have in public schools, regardless of their faith.

But Democrats worry the measure goes beyond existing protections of religious freedom and violates the constitutional separation between church and state. They also fear it could lead to students and teachers being ostracized or discriminated against if they’re of non-Christian faiths or non-religious.

“It’s religiously coercive, divisive and unconstitutional,” said Sen. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach.

The bill passed on a 23-13 vote, with Miami Shores Democratic Sen. Daphne Campbell voting with Republicans to support the bill. Campbell told the Herald/Times: “I don’t see anything wrong. The bill is not discriminatory. ... I just don’t see how anyone could be against prayer.”

Baxley’s proposal — which has large support from Christian and conservative-leaning groups — is more controversial and more far-reaching than a companion measure that’s moved through the House with, so far, unanimous support. The full House could vote on its bill (HB 303) as early as next week.

Full story here..

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

March 16, 2017

Miami Republican Anitere Flores defects, opposes 'Stand Your Ground' changes

Garcia flores judiciary 030717


This could be the year the Republican-led Florida Legislature succeeds in enacting a controversial change to the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law that prosecutors warn could lead to a flood of self-defense claims and would force state attorneys to essentially try cases twice.

For the second consecutive session, Florida senators on Wednesday approved a bill (SB 128) from Fleming Island Republican Sen. Rob Bradley to shift the burden of proof — from the defendant to the prosecutor — during the pretrial phase of “Stand Your Ground” cases.

The Senate voted 23-15 on Wednesday, mostly along party lines and drawing praise from Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

“If a prosecutor doesn’t have the evidence to prevail at this immunity hearing ... the prosecutor does not have sufficient evidence to win at trial,” said Bradley, himself a former prosecutor. “Innocent people will not go free as a result of this bill; this bill isn’t about creating loopholes.”

Now it’s up to the House to finish considering its bill (HB 245), which already passed the milestone of clearing the same committee that abruptly killed it before the 2016 session began. It faces only one more hearing — a signal it’s marked as a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.

In Wednesday’s Senate vote, Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores — Negron’s No. 2 in the chamber — broke party ranks and voted with 14 Democrats in opposition, even though she previously approved the bill twice in committee earlier this year.

More here.

Image credit: Florida Channel

March 13, 2017

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



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



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

'Magic' Johnson visiting with Florida Senate members on Monday



L.A. Lakers great Earvin "Magic" Johnson will be at the Florida Capitol on Monday to promote HIV/AIDS awareness.

The Senate Democratic caucus announced Johnson will meet with Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon, of Miami Gardens, and other members of the caucus at a 9 a.m. meeting.

The Naples Daily News reported this week that Johnson -- who the paper said represents a Medicaid managed-care company known as Anthem in Florida -- would also be at a "meet and greet" with Senate Republicans.

Johnson announced more than 25 years ago that he had tested positive for HIV.

Photo credit: AP

Higher ed reforms breeze through Florida Senate. Now for the House.

SP_409497_KEEL_10_FLGOV (1)


A $162 million plan to improve state funding for student financial aid opportunities and make Florida’s public colleges and universities more competitive passed the state Senate on Thursday with near-unanimous support — marking early success for one of Senate President Joe Negron’s top priorities.

Senate Bill 2 is the cornerstone of proposed reforms that Negron, R-Stuart, wants for the state higher education system this year. Other potential changes aimed at the state college system are more controversial and moving slowly through the Senate.

MORE: “Oops! Joe Negron initially didn’t vote for his hallmark higher ed legislation”

A companion measure to SB 2 still needs to be approved by the House. That package (HB 3 and HB 5) has yet to be considered, and it could now face more difficulty due to clashing priorities — and rising tensions — between Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.

The proposed reforms in SB 2 include an array of changes to Florida’s public colleges and universities.

Read here for more.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

March 09, 2017

Oops! Joe Negron initially didn't vote for his hallmark higher ed legislation

Sb 2 vote


Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has talked for several years about his desire to reform and enhance Florida’s higher education system. It’s one of his few top priorities.

But when he finally saw the culmination of the main cornerstone of those efforts on Thursday, he missed a significant step.

He didn’t vote.

More here.

Image credit: Florida Channel

*This post has been updated

March 07, 2017

Joe Negron adds Stand Your Ground changes, 'religious liberties' bill to his priorities

Negron_scott keeler


Florida Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, added a couple new priorities to his agenda for the 2017 session as the Legislature convened on Tuesday: the revived “Stand Your Ground” changes that’ll be voted on in the Senate on Thursday and a new bill fortifying “religious liberties” in Florida public schools.

The two controversial and polarizing proposals contrast to Negron’s otherwise moderate agenda — which includes improving the state’s public colleges and universities, better funding environmental protection and Everglades restoration, reforming the juvenile justice system and fixing Florida’s unconstitutional death-penalty law.

Negron had addressed those priorities several times before in previous speeches to the chamber, such as when he was designated the next Senate President last year and when he officially took over as chamber leader in November.

But the proposed changes to “Stand Your Ground” (SB 128) and the bill codifying religious expression in schools (SB 436) were additions to that list in Negron’s session-opening speech on Tuesday.

“I talked about embracing the Constitution, and I realize that means different things to different people and I respect that,” Negron said.

More here.

Photo credit: Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, greets Florida Gov. Rick Scott as the Senate formally began the 2017 session on Tuesday. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times.

February 07, 2017

Florida Senate’s state college reform plan 'has got big problems,' Sen. Tom Lee says

Galvano and negron


A comprehensive plan by Florida Senate leaders to refocus the state college system back to its original purpose of offering two-year degrees and of being a pipeline for the State University System stumbled through its first hearing this week.

The proposal (SB 374) is among a package of bills that are a priority for Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, in his push to improve Florida’s higher education system this year.

Senate leaders have dubbed SB 374 the “College Competitiveness Act,” which Sen. Bill Galvano — a Bradenton Republican and top lieutenant of Negron in executing the higher ed reforms — says will “provide independence and greater opportunity for advocacy and oversight” of Florida’s 28 state colleges, which include Miami Dade College.

But some aspects of the bill arguably would have the opposite effect — namely by reining in the colleges’ freedom to add four-year degree programs and, in some cases, requiring legislative action to approve new four-year degrees.

Other reforms in the 254-page proposal include removing the state colleges from the purview of the State Board of Education — which oversees public education in grades K-20 — and, instead, putting the colleges under a new State Board of Community Colleges.

The measure advanced out of the Senate Education Committee on a unanimous vote Monday, with some senators — although vocally disapproving of the plan — resisting a “no” vote mainly as a show of good faith to Senate leadership.

“I just think it’s not ready for prime-time,” said Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican and former Senate president who asked a series of probing questions critical of the proposal. “I’m going to support it today out of deference to my Senate president, Sen. Galvano and Sen. [Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, the bill sponsor], but this bill has got big problems.”


More here.

Photo credit: Bradenton Republican state Sen. Bill Galvano, left, speaks with current Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, during the 2016 session. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

Plan to count computer coding as foreign language earns easy win in 1st Senate committee

Brandes coding 020617


A revived proposal to let Florida high school students count computer coding as a foreign language looks to be on an easy path to pass the state Senate again this year.

Members of the Florida Senate Education Committee offered no questions or commentary on the proposal before voting unanimously to advance the measure out of its first committee on Monday, after hearing strong support from the business community and personal testimony from a Broward County middle-schooler and his mother.

The bill has only one other committee, Rules, to clear before it would reach the Senate floor for a final vote after the 2017 session begins March 7. House committees have yet to consider their version of the bill (HB 265).

Full story here.

Photo credit: Ethan Greenberg, a sixth-grader at Silver Trail Middle School in Pembroke Pines, poses for a photo with state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, while his mom, Ryann, looks on after a Senate Education Committee meeting Monday in Tallahassee. Ethan and Ryann Greenberg spoke in favor of Brandes’ proposal to make computer coding count as a foreign language for Florida high school students. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau