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

'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.

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

Senate's vetting of 'schools of hope' has been vastly limited compared to House

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@ByKristenMClark

Nine minutes.

That’s how long senators on the Appropriations Committee spent this week to hurriedly describe, amend and approve their version of one of the most high-profile, substantial and costly education policy changes the Legislature will enact this year affecting K-12 public schools.

Senators did not even debate their pair of bills Tuesday that counter a House Republican-approved $200 million “schools of hope” incentive for specialized charter schools. The one person from the public who wanted to weigh in was cut off after 56 seconds.

That’s not the picture of open, thorough and public debate Republican Senate leaders painted a couple of weeks ago when they agreed to send the House bill directly into budget negotiations and vowed transparency in those talks with the House.

Senate leaders had pledged they would have enough time — and would take the time — to properly vet the House “schools of hope” legislation and develop their own ideas on how to improve educational opportunities and services for students, mostly poor and minorities, who attend perpetually failing neighborhood schools.

“These issues have been discussed around here, and we’re just putting them in the conference posture,” Senate Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, told reporters Tuesday, referencing the pending budget negotiations process and dismissing the lack of time spent on the Senate’s “schools of hope” bills.

The Senate had general, conceptual conversations earlier in session on how to help kids in failing schools, as did the House. But substantive consideration of an actual policy proposal by the Senate has been extremely limited, compared to the airing the House gave its priority bill.

Senators, so far, have spent barely 90 minutes vetting their legislative proposals (SB 1552 and SB 796) across three committee hearings since senators unveiled their specific policy language early last week.

In contrast, House members spent nine hours considering their bill (HB 5105) during two committee hearings and across two days of discussion, debate and voting on the House floor — about six times as long as the Senate has to date, a Herald/Times analysis found. (Through its two committee hearings alone, the House spent three-and-a-half hours on “schools of hope.”)

Full story here.

Photo credit: Stuart Republican and Senate President Joe Negron, left, and Senate Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, talk with reporters during a press conference in early April. Phil Sears / AP

April 25, 2017

Gun bill affecting Florida courthouses passes final committee, goes to Senate floor

Stand Your Ground (2)@ByKristenMClark

A proposed law that would let 1.7 million conceal-carry permit-holders temporarily store their guns with security while visiting Florida's courthouses is on its way to the Senate floor.

SB 616 from Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube passed its final committee Tuesday afternoon. Members of the Rules Committee endorsed the relatively non-controversial measure -- with at least a couple Democrats opposed -- after offering no discussion or debate.

More details here.

Photo credit: AP

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

April 21, 2017

Politicians react to Frank Artiles' resignation over racist, profane remarks

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@ByKristenMClark

Since embattled Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles resigned earlier today, Florida politicians have begun to react on social media.

Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon, of Miami Gardens 

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes

Broward County Rep. Shevrin Jones of West Park

Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando

Chris King, a Democratic candidate for governor

Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, a Democratic candidate for governor

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democratic candidate for governor

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

April 20, 2017

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

Corcoran_Richard Swearing In (1)

@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

Artiles' remarks were "reprehensible," fellow Miami senator says

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@ByKristenMClark

Senate President Pro Tempore Anitere Flores -- the No. 2 senator behind President Joe Negron, R-Stuart -- is among those appalled by the crude, racist and sexist words her fellow Miami Republican colleague, Sen. Frank Artiles, used earlier this week when speaking to two black lawmakers.

"I think everything he said is reprehensible -- and not language that should be used by a professional and not language that should be used with regards to colleagues," Flores told the Herald/Times.

MORE: "Legislative complaint seeks to expel Miami lawmaker from Senate over ‘racist rant’ "

A member of the Rules Committee -- which will eventually decide on a formal complaint calling for Artiles' expulsion from the Senate -- Flores was deliberative in responding to a question of whether Artiles should resign.

"At this point, we have a process, and this process is being done," she said. "There are investigations being done by the Senate ... so I want to see what are the recommendations that come back from the special master. My understanding this is very much like a legal and judicial proceeding, so we have to be respectful of that -- but as far as what he said, I think that the words that he used were wrong."

Flores added: "Now we are in a formal process, where I as a member of the Rules Committee will have to serve as one of the decision-makers. I think that procedurally those of us on the Rules Committee are probably being cautioned to not comment too much because of that."

A couple other senators on the committee -- Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon, of Miami Gardens, and committee vice-chairman Sen. Perry Thurston, of Fort Lauderdale -- have been more vocal about what outcome they believe should befall Artiles: Expulsion from the Senate.

Thurston was present at the Governors Club in Tallahassee on Monday night, when Artiles used profanity and a racist slur while speaking to -- and insulting -- Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville.

On Wednesday, Artiles formally apologized on the Senate floor, but it did little to quell growing public outrage. Later that day, Thurston and Braynon led a press conference of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, which voted to initiate the formal complaint against Artiles.

Later Wednesday -- after Rules Committee chairwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, found the complaint had "probable cause" -- the chamber's general counsel Dawn Roberts was appointed to serve as a special master tasked with investigating the complaint and reporting back with a recommendation to Rules by April 25.

The 2017 legislative session is scheduled to end May 5.

Photo credit: AP