April 29, 2017

Cruz: Senate chairman who opposes slavery memorial 'knows he can say this and be revered at home'

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@ByKristenMClark

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz is among those upset and offended by a conservative Senate chairman's explanation on Friday for why he blocked a bill to establish a Florida Slavery Memorial near the Capitol in Tallahassee.

Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley, who chairs the Senate's government operations committee, had told the Herald/Times a memorial to slavery would be too negative and would "celebrate defeat" -- remarks, among others, that were viewed as racially insensitive and sparked immediate backlash from House Democrats and members of the black caucus.

Baxley later clarified that by "defeat" he meant "adversity" but his explanation didn't quell the outrage.

MORE: "A senator said a Florida Slavery Memorial would ‘celebrate defeat.’ Lawmakers are furious."

After what Baxley said, Cruz remarked that a "real issue" in Florida is the redrawing of legislative districts in ways that have created politically safe seats for one party or another.

"Gerrymandering has given members in these safe seats, on both sides, the ability to say what the hell they want to say without answering to a district," the Tampa lawmaker told the Herald/Times, venting her frustration late Friday.

"Baxley knows he can say this and be revered at home," Cruz added. "So throwing red meat today and making those comments, he has no fear."

She said Floridians asked for "compact, contiguous districts that more fairly represent the people" and she noted that registered Democrats outweigh registered Republicans in Florida, while the number of voters with no party affiliation are "skyrocketing."

"Yet we still have members that can make what I call a racist remark and go back to their district and not worry about getting re-elected," she said.

Photo credit: AP

Once on chopping block, Miami arts school could still get some state aid next year

Oscars Diversity@ByKristenMClark @KyraGurney

Lawmakers in Tallahassee are largely reversing course on plans to cut $650,000 in state grant funding to the Miami arts school whose alumni helped create the Oscar-winning film “Moonlight” and the Broadway hit “Hamilton.”

During ongoing budget talks Saturday morning, the Florida House asked for $500,000 for New World School of the Arts in 2017-18. That would still represent a cut of $150,000 in funding from last year, but it’s a drastic change from the House’s first proposal to entirely de-fund the school.

The funding level is still under negotiation — talks that now elevate to the full Appropriations chairmen and will continue through the weekend. The Senate had also originally proposed cutting all funding to New World, but later proposed $20,000.

MORE: “Lawmakers set to defund Miami school that educated makers of ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Hamilton’ ”

Threats to the school’s state grant funding sparked public outcry when news of the Legislature’s plans spread on Friday. 

But House and Senate chairmen in charge of K-12 public school spending said Saturday morning those complaints had little to do with their change of heart.

Full details here.

Photo credit: AP

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

David Rivera is hanging out in Frank Artiles' old Senate office

Rivera@ByKristenMClark

Former U.S. Rep. David Rivera appears to be testing out the digs of a state legislative office that he might seek to occupy one day soon.

Rivera, a Republican, was seen casually hanging out in the Capitol office of former Sen. Frank Artiles on Friday evening -- socializing and bantering with a handful of people who appeared to be Artiles' remaining legislative staff and others.

One of Artiles' legislative aides, Alina Garcia, used to work for Rivera when he was a state House member from 2000-2008.

Artiles, R-Miami, resigned one week ago Friday after a firestorm brought on several days earlier when Artiles insulted a fellow lawmaker and used a racial slur to describe several other senators in an alcohol-laced tirade at a private Tallahassee bar.

Rivera's name has been floated as a potential candidate to fill Artiles' vacant seat, representing District 40 in Miami-Dade County. (Rivera unsuccessfully ran for a state House seat last fall.)

After Artiles' resignation, his legislative staff was kept on to provide continued constituent services until voters select his replacement in an upcoming special election, which Gov. Rick Scott has not yet scheduled.

From the hallway, Artiles' old office looks rather empty -- and the name-plate outside his door has been changed.

It now reads only: "District 40."

Photo credit: El Nuevo Herald file photo

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

'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

TallyUniversities1121 Skate

@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