April 10, 2017

Most gun bills have stalled in the Legislature. Many say Anitere Flores is the reason why.

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@ByKristenMClark

When Anitere Flores declared, unprompted, a month ago there were a lot of controversial gun-rights measures she wouldn’t support this year, the Miami Republican state senator truly set the tone for the Legislature’s gun debate in 2017.

With the session half over, only a handful of the two dozen pieces of gun-related legislation proposed this year have been considered at all, and of those, only a couple have a viable path at actually becoming law.

The House approved three such bills this week — two of which could likely be enacted this year, including highly divisive changes to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law — but lawmakers in both chambers and from both parties predict those measures will be the only ones on the table for this session.

Several attribute Flores — who is No. 2 in the Senate behind President Joe Negron, R-Stuart — as the reason.

“I think the members — not just myself, but some others — we’re a little gun-bill fatigued,” Flores told the Herald/Times in late March.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami. Steve Cannon / AP

April 04, 2017

Daily school recess mandate passes Senate. The House remains this year's challenge.

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@ByKristenMClark

Nearly 1.3 million elementary school students in Florida are a major step closer to being guaranteed 20 minutes of recess every school day after the state Senate unanimously endorsed the concept Tuesday.

The easy win for SB 78 — sponsored by Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores — comes one year after chamber leaders wouldn’t even consider the idea.

“This bill is here as a result of moms from across the state having to listen to their children come home — their 7-year-old son come home — and say, ‘Mom, I’m so tired. I hate going to school; I hate going to school because there’s nothing for me to look forward to.’ ” Flores said. “This was a real grassroots effort of moms from across the state, saying: ‘Can you please help? Can you please be the voice in Tallahassee that I can’t be?’ ”

Requiring daily recess in elementary schools is overwhelmingly favored by parents who have lobbied aggressively for the change in Florida law. It’s also supported by a majority of state lawmakers.

But it still faces a potential repeat of 2016 — when the proposal stalled over a single lawmaker’s opposition.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Loana Paine 6, plays on the slide during 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

Compromise on student testing reforms advances in Florida Senate

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@ByKristenMClark

A sweeping plan to reduce standardized testing in Florida’s K-12 schools cleared its first state Senate committee on Monday, after lawmakers struck a compromise to blend competing reform proposals.

Despite political drama last week that delayed the policy discussion, senators breezed through vetting SB 926 and passed it unanimously after considering most of the amendments — all but two out of the 19 filed — in less than 15 minutes. Trilby Republican Sen. Wilton Simpson, who led the meeting, provided no time for the Education Committee to debate the changed bill or for the public to weigh in prior to the final vote.

MORE: “Senator calls political games surrounding testing reforms ‘an abomination’ ”

The committee ran out of time, because nearly two dozen bills were scheduled to be heard in just two hours. (The committee won’t meet next week because of the Passover holiday.)

“I know sometimes, with the public, it looks like we rushed through this and we went through a lot of things in a short amount of time,” said Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores, who sponsored the bill. “But this is the result of not just working together in the last week, but working together over the last several months.”

More here.

April 03, 2017

Aaron Bean will carry House's 'schools of hope' proposal in Senate

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@ByKristenMClark

When the Florida House unveiled its sweeping legislation last week to bring in "the best of the best charter schools in the entire country" to serve students who currently attend perpetually failing schools, there was no companion measure in the Senate.

That will change today -- thanks to a strike-all amendment Jacksonville-area Republican Sen. Aaron Bean filed to a relatively generic charter schools bill he had sponsored (SB 796).

MORE: "Are ‘schools of hope’ the solution to perpetually failing public schools?"

Bean's amendment would match up his bill to the language in the House's "schools of hope" bill (HB 5105) -- which has been a session-long work-product for Education Committee chairman Michael Bileca, a House Republican from Miami.

Bean's amendment was filed just after 8 a.m. Monday, giving members of the Senate Education Committee less than 5-1/2 hours to vet what is essentially an entirely new bill.

The committee meets at 1:30 p.m. and this will be first time senators will discuss the House's "schools of hope" proposal.

The panel has a packed agenda that also includes revisiting Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores' bill to reform standardized testing in Florida's public schools and considering the Senate's ideas to expand the "Best & Brightest" teacher bonuses.

UPDATE: 4:10 p.m. -- The Senate Education Committee ran out of time and did not hear Bean's bill today. The committee won't meet next week, due to the Passover holiday, which means there's likely only one more meeting of the committee left this session. Policy committees usually stop meeting during Week 7, unless the Senate president opts to schedule additional meetings.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

March 29, 2017

UPDATED: Prepare for another budget showdown over 'Best & Brightest' bonuses

SP_409499_KEEL_2_FLGOV@ByKristenMClark

While both the House and Senate are interested in more than quadrupling funding to expand the “Best & Brightest” teacher bonus program next year, only the House actually proposes a dollar figure in its initial budget plan.

Both chambers’ education budget plans were unveiled Tuesday in advance of the full budget roll-out this week.

The House plan calls for $214 million in the 2017-18 budget for the teacher bonuses, up from the $49 million the Legislature allocated this year. But the Senate proposal zeros out the program funding — setting up another year of negotiations over the controversial program.

“That’s part of the process; this is not the first go-around with that in dealing with the Senate,” said Hialeah Republican Manny Diaz Jr., the House Pre-K-12 education budget chairman. “That’s par for the course.”

MORE: “$250 million for teacher incentives? Florida lawmakers crafting plan to do it”

Senate Pre-K-12 Education budget chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, revealed in February that lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol were interested in expanding the “Best & Brightest” program so that teachers could be eligible in more ways than just their SAT/ACT score from high school and so that principals could also qualify for bonus dollars.

Simmons said then the House was exploring potentially $250 million for next year, which he said the Senate was supportive of.

He told reporters Wednesday morning that not including “Best & Brightest” in the Senate’s initial budget proposal is part of a strategic move to ensure the Senate gets some of its priorities, too, in budget negotiations.

“That’s a matter that we’re going to discuss and I believe when we put our budget together, it’s with the expectation that we will be dealing with that issue,” Simmons said, “and we want very much to accommodate the House on that issue — and that’s part of the give and take. We know that this is important [to them].”

More here.

Photo credit: Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

[originally posted 5:30 a.m.; updated 10:15 a.m.]

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

'This is an abomination,' senator says of political games surrounding testing reforms

IMG_Testing_file_art@ByKristenMClark

Efforts by the state Senate to address too much standardized testing in Florida’s public schools this year are on the rocks after a key proposal was abruptly postponed Monday when one senator objected to what he called an “abomination” of the legislative process.

After forcing the delay, veteran Republican and former Senate President Tom Lee blasted his own party leaders for last-minute political tactics and for “stealing” components of a popular Democratic bill in order to salvage a separate reform proposal from Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores, who is No. 2 in the chamber behind Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

“There’s right and there’s wrong, and just because Sen. [Bill] Montford is a member of the minority party — that’s the only reason his legislation isn’t up,” Lee, of Thonotosassa, told reporters. “This guy gets run over by the majority party just because they don’t want him to get credit for a meaningful, thoughtful piece of legislation that’s been worked on for a year.”

Lee added: “This is just such a flawed process to undergo, and I’m embarrassed by it. As a member of the Senate that’s been here 15 years and believes this process ought to work off of mutual trust and respect for the process, this is an abomination.”

More here.

Photo credit: Miami Herald file photo

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

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@ByKristenMClark

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

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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