The second week of legislative session has come to a close. LWV of Florida prides itself on being a grassroots organization driven to empower voters and defend democracy. Our work in Tallahassee during Session is powered by our volunteer Lobby Corps who help us track hundreds of bills that are aligned with our five legislative priorities.
This week has presented some signs of progress as well as several major areas of concern. The bills mentioned below are just a sample of the bills we are tracking and acting on. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be advocating on behalf of the LWVFL in the House and Senate to ensure that substantive progress is made in the areas of education, health care, gun safety, election reform, and the protection of our natural resources.
Nicolette Springer, M.S.
LWV of Florida
SB 7030/HB 7075 School Choice (General Bill by Senate Education Committee/Rep. Jennifer Sullivan)
This bill pertains to various existing voucher programs, including creating a new one entitled the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program. Passage of this bill will greatly expand “scholarships” and increases eligibility to 300% of the Federal Poverty Level for 2019-2020, increasing to 375% by 2022-2023. To put that into perspective, a family of four with an annual income of $97,000 would now be considered in need and be eligible for a voucher.
The League affirms that funneling general revenue dollars to private and religious schools reduces general revenue for public schools, and is clearly unconstitutional based on the 2006 Supreme Court case.
The House version went through the Education Committee this week. On behalf of the League, I made the case that not only is this program unconstitutional, but it doesn’t hold schools accountable and evidence shows that voucher programs are leading to the resegregation of schools. Representative Chris Latvala and Representative Randy Fine both took issue with my points and there was a heated discussion. You can view it in its entirely here (starts at 53:40).
Ultimately, this bill passed the committee with 15 yeas and 2 nays. Representative Bruce Antone and Representative Delores Johnson Hogan were the only two votes in opposition.
SB 0226 Mastery-Based Education (Senator Jeff Brandes)
This bill renames the Competency-Based Education Pilot Program to Mastery-Based Education Pilot Program. It attempts to expand participation to all school districts and authorizes pilot program districts to determine and award credit based on students’ mastery of core content as an alternative to letter grades to measure student success in grades 6-12.
Both Senator Lori Berman and Senator Janet Cruz expressed concerns about success and barriers to college admission. The League is concerned alternative letter grades may impact a student’s ability to meet specific minimum GPA requirements for sports, scholarships, extracurricular activities, and dual enrollment. One solution would require the State Board of Education, in conjunction with the Board of Governors, to update rules to ensure fair and equitable access to postsecondary education. The nontraditional diploma may have to be redefined since Florida currently awards only a standard diploma based on successful completion of 24 credits, an International Baccalaureate curriculum, and an Advanced International Certificate of Education curriculum.
SB 0226 was favorably passed and now moves to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education. LWV is currently in opposition to this bill.
SB 0522 Apprenticeship Programs (Senator Manny Diaz)
This bill establishes a new reporting requirement and funding source to expand apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs. It attempts to expand opportunities for residents to be trained for trades and occupations through apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeship programs.
Senator Diaz expressed a concern over the lack of trained construction workers in the state. Senator Cruz questioned how this bill would affect the apprenticeship programs that are in place presently. Senator Diaz responded that his new bill would streamline the process to access programs and put new programs in place. During public comment, a current apprentice from Gainesville spoke of his success in the program as a journeyman electrician. He will soon complete the program certification as a Master Electrician. He asked for assurance from the committee that union programs would be included and Senator Diaz affirmed that they would be.
SB 0522 was favorably passed and now moves to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education. The LWV is in support of this bill.
SB 7064 – Oil Drilling (Senator Ben Albritton)
This bill attempts to define the term “fracking” and prohibits fracking in Florida. Although the language presented bans fracking, this bill does not ban matrix acidizing, therefore the League opposes the bill.
In the Agriculture Committee earlier this week, Senator Albritton used parliamentary rules as a stalling tactic to limit public comment on this bill. One such example was introducing a controversial amendment that caused over 20 minutes of debate and public comment, to then withdraw the amendment. By the time public comment was allowed on the bill itself, there were only two minutes left in the committee meeting. As a result, only one organization was allowed to comment on the bill due to time. He also opposed a motion by Senator Bill Montford to extend time.
This bill passed committee by a 3-2 vote. Senators Albritton, Gainer, and Broxson were in support, and Senators Montford and Rader were in opposition. This bill now moves to Innovation, Industry, and Technology.
SB 0146 (Senator Linda Stewart) and SB 0314 (Senator Bill Montford)
Both these bills address our concerns with SB 7064. They distinguish the difference between well stimulation for water versus for oil. Sen. Montford’s bill goes the extra step of specifically defining the use of matrix acidization. LWV is in support of both bills.
SB 7030 – School Safety and Security
This bill is commonly known as the “Guardian” bill and intends to arm teachers. Last Session a version of this bill passed but stated that teachers who “exclusively perform classroom duties” are ineligible to participate. The current version of SB 7030 eliminates that clause, thus allowing teachers to carry a gun into the classroom.
It is scheduled for the Infrastructure and Security Committee Wednesday, March 20th at 4:00 P.M. SB 7030 is a high priority and LWV is in opposition to this bill. Keep an eye out for an Action Alert in the coming days on this bill.
On the Governor’s Desk
- HB 7015/SB 0182 – Medical Use of Marijuana
- HB 0145/SB 82 – Vegetable Gardens
Did you know?
As of Wednesday, 996 House member project bills have met the minimum qualifications for possible inclusion in the FY 2019-20 budget. A total of 1,630 were filed for the 2019 Session, totaling $3,694,901,075 in funds requested