Gary Fineout, Author at Florida Politics

Gary Fineout

Legislature at stalemate over new state budget

With time running out in this year’s regular session, Florida’s legislative leaders are at a stalemate over a new state budget and are starting to lash out at one another over the breakdown.

The first but crucial round of negotiations between the House and Senate fell apart on Sunday. The session is scheduled to end on May 5, but state law requires that all work on the budget be finished 72 hours ahead of a final vote.

The lack of a budget deal can also derail other crucial legislation since many times stand-alone bills get tied to the spending plan or are used as leverage in negotiations.

The growing divide prompted Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran to lash out at fellow Republicans in the Senate, comparing them to national Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders.

“There are no limits to their liberalism,” Corcoran said.

Sen. Jack Latvala, the Senate budget chief, said that Corcoran was acting as if “everyone was a liberal but him.”

“I just think it’s very unfortunate for the process, where we start calling names and broadly classify people instead of trying to constructively work out solutions,” Latvala said.

The House and Senate are working on a new budget to cover state spending from July 1 of this year to June 30, 2018. The two chambers started their budget negotiations with a roughly $4 billion difference in their rival spending plans.

For more than a week, the two sides privately traded broad offers that outlined how much money would be spent in key areas such as education, health care, the environment and economic development.

Gov. Rick Scott has been highly critical of a House plan to shutter the state’s economic development agency and to sharply cut money to Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing corporation. Scott has urged Senate Republicans to stand firm against House Republicans.

Part of this broad framework also included how much money the state should set aside in reserves.

Corcoran said one stumbling block was that the House wanted to place more money in reserves because of projections that show a possible budget deficit in the next two to three years if spending continues to increase.

“We refuse to let the state go bankrupt,” said Corcoran, who also said such a strategy could force Florida to raise taxes.

Unable to reach a deal, the House over the weekend offered a “continuation” budget that would have kept intact state funding at current levels in many places. That would have allowed legislators to end the session on time and avoid the need for a costly special session. But it would have meant that there would be no money for any new projects.

The Senate, however, rejected this idea. Senate President Joe Negron, in a memo sent out to senators Monday morning, called it a “Washington creation where Congress is habitually unable to pass a budget.”

Reprinted with permission of The Associated Press.

Gov. Scott heads to Argentina for trade mission

Gov. Rick Scott is scheduled to leave Sunday for Argentina for a trade mission organized by the state’s embattled economic development agency.

Scott delayed the trip by a day to monitor wildfire conditions across the state, but he is also making the visit during a time when parts of his agenda remain unresolved in the waning days of the 2017 session of the Florida Legislature.

One of the items that Scott is battling over is whether to keep intact Enterprise Florida, the agency that put together the trade mission.

House Republicans are pushing to dismantle Enterprise Florida despite objections from both Scott and Senate leaders. Scott has strongly criticized House leaders including House Speaker Richard Corcoran over their proposal, contending it cost the state jobs.

During his trip to Buenos Aires, Scott is expected to meet with Argentina President Mauricio Macri and discuss trade opportunities, a spokesman for Scott said.

“Just like he has fought for jobs all session long, and has made his priority of job creation abundantly clear, Gov. Scott is going to Argentina to bring more jobs to Florida,” said McKinley Lewis in a statement.

Scott is expected to return to Florida on Thursday.

This is Scott’s 13th trip abroad since he became governor in 2011. Former Gov. Jeb Bush took 16 trade missions during his eight years in office.

He traveled previously to the South American countries of Brazil, Colombia, Chile, as well as Japan, Israel, England, France, Spain, Canada and Panama.

Scott is scheduled to be joined on his trip to Argentina by first lady Ann Scott, airport and port officials as well as top officials with several Florida-based corporations, including Eric Silagy, the president and CEO of Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest utility company.

While Enterprise Florida’s operations are primarily paid by tax dollars, Scott’s travel expenses are usually covered by private donations to Enterprise Florida.

House Speaker: Push for tougher ethics laws dead

State House Speaker Richard Corcoran says a push to give Florida some of the toughest ethics laws in the nation is dead for this year’s session, and he’s blaming Senate Republicans for showing “zero interest.”

The Land O’Lakes Republican pushed to enact several far-reaching proposals, including one that would ban legislators and elected officials from lobbying state government for six years after leaving office. The House overwhelmingly passed them, but the legislation has not moved in the state Senate. The annual session ends in less than three weeks.

“The Senate has shown us they have expressed zero interest in holding elected officials accountable and draining the swamp,” said Corcoran, echoing a line used by President Donald Trump on the campaign trail last year.

Corcoran said this week he’s not giving up and will seek other ways to place his proposals into law, including asking the state Constitution Revision Commission to put them before voters in 2018 or launching a petition drive to get them on the ballot. The commission is formed once every 20 years to propose additions, deletions or revisions in the state’s constitution.

When he came into his leadership post, Corcoran vowed to aggressively change what he called a broken system that let special interests and lobbyists wield too much influence. The House adopted rules limiting contacts between lobbyists and legislators and Corcoran pushed to shed more light on projects added to the annual budget.

Currently, legislators and statewide elected officials are subjected to a two-year lobbying ban after leaving office. The House proposed a constitutional amendment and a new state law to extend that ban to six years. The measure would also expand lobbying restrictions so that a legislator or statewide elected official could not lobby any state agency during that period.

The House has also passed a bill that would require city officials to file more detailed financial disclosure forms. The House is also scheduled this week to consider another measure that would clamp down on public officials using their posts to seek jobs or going into business with lobbyists.

When asked earlier this month Senate President Joe Negron said he was “open for ways to make the process more transparent, more accountable.” But he also said he was “content” with the current ethics laws in place including the two-year ban on lobbying.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump taps lawyer involved with Trump U case for federal job

As a top aide to Florida’s attorney general, Carlos G. Muniz helped defend the office’s decision to sit out legal action against Trump University. Now the president is naming him to be the top lawyer in the U.S. Education Department.

President Donald Trump has announced his intent to nominate Muniz to serve as general counsel to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The Senate would then consider the nomination of the Republican lawyer.

Emails reviewed by The Associated Press show that in 2013 Muniz, who served as Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s chief of staff for three years, was included in discussions about student complaints alleging fraud with Trump’s namesake real-estate seminars.

Muniz, now in private practice, has also been the lead attorney defending Florida State University in a lawsuit by a former student who said the school failed to investigate after she said she was sexually assaulted by the star quarterback of the Seminoles’ 2013 national championship football team. The player was never charged with a crime by police in Tallahassee, and the state attorney’s office declined to pursue a criminal case against him.

An investigation by the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights is still underway, presenting a potential conflict of interest if Muniz is confirmed.

Both Muniz and the White House declined to comment Tuesday, referring all questions to the Education Department.

That department did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment about the Trump University review or whether Muniz would recuse himself from involvement in the Florida State probe.

AP reported last year that Bondi personally solicited a $25,000 political contribution from Trump as her office was weighing how to respond to questions from the Orlando Sentinel newspaper about whether she would join New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in suing the billionaire businessman.

Though both Trump University and the Florida-based Trump Institute had stopped offering classes by the time Bondi took office in 2011, more than 20 consumer complaints had been filed by former students who said they were swindled.

Emails from August 2013 obtained under Florida’s public records law showed that Muniz was copied on discussions about how to respond to the newspaper’s request for comment, though he did not actively weigh in.

Emails show Muniz did help direct Bondi’s public defense on the issue, including rewriting an October 2013 fact sheet distributed to reporters.

Days after Bondi’s office said it was reviewing the Trump U case, a political committee supporting her re-election received a $25,000 check from Trump’s charitable foundation. His daughter, Ivanka Trump, also added $500 more to support Bondi.

Bondi, who endorsed Trump’s bid for president right before the Florida Republican primary, said she was unaware her staff had been asked about the New York lawsuit until a Florida newspaper columnist highlighted the 2013 donation from Trump.

Bondi has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and defended her decision to accept the contribution, saying her office never seriously considered suing Trump.

Trump’s 2013 check, drawn on an account in the name of the Donald J. Trump Foundation, violated a federal prohibition against charities giving money to political groups. The issue garnered national media coverage last year during Trump’s presidential campaign, and his foundation paid a $2,500 fine to the IRS.

The illegal donation prompted a Massachusetts attorney last year to file a state bribery complaint against Bondi and Trump. A Florida prosecutor assigned to review the case informed Republican Gov. Rick Scott last week of his office’s conclusion that there was not enough evidence to move forward.

A memo about the complaint against Bondi said it was “insufficient on its face to conduct a criminal investigation” and was based almost entirely on media coverage. The assistant state attorney who wrote the memo said the complaint was based on insinuation and there was no evidence Bondi asked for the money in exchange for any official act. There was no indication she interviewed Trump or Bondi before reaching her decision.

Though Bondi’s office took no action against Trump, the president later agreed to settle the class-action case filed by New York and private lawyers, paying his former students $25 million in damages.

After leaving Bondi’s office, Muniz became a partner at the Jacksonville, Florida, office of a large law and lobbying firm. He defended Florida State University in a Title IX lawsuit filed by Erica Kinsman, a former student who said she was raped by quarterback Jameis Winston in 2012.

Kinsman sued Winston in April 2015 in federal civil court, alleging sexual battery and assault, and Winston countersued her one month later, alleging her accusations were false and defamatory. Both civil cases were settled in December under confidential terms. Winston, the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NFL draft, now plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Title IX is a federal law that bans discrimination at schools that receive federal funding. The Education Department warned schools in 2011 of their legal responsibilities to immediately investigate allegations of sexual assault, even if a criminal investigation has not been concluded.

Last year, FSU agreed to pay Kinsman $950,000, the largest settlement ever for claims regarding a university’s indifference to a student’s reported sexual assault.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida may pay millions to homeowners for lost citrus trees

Florida may end a long-running battle and pay millions to homeowners whose healthy citrus trees were torn down in a failed attempt to eradicate citrus canker.

The Florida House has $66 million in its proposed budget to pay lawsuits filed on behalf of homeowners in Broward, Lee and Palm Beach counties. There are also lawsuits ongoing in Orange and Miami-Dade counties.

Rep. Carlos Trujillo, the House budget chairman, said the payments should be made because courts have already ruled against the state in those counties.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam says the state should wait until the lawsuits reach the Florida Supreme Court.

So far Senate Republicans have not included the payments in their budget.

Canker damages citrus trees. From 2000 to 2006, the state removed citrus trees within 1,900 feet of an infected tree.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Not enough evidence found for Bondi, Trump bribery complaint

A bribery complaint against President Donald Trump and Attorney General Pam Bondi lacks enough evidence to move forward, a state prosecutor told the Governor Thursday.

The complaint filed by a Massachusetts attorney stemmed from scrutiny last year over a $25,000 campaign contribution Bondi received from Trump in 2013. Bondi asked for the donation near the same time that her office was being asked about a New York investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University.

Gov. Rick Scott handed the case to a southwest Florida prosecutor after another prosecutor said he could not investigate the case because Bondi used to work him.

A prosecutor working in State Attorney Stephen Russell‘s office concluded that there is no reasonable suspicion that Trump or Bondi broke Florida’s bribery law.

Amira Fox, the chief assistant state attorney, said in a memo about the case that the complaint against Bondi was “insufficient on its face to conduct a criminal investigation” and was based almost entirely on media coverage.

“The majority of the complaint consists of insinuation without any material evidence in support,” Fox wrote.

Fox added that although a campaign contribution could be viewed as a type of bribe, there was no evidence that Bondi asked for the money in exchange for any official act.

J. Whitfield Larrabee, who has filed numerous complaints against Bondi, questioned the scope of the investigation. He said there was no evidence in the memo that prosecutors spoke to any witnesses. Larrabee called Russell’s decision to drop the case “a gutless move that was politically motivated.”

Bondi, who endorsed Trump’s bid for president right before the Florida Republican primary, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and defended her decision to accept the contribution. Recent frequent trips to Washington have stirred media speculation that she might wind up taking a job in the Trump administration.

The 2013 check to a committee supporting Bondi’s re-election campaign from the Donald J. Trump Foundation violated a federal prohibition against charities giving money to political groups. But the issue flared back to life last summer amid media coverage of Trump’s presidential campaign and news that his foundation paid a $2,500 fine to the IRS over the donation. Whitfield filed his complaint last August.

Though both Trump University and the Florida-based Trump Institute had stopped offering classes by the time Bondi took office in 2011, more than 20 complaints had been filed by former students who claimed they were swindled.

A judge last week approved an agreement for the president to pay $25 million to settle lawsuits over Trump University, ending nearly seven years of legal battles with customers who claimed they were misled by failed promises to teach success in real estate.

The Associated Press reported last June that Bondi personally asked Trump for help for her 2014 re-election. She has said she turned to him because he was on a list of “friends and family” she sought money from when she first ramped up fundraising efforts.

Though Bondi has not given a precise date for her call with Trump, documents show the political action committee she was asking donors to support was created in early August 2013. Trump signed a check on Sept. 9 and it was received by Bondi’s political committee on Sept. 17 of that year.

But by that time, emails show that top officials in her office – including her chief of staff – were being asked by reporters in Florida about a lawsuit against Trump University by the New York attorney general.

Bondi’s office said at the time that it was “reviewing” the lawsuit, but it never took any other action. Bondi said her office receives tens of thousands of such complaints each year. Bondi said that she was unaware that her office had been asked about the New York lawsuit until a Florida columnist highlighted the case and the October 2013 donation from Trump.

She said she tried to return the $25,000 check to Trump this year when she found out that the money came from his foundation and not from his personal funds. But the Trump Foundation returned the money and told Bondi’s accountant that Trump himself had reimbursed the money.

Divided over dollars: Florida legislators split on spending

With about a month left in the regular session, Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature is on a major collision course over spending.

This past week the House and Senate released rival budgets for the coming year that reveal a wide divide between the two chambers on everything from taxes to schools to state worker pay raises.

The two sides don’t even have the same bottom line: The Senate’s overall budget is more than $85 billion, or roughly $4 billion more than the House proposed. The current state budget is nearly $82.3 billion.

Part of the reason for the disparity is that House Republicans sought aggressive budget cuts, aimed largely at hospitals and state universities. But the House budget also sets aside money for roughly $300 million in tax cuts, including a reduction in the tax charged on rent paid by businesses.

House leaders say they pushed ahead with deep spending cuts to help the state avoid possible shortfalls that are projected over the next two to three years by state economists. In describing the need for cuts, House Republicans have referred to a budget “deficit” even though state tax collections are actually growing.

“We have to make informed decisions, and we have to make tough decisions,” said Rep. Carlos Trujillo, a Miami Republican and the House budget chairman. “We can’t be all things to all people.”

A big sticking point between the House and Senate will be over money for public schools.

The Senate is recommending a nearly $800 million increase for day-to-day operations that would boost the amount spent on each student by close to 3 percent. That contrasts with the House’s proposal that would increase the per-student amount by 1.25 percent.

“The budget meets the needs of our growing state in a manner that reflects the priorities of the constituents who elected us,” said Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican.

But a large portion of the Senate plan relies on an increase in local property taxes triggered by rising property values. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has vowed to block any proposal that relies on higher taxes.

Corcoran and other House Republicans have proposed steering large amounts of money into contentious programs, including an ambitious $200 million “Schools of Hope” plan that would offer money to charter school operators that set up schools near failing public schools.

Another wide area of disagreement: Money for economic development programs and tourism promotion that has already pitted House leaders against Gov. Rick Scott. The Senate has kept intact the state’s economic development agency known as Enterprise Florida and agreed to keep spending on tourism marketing close to current levels. The House is proposing to shutter Enterprise Florida, while slashing the state’s tourism ad budget by roughly $50 million.

“Over and over again, politicians in the House have failed to understand that Florida is competing for job creation projects against other states and countries across the globe,” Scott said this week about the House proposal.

The House and Senate also differ on the need for across-the-board raises for state workers. The Senate is offering a raise of $1,400 to all employees making $40,000 or less, and $1,000 to those who earn more than $40,000. The House is recommending targeted pay raises to corrections officers and state law-enforcement agents.

The Senate is also proposing to borrow up to $1.2 billion to acquire 60,000 acres of land and build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries that have been blamed for toxic algae blooms. House leaders have said they are opposed to borrowing money this year but have not rejected the Senate plan.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida may shift students away from failing schools

Calling it an “emergency,” Florida may agree to spend up to $200 million to shift students from chronically failing schools to charter schools run by private organizations.

The idea crafted by House Speaker Richard Corcoran and other top Republicans in the Florida House is this: Offer up money to help build “Schools of Hope” in neighborhoods, many of them in urban and poor areas.

The schools would be within 5 miles of or in the zones of existing traditional public schools that have repeatedly earned low grades under the state’s school grading system.

“No longer will we rob children of dignity and hope,” Corcoran said. “Now every single child will be afforded an opportunity of a world-class education.”

Corcoran, a Republican from Land O’Lakes, has touted the idea for months of using charter schools to serve low-income students, but his ambitious proposal is sure to ignite an ongoing debate over expanding the role of charter schools. Charter schools are considered public, but they are run by private organizations that sometimes use privately run companies to manage them.

The “Schools of Hope” proposal is coming at the same time that the Republican-controlled Legislature is considering a contentious idea to force school districts to share part of their local property taxes with charter school operators.

Rep. Shevrin Jones, the lead Democrat on the House’s main education committee, called the House plan part of a long-running movement in the state to offer assistance to charter schools at the expense of traditional public schools run by districts.

“We are creating a mess,” said Jones, who is from Broward County. “We should be taking $200 million to put the resources into those failing schools to ensure those schools are successful.”

Republicans, however, counter that many of the low-performing schools already get extra money from the state and from the federal government but have been unable to make steady improvements. They cite the recent decision of Jefferson County —a rural county in north Florida — to hand over its schools to a charter operator after years of struggle.

More than 100 schools statewide have been consistently ranked as low performing for more than three years.

Rep. Michael Bileca, a Miami Republican and chairman of the House Education Committee, said legislators met with charter school operators and asked what it would take for them to set up schools in the neighborhoods now served by traditional public schools. He said one answer was that they needed help paying for new buildings to house the school.

The House proposal would create both a grant program that would pay for expenses such as teacher training and other startup costs, and a loan program that would pay up to 25 percent of any school construction costs. It would also extend the money only to school operators that are already either nationally recognized or have a record of successfully serving students with a high percentage of students from low-income families.

A big question is whether or not the proposal will survive a looming fight during the next month between the House and Senate over a new state budget. Both sides have crafted vastly different spending plans.

But Sen. David Simmons, the Senate Republican in charge of the panel that oversees education spending, said he is open to any idea that seeks to help students at low-performing schools. Simmons has been championing his own proposal to offer a long school day at the same schools.

“I’m looking at anything that works,” Simmons said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

State paid law firm for meeting with House Speaker

Blurring the lines between his role as an up-and-coming Republican legislator and his job as an attorney, the law firm of House Speaker Richard Corcoran once charged the state for a meeting with Corcoran in his capacity as a lawmaker.

Newly-released billing records show that in October 2014 the firm of Broad and Cassel charged the state’s economic development agency ahead of a meeting between its affiliate, the state Division of Bond Finance, and Corcoran – putting the meeting in the crosshairs of a new review by the Governor of potential conflicts of interest.

At the time Corcoran was not Speaker but he already was viewed as one of the most powerful members in the Legislature.

The development agency, called Enterprise Florida, is at the center of a lively dispute between Corcoran and Gov. Rick Scott. Corcoran has railed against the agency – which has earned his firm hundreds of thousands of dollars – as a waste of taxpayer money. He has proposed shutting it down to the loud objections of Scott, who says it plays an important role in promoting Florida as a place to do business.

Corcoran, who has worked at Broad and Cassel since 2011 in its Tampa offices, told The Associated Press that he was unaware that his firm asked to be paid to prepare for the meeting with him.

But he said he attended the 2014 meeting as a legislator and not because he was required to do it for his job. He said he and all legislators are routinely asked by friends and colleagues to meet with people to discuss issues and problems they have with state government.

“Just because I work in a firm doesn’t mean I can’t do legislative aspects for people I know,” Corcoran said.

The organization that regulates lawyers used to prohibit Florida legislators from working at firms that did business with the state. But that rule is no longer in place. The state’s ethics commission in 2003 concluded that legislators could work for law firms that lobby the Legislature as long as the legislator did not share in any profits earned from the firm’s lobbying practice.

Corcoran maintained that firm executives have been steered clear of any potential ethical issues, saying that “nobody even remotely crosses the line.”

Invoices from Broad and Cassel show the firm charged a little more than $400 for the meeting. The firm did not respond to questions from The Associated Press about its billing practices.

But the administration of Gov. Rick Scott is raising questions about Broad and Cassel’s work on behalf of the state as a potential conflict of interest.

The firm has earned nearly $300,000 in the last six years representing Enterprise Florida, the agency has said.

The Tampa Bay Times first reported last week that the firm has been working on behalf of Enterprise Florida, which gets the bulk of its money from the state.

Kim McDougal, the chief of staff for Scott, on Monday sent a letter to all state agencies demanding that they look at legal contracts with outside law firms, especially with those firms that have legislators on their payroll.

“The employment of a legislator by a law firm that conducts business with the state could easily be perceived as a conflict of interest,” McDougal wrote.

McDougal’s letter said that Scott would like to prohibit legislators from working with firms that do business with the state. She said if the Legislature did not change the law then the governor would pursue “executive actions” that she did not explain further.

In a statement released Monday evening, Corcoran welcomed the review. The speaker was encouraged that the governor “is engaged now in ethics reform” and appreciated that Scott was “pointing out that Richard Corcoran cannot by bought by reminding everyone” that he was proposing to completely eliminate the budget of one of his employer’s clients, spokesman Fred Piccolo said.

Broad and Cassel is a well-established firm and has nine offices spread throughout the state. It has long had political connections with leading Republican politicians and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio worked for the firm when he was in the state Legislature. Corcoran was Rubio’s chief-of-staff when the Miami Republican was House speaker.

Before Corcoran started working there the firm’s Orlando office represented Enterprise Florida and other organizations run administratively through the economic development agency including the Florida Development Finance Corporation.

Bill would protect religious expression in schools

Students, their parents and school employees would be guaranteed wider rights to publicly pray and express their religious beliefs in public schools under a far-reaching bill approved Thursday by the Florida Senate.

Backers of the legislation, including Senate President Joe Negron, contend that the measure is needed because schools have unnecessarily clamped down on free speech rights, including prohibiting students from wearing crosses as jewelry, or chiding students who want to include religious figures in their academic work.

The school superintendent in Broward County in 2014 apologized after a student was told he couldn’t read the Bible during a free reading period.

The bill (SB 436) says school districts may not discriminate against any student, parent or school employee because they shared their religious viewpoint.

But those opposed to the bill say it could open the door from everything from cracking down on science teachers who teach evolution to allowing Christian students to intimidate those of other faiths.

“Could it be provoking? Could it be concerning? Yeah, that’s healthy thought. That’s what happens in a free world,” said Sen. Dennis Baxley, the Ocala Republican and sponsor of the bill. “This isn’t protecting a faith, it’s protecting all people’s freedom to express their hearts.”

The Senate passed the bill 23-13 following a wide-ranging debate. A similar bill is now moving in the Florida House.

Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer of Fort Lauderdale said the bill could lead to students proselytizing in school.

“We don’t need it. It should be sufficient that during the school day, you can pray to yourself,” Farmer said. “We all have our own personal relationship with God or Allah or whoever we believe in, but to force that on other people is just not necessary and it can be harmful and it can be disrespectful.”

The bill, which is backed by several Christian groups, says that students can wear clothing or jewelry that conveys a religious message. Negron has agreed that this would also allow followers of Islam to wear hijabs in schools.

The legislation also says students can express their religious viewpoints in coursework or artwork without being penalized. It also makes clear students can pray and organize religious groups to the same extent as other clubs and groups are allowed to meet on school grounds.

School districts must give religious groups access to school facilities and they must grant students the right to speak on religious topics at public forums.

___

Associated Press writer Brendan Farrington contributed to this report. Reprinted with permission of the AP.

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