Erika Donalds Archives - Florida Politics

Groups file legal briefs to support education measure under challenge

Two friend-of-the-court briefs by “groups with distinct interests” have now been filed in an attempt to save a proposed constitutional amendment on education from getting trashed from the November ballot.

The Florida Supreme Court on Monday said it will hear arguments Sept. 5 at the 4th District Court of Appeal courthouse in West Palm Beach.

Justices face a time crunch because ballots for the Nov. 6 general election will be printed and start to be mailed to voters in September.

The Urban Leagues of both Miami and Central Florida, along with the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools and the Florida Charter School Alliance, have now filed briefs in support of the amendment.

The proposed Amendment 8, placed on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission, would impose eight-year term limits on school board members and would require the promotion of “civic literacy” in public schools.

But another provision drew a legal challenge from the League of Women Voters of Florida. It would allow the state to operate and control public schools “not established by the school board,” wording that opponents said would lead to the expansion of charter schools.

Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper sided with the League of Women Voters, ruling that the proposal should not go before voters because of misleading wording. The state quickly appealed the ruling to the 1st District Court of Appeal, which then passed it to the Supreme Court.

“In reaching its conclusion to the contrary, the Circuit Court mistakenly relied on the language of an earlier draft proposal that was never approved by the CRC and is not before this Court,” the State’s brief explains.

“We remain determined and hopeful that the court will make the right decision to allow voters to decide Amendment 8 on its merits,” said Erika Donalds, a Collier County School Board member who sponsored the plan when she was a member of the CRC.

“Those with a mission to preserve the status quo have created unwarranted confusion and fear over what Amendment 8 will do. And we’re working to correct the record. This effort has always been about students. I hope more adults will remember that.”

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Background from The News Service of Florida, republished with permission. 

Pro-Amendment 8 committee adds $100K as Florida Supreme Court considers its fate

The political committee backing a contentious education amendment raised another $100,000 as the Florida Supreme Court prepares to consider whether it should be on the November ballot.

8isGreat.org brought in the new cash via a single check Philadelphia real estate investor Howard Rich, who has a proclivity for funding term limits and pro-charter school initiatives. Spending for the committee came in at $17,450, with $15,400 of that heading to Vero Beach-based MVP Strategy and Policy for campaign consulting work.

The six-figure haul comes after the committee raised just $8 and spent only 53 cents for the three reporting periods spanning July 21 through Aug. 10. It has now raised a total of $292,040  since forming in May with $238,665 in the bank on Aug. 23.

8isGreat.org is chaired by Collier County School Board member Erika Donalds, who sponsored the 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) proposals that became Amendment 8.

The bundled issues in the proposed constitutional amendment include eight-year term limits for county school board members, requiring “civic literacy” to be promoted in public schools, and stripping school boards of the sole authority to authorize charter schools within their jurisdiction.

On Monday, Leon County Judge John Cooper issued an order striking the amendment from the ballot as a result of legal challenge from the League of Women Voters. Cooper’s ruling cited the lack of the term “charter schools” in the ballot description, which instead describes them as schools “not established by the school board.”

“The failure to use the term voters would understand, ‘charter schools,’ as well as the use of a phrase that has no established meaning under Florida law, fails to inform voters of the chief purpose and effect of this proposal,” the ruling said.

Three days after his ruling, the issue had made it to the 1st District Court of Appeal, which punted it over to the Florida Supreme Court, which in turn unanimously agreed to hear the legal arguments on whether Amendment 8 should be on the ballot.

If placed back on the ballot, Amendment 8 would need 60 percent support from voters to pass.

Pam Bondi atop list of LG possibilities for Adam Putnam, say sources familiar

Though Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam faces a sizable deficit in our latest poll of the GOP Governor’s race against U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, sources familiar with the campaign’s thinking relate that Putnam has a short list of five potential Lt. Gov. picks, all of whom are Republican women.

Topping the list: Attorney General Pam Bondi, one of Putnam’s highest-profile endorsers.

The two Cabinet members are natural allies, demographically, politically and temperamentally aligned, with long records of service that Florida Republicans admire.

Bondi endorsed her “dear friend” Putnam, then cut an ad for him, and will be in the Jacksonville market with Putnam, looking very much like a running mate at a Monday rally at the local Fraternal Order of Police.

Both Bondi and Putnam are very much aligned with the law enforcement community.

Bondi offers another unique value add: the unequivocal approval of Pres. Donald Trump, offering a bridge if Putnam should beat the President’s endorsed candidate.

Kendall Republican Jeanette Núñez is also under consideration. The 46-year-old Kendall Republican is termed out of the House and has already launched a 2020 state Senate campaign.

Núñez would help shore up Putnam’s support in the Miami area, where per our polling, DeSantis is up over 70 percent with primary voters.

Sen. Dana Young of Hillsborough County is also under consideration, per our information.

Young lauded Putnam after the first of two debates between the GOP gubernatorial hopefuls.

“Adam certainly thrives on state issues and that’s what this election is about,” said state Sen. Dana Young of Tampa. “I really enjoyed when Adam welcomed the moderators to Florida and welcomed his opponent to Florida.”

Also under consideration: Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

Putnam has campaigned heavily on the need for more workforce education, arguing that vocational training would fill skills gaps and fill needs throughout the state that aren’t necessarily fulfilled by liberal arts degrees.

Erika Donalds, a Collier School Board member and the wife of state Rep. Byron Donalds, is a school choice advocate.

As a member of the Constitutional Revision Commission, Donalds pushed to get Amendment 8 on the ballot, which would impose statewide school board term limits. That Amendment is currently being challenged in court.

Education amendment struck from November ballot—for now

Leon County Judge John Cooper on Monday ordered a contentious education amendment removed from the November ballot.

Amendment 8 bundled three education issues of varying popularity. It would set eight-year term limits for county school board members; require “civic literacy” to be promoted in public schools, and would strip school boards of their sole authority to authorize charter schools within their jurisdiction.

The term “charter schools” is not used in the ballot description, which instead describes them as schools “not established by the school board.”

The ruling said the use of that term, an as-yet undefined category of school, made “both the text and the summary … entirely unclear as to which schools will be affected by the revision.”

“The failure to use the term voters would understand, ‘charter schools,’ as well as the use of a phrase that has no established meaning under Florida law, fails to inform voters of the chief purpose and effect of this proposal,” the ruling said.

An appeal by the state of Cooper’s decision is almost certain. That would impose an ‘automatic stay’ on his order, freezing the status quo and leaving the amendment on the ballot until an appellate court, likely the state Supreme Court, says otherwise.

The decision is a result of a lawsuit brought by the League of Women Voters of Florida which called the amendment “affirmatively misleading” over the provision that would allow charter schools to be authorized without an OK from local school boards.

“We know that Floridians overwhelmingly support the constitutional requirement to make adequate provision for the education of all children that is ‘uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality.’ We are asking the court to ensure that voters aren’t tricked into eliminating those protections,” the lawsuit said.

The League issued a statement celebrating the decision shortly after it was handed down.

“It’s a great day for Florida voters. The Constitution Revision Commission knew exactly what they were doing when they drafted Amendment 8 — grouping a controversial measure with popular ideas in an effort to hoodwink voters, then using vague and misleading language to hide that fact,” League President Patricia Brigham said.

“Amendment 8 would have used the feel-good language of civic education and term limits to lure voters into voting ‘Yes,’ while wresting local control of schools,” she added. “We were confident that the courts would see through the charade and are thrilled that they agree.”

8isGreat.org, the political committee backing the amendment, issued a statement through its chair, Erika Donalds, a Collier County School Board member who sponsored the 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) proposals that became Amendment 8.

“Today’s judgment was disappointing given what we know, that Amendment 8’s policies were logically grouped together and followed Florida’s constitutional process,” said Donalds, a CRC member. “The group suing to remove Amendment 8 from the ballot fundamentally opposes empowering families to choose the education setting that best fits their child.

“Despite the speculation and bunk they’ve spread, I hope voters will be able to make their own decision in November. It is disgusting how many misrepresentations the opposition is willing to put forth to block student-centered school choice options,” she said.

“Education can and should look different for students based on various reasons and seasons in their lives. Florida has come so far, and Amendment 8 is our next logical step in providing innovations and opportunities that help education work for every child.”

The ruling was handed down shortly after 8isGreat.org celebrated receiving a $100,000 contribution from term-limits advocate and Philadelphia-based real estate investor Howard Rich. The pro-Amendment 8 effort has been heavily backed by the Republican Party of Florida and charter school corporations.

Amendment 8 is the second amendment to be removed from the ballot by the courts; Amendment 13, which aims to end greyhound racing in the state, was also stricken. That decision is being appealed and will go before the state Supreme Court.

Depending on if the Amendment 8 and Amendment 13 rulings are upheld, Florida voters will decide on up to 13 ballot measures in the November general election. Proposed amendments need at least 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution.

Charter schools dump cash into school board term limits amendment

For-profit charter school companies are footing most of the bills for a committee backing Amendment 8, which would impose eight-year term limits on school board members, among other things.

According to recent campaign finance reports, 8isGreat.org has taken in $54,532 in contributions since mid-May, with a majority of that money coming in from charter school companies.

Jupiter-based GreenAccess and Sarasota-based Florida Overseas Investment Center each forked over $15,000, while Fort Lauderdale-based Red Apple Development cut the committee a check for $10,000.

In addition to overseeing charters, GreenAccess runs a program that helps immigrants get green cards via the EB-5 program in exchange for an investing in a for-profit charter.

“Using the Immigrant EB 5 Investor Visa Program, GreenAccess delivers foreign individuals and their families successful immigration to the U.S. via safe investing in Florida public schools,” the company’s website states. “GreenAccess defines ultimate success as facilitating clients’ ability to immigrate and remain in the US (including Miami and South Florida) as permanent, legal residents – Green Card holders. GreenAccess’ process melds and maximizes the benefits of both the EB5 loan and equity models.”

Florida Overseas Investment Center runs a similar program.

Amendment 8 was placed on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission. It was sponsored by CRC member and Collier County School Board member Erika Donalds, who also serves as chair of the 8isGreat.org political committee.

Earlier Thursday, the League of Women Voters of Florida filed a lawsuit in Leon County Circuit Civil court Thursday calling Amendment 8 “affirmatively misleading” and seeking to have it removed from the ballot. Their issue is with another provision that would let for-profit charters avoid having to get approval from local school boards before opening.

Amendment 8 is one of 13 measures that will go before voters in the 2018 general election. Proposed amendments need at least 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution.

League of Women Voters sues over education amendment

Calling it “affirmatively misleading,” the League of Women Voters of Florida is seeking to have a proposed constitutional amendment on education tossed off the ballot.

At issue is a section that would let organizers of charter schools avoid having to get an OK from local school boards to open.

The League itself, President Patricia M. Brigham, and second Vice President Shawn Bartelt filed suit in Leon County Circuit Civil court on Thursday against Secretary of State Ken Detzner, the state’s chief elections officer.

Amendment 8 was approved earlier this year by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) and placed on the November statewide ballot. Amendments need at least 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution.

The suit says its “proposed ballot title and summary fail to inform voters of the chief purpose of the revision, and are affirmatively misleading as to (its) true purpose and effect.”

The League mentioned in its complaint that the amendment’s sponsor, CRC member and Collier County School Board member Erika Donalds, said she “intentionally drafted (the proposal) … to ‘allow the Legislature flexibility to create alternate processes to authorize the establishment of public schools within our state.’ ”

The amendment’s language “would, therefore, enable the Legislature to devise a method of creating and operating new public schools with no input from or participation by the local school boards, school districts within whose borders the schools are located, or local electors,” the suit said.

“Charter schools are nonprofit organizations that have a contract, or ‘charter,’ to provide the same educational services to students as district public schools,” according to the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools website.

In a separate statement, Brigham said: “The Amendment 8 language is blatantly, and unconstitutionally, misleading.”

Voters “will not recognize that the real purpose of the amendment is to allow unaccountable political appointees to control where and when charter schools can be established in their county,” she said.

“We know that Floridians overwhelmingly support the constitutional requirement to make adequate provision for the education of all children that is ‘uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality.’ We are asking the court to ensure that voters aren’t tricked into eliminating those protections.”

The case has not yet been docketed, so it wasn’t known Thursday to which circuit judge it had been assigned.

The League’s copy of the complaint is below.

Conservative school board members launch committee backing term limits amendment

A trio of school board members on Monday announced the launch of a new political committee backing Amendment 8, which would impose term limits on county school board seats among other changes to the K-12 education system.

The committee, “8isGREAT,” is headed up by Collier County School Board Member Erika Donalds, who sponsored the proposal in her role as a member of the Constitution Revision Commission. She’s joined by Indian River County School Board Chairman Shawn Frost and Duval County School Board Member Scott Shine, who will serve as executive board members.

“Amendment 8 is Great for Florida’s future, and we are committed to communicating that message to all Floridians. As school board members, we are convinced that fresh ideas and diverse opportunities for innovation are essential to creating a system of public education that works for every student,” Donalds said. “When it comes to the policy necessary to deliver that change, Amendment 8 is Great!”

The press release announcing the committee said 8isGREAT “fundraisers are being planned in major Florida cities for the months of July and August, and a fully modern campaign is in the works.”

Amendment 8 would set term limits for school board members at eight consecutive years, the same duration imposed on lawmakers and other state-level offices. It would also require the Legislature to “provide for the promotion of civic literacy in public schools.”

The proposal is one of 13 amendments, including eight CRC proposals, slated to go before Florida voters during the Nov. 6 general election. Ballot amendments need at least 60 percent support from voters in order to make it into the Florida Constitution.

School board term limits could go to voters

School board members would be limited to eight years in office under a proposal that moved forward Wednesday in the state Constitution Revision Commission.

The proposed constitutional amendment (Proposal 43), sponsored by Commissioner Erika Donalds of Naples, would limit county school-board members who are elected on Nov. 6 or later to no more than two consecutive four-year terms.

Donalds, a member of the Collier County School Board, said the proposal is similar to a constitutional amendment adopted by Florida voters in 1992 that limited state lawmakers and Cabinet members to two terms. The governor is also limited to eight years in office.

“People do know what’s best for them,” Donalds said in response to arguments that the public does not understand the ramifications of term limits. “That’s why they support term limits in such huge measure, basically at every level of government.”

She said voters can compare the Florida Legislature with Congress, which does not have term limits.

“They can see very clearly the difference between having term limits and not having term limits,” Donalds said.

Commissioner Chris Smith, who opposed the measure, said limiting the terms of school board members and other elected officials gives more power to lobbyists and staff who remain in the system while elected officials come and go.

“It empowers lobbyists. It creates more and more lobbyists. I don’t think the public truly understands the ramifications of term limits,” said Smith, a former state senator from Fort Lauderdale. “It’s one of those things that sounds good. Everybody wants to throw the bums out.”

Commissioner Jeanette Nunez of Miami voted for the measure.

“I am the poster child of term limits. It works,” said Nunez, who has served eight years as a Republican member of the Florida House. As she leaves office later this year because of term limits, she said she looks forward to “the new crop of individuals who will bring fresh ideas and a new perspective” to the Legislature.

Commissioner Arthenia Joyner of Tampa, a former state senator who voted against the measure, said term limits are not necessary for school board members who are accessible to local voters.

“If you mess up, they will get you out. They will limit your term. We don’t need to do it. We need to let the people do it,” Joyner said.

The commission voted 27-6 to advance the proposal to the CRC’s Style and Drafting Committee. If approved by the committee, the measure will return to the full CRC, where it must win support from at least 22 commissioners to be placed on the November ballot.

Donalds withdrew another proposed constitutional amendment (Proposal 33) that would have required all school superintendents in the state to be appointed, rather than allowing counties the current option of appointing or electing the superintendents.

Gun control among issues teed up for Constitution Revision Commission

The debate over gun control is ready to move to a new forum, as the Florida Constitution Revision Commission next week begins the process of deciding what issues to place on the November ballot.

Facing a May 10 deadline, the commission will start meeting Monday in the Senate chamber in Tallahassee as it considers three dozen proposed constitutional changes that have emerged from committee hearings.

The commission, which meets every 20 years and has the unique power to place issues directly on the general election ballot, has scheduled seven floor sessions to wade through the proposals, ending on March 27.

One measure (Proposal 3), sponsored by Commissioner Roberto Martinez of Miami, is likely to generate debate, as it has attracted several amendments related to gun control in the wake of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

The amendment was initially designed to remove an obsolete provision in the Florida Constitution that bars illegal immigrants from owning land.

But Martinez, a former federal prosecutor, has filed an amendment that would also require anyone purchasing a firearm to be 21 years old. And it would require at least a three-day waiting period after a gun purchase to carry out a “comprehensive background check.” It would ban “bump stocks,” devices added to weapons to greatly increase their firing capacity.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale has another proposed amendment that would ban assault-style weapons.

Also, Commissioner Hank Coxe of Jacksonville has filed an amendment that would raise the age of buying a firearm to 21 and would impose a 10-day waiting period. It also would ban bump stocks. Commissioners Arthenia Joyner of Tampa, Sherry Plymale of Palm City and Frank Kruppenbacher of Orlando are supporting Coxe’s amendment.

The attempts to place the gun-control measures into the state Constitution follow the passage of a new school-safety law, signed by Gov. Rick Scott last week, that raises the age from 18 to 21 and imposes a three-day waiting period for the purchase of rifles and other long guns. The National Rifle Association has filed a lawsuit challenging the age requirement.

Other proposals that will considered by the full commission include:

— Martinez is sponsoring a measure (Proposal 4) that would remove from the state Constitution the so-called “no-aid” provision, which prevents public spending on churches and other religiously affiliated groups.

— Commissioner Erika Donalds of Naples has several education-related measures, including a proposal (Proposal 33) that would require all school superintendents to be appointed. She has another measure (Proposal 43) that would impose an eight-year term limit on school board members.

— Commissioner Rich Newsome of Orlando has a proposal (Proposal 29) that would require businesses licensed in the state to use E-Verify or a similar system to determine the immigration-related eligibility of their employees.

— Kruppenbacher has a proposal (Proposal 54) that would eliminate the state’s controversial “certificate of need” process, which restricts construction of hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and other medical facilities.

— Commissioner Lisa Carlton of Sarasota has a proposal (Proposal 65), that would ban vaping in workplaces.

— Commissioner Tom Lee of Thonotosassa has a proposal (Proposal 69) that would ban greyhound racing and a proposal (Proposal 66) that would assign more official duties to the office of lieutenant governor.

— Commissioner Tim Cerio of Tallahassee has a proposal (Proposal 96) that would establish more rights for victims of crime, including the right to refuse to give a deposition to the defense.

To remain viable as potential ballot initiatives, all the measures must receive a majority vote from the commission to advance to the CRC’s Style and Drafting Committee.

The style and drafting panel, which also will begin meeting next week, will play a key role in refining the proposals and creating ballot titles. The committee will also decide whether to let proposals stand as individual items or to group several proposals into single ballot items.

Proposals approved by the Style and Drafting Committee, which is scheduled to meet until April 13, will return to the full commission where they must receive at least 22 votes from the 37-member group to be placed on the November 2018 general election ballot.

Proposals placed on the ballot will need support from at least 60 percent of the voters to be enacted.

After finishing its March meetings, the full commission will return to Tallahassee on April 16 and could meet until May 4 to finish its work. Its final report must be sent to Secretary of State Ken Detzner by May 10.

Constitution panel criticized again for procedural hiccups, announces second tour

A friendly scheduling meeting of the Constitution Revision Commission Rules and Administration Committee Tuesday evening took a sharp turn when someone testified that members of a different committee had violated two of the Commission’s rules.

Stephanie Owens, a lobbyist for the League of Women Voters, said the CRC’s Education Committee last month did not follow a rule guiding vote reconsideration and a rule stipulating that all meetings be public.

Owens said both violations occurred when the education body took a vote on Commissioner Erika Donalds’ Proposal 32, which seeks to end salaries for all school board members.

The sloppiness of the vote was documented. The Tampa Bay Times noted that the committee had failed the proposal by vote, then postponed it after “staff forgot to ask Donalds for her vote.” A recording of the meeting shows Donalds standing at the podium before the committee rather than seated with the other commissioners during the vote.

But Owens argued Tuesday that the postponement was technically an improper revote, violating CRC Rule 6.5, which allows only commissioners of the prevailing side to propose reconsideration.

Because Donalds asked to postpone the vote, the rule was violated, Owens contended. But the CRC said that the vote was invalid because of the procedural error. In other words, the vote failing the measure hadn’t technically occurred.

Owens’ criticisms came on two fronts. She also questioned the brief recess held by the committee members once staff realized they did not include Donalds in the roll call. The lobbyist claimed that violated Rule 1.23: “All proceedings and records of the Commission shall be open to the public.”

The brief recess to discuss the error outside of public view, Owens said, was a “blatant violation.”

Tim Cerio, rules chair, is not on the Education Committee but was familiar with the incident. He told Owens that the rule did not apply to the recess because it was a meeting of just the committee, not the Commission as a whole. He said the committee can revert to “Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure,” which provides for such breaks.

Cerio assured Owens that the recess was not a move to evade the public.

“There was a genuine dispute,” Cerio explained. “Staff had to do some homework on the motion to reconsider.”

Commissioners are not required to serve on outside legislative bodies and many hold private careers. Cerio stressed that it’s important to educate those involved in any part of the Commission.

“We need to make sure we educate not only members, but also staff,” Cerio said.

Though it isn’t the first time concerns have been raised over the Commission’s transparency.

Commissioner Bob Solari questioned earlier this year whether private meetings between two commissioners could occur. Solari had difficulty obtaining an answer and ultimately criticized the body to which he belongs.

“One of the things we need to do, as we make proposals and transfer them onto the ballot, is to build the public trust,” Solari told the Miami Herald. “The best way to build the public trust is to operate in a open and transparent manner. If the public was watching our public meetings, the takeaway would not be something that builds that trust.” 

Beginning February, the CRC will begin its second statewide tour to gather input from the public on proposals.

There are six meetings peppered across the state on schedule:

 Feb. 6, 2018 at Nova Southeastern University

— Feb. 19, 2018 at Eastern Florida State College

— Feb. 20, 2018 at University of North Florida

— Feb. 27, 2018 at University of West Florida

— Mar. 13, 2018 at University of South Florida – St. Petersburg

— TBD: Southwest Florida hearing

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