Florida Legislature – Page 6 – Florida Politics

Florida’s biggest spending plan ever ready for final negotiations

The Florida House and Senate on Thursday passed their spending plans differing by only about $100 million — a tenth of a percent of the roughly $87 billion proposed by each chamber.

The starting point for final budget negotiations on what is the largest proposed budget in state history is more than a week ahead of schedule, Senate President Joe Negron said. And though he says money differences are not that big, clashes over the environment, health and education remain.

A plan by House GOP leadership to “link” the education sub-section to a “conforming” bill laden with new policy has roiled the chamber’s budget. That includes a proposal to create a new scholarship for students who are bullied in public schools to go to private school.

The two are so intertwined that Hialeah Republican Manny Diaz, chair of the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, admitted that if that bill (HB 7055) failed, legislators would have to start from scratch to craft a new lower education sub-budget.

Negron told reporters on Thursday that he would prefer the House move its education bill — a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran — “through the traditional process” and not through the budget as a conforming bill.

“It would be preferable to refer it to the appropriate committees,” Negron said, “but the larger picture is that many proposals in the bill enjoy the support of the Senate … the majority of the Senate is promoting school choice.”

House Democrats have complained that the education bill would violate the state constitution’s “single subject” rule, which requires that “every law shall embrace but one subject and matter properly connected therewith, and the subject shall be briefly expressed in the title.”

For example, Democratic Leader-designate Kionne McGhee and others rapped the bill for having a 12-page title.

He actually spent about 10 minutes just listing off all the headings of the provisions in the bill. “We’re laying down a record for the (state) Supreme Court to review this bill,” said McGhee, an attorney.

Miami Beach Democratic Rep. David Richardson, a forensic auditor known for his detailed budget analysis, tried to amend the budget to cut the link to HB 7055, calling it “a bad precedent.”

No surprise: That move was eventually shot down on a party-line vote. But the bill passed on a 66-43 vote.

Over in the Senate, the budget debate sailed through the chamber with a 33-1 vote.

The proposal sets aside $3.4 billion in total reserves and appropriates $21.1 billion for the state’s K-12 and higher education systems.

Next week, the process to schedule budget conference meetings will begin to reach a final agreement on the 2018-19 budget.

“We are close in amount, so that makes life a lot easier,” Negron said.

Republicans advance bill banning certain abortions, welcome court challenges

A House bill that would do away with the “most commonly performed” method of abortion in Florida was advanced on Wednesday, with some Republicans welcoming challenges in court if it is deemed unconstitutional upon passage.

The chances of the bill passing this Session, however, are unlikely. The companion bill in the Senate has yet to hold a hearing.

But the controversial proposal, HB 1429, is still moving ahead in the House and cleared its second of three committee assignments on Wednesday, where it drew criticism from Democrats and an American Civil Liberties Union representative.

“This tramples on women’s rights to access the safest and most commonly used method of abortion during the second trimester,” said Kara Gross with the ACLU.

Under the bill, introduced by Republican Rep. Erin Grall, physicians would face a third-degree felony if they use tools, such as clamps and thongs, during the dilation and evacuation abortion procedure unless a woman’s life is in danger.

The proposal opened up a heated debate that ranged from Republican Rep. George Moraitis calling the procedure a baby “execution” to Democratic state Rep. Cynthia Stafford saying terminating a pregnancy is a decision between a “woman and her god, not a woman and her government.”

“This is not going to result in changing existing practices because we have an independent judiciary and rule of law that protects the rights of people — yes, even women  in our society,” Democratic Rep. Joseph Geller said.

Republican Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen supported the measure, but urged lawmakers to push harder to give women greater access to reproductive education and birth control so they “don’t find themselves in these situations.”

Several other states have passed legislation similar to the one proposed by Grall this year. These laws have opened the states up to challenges in court. That worried some Republicans who helped advance the measure.

That included Rep. Scott Plakon who was disturbed that a “big move to protect lobsters” would get more support than a bill that would “protect a sentient being from feeling pain during a procedure performed by monsters.”

“God help us that this is going on,” Plakon said, “let’s vote yes and find out what the courts will say on this. I would consider it money well spent to go through the courts.”

Gross said taxpayers would end up footing the bill in litigation costs for the “Legislature’s insistence on passing unconstitutional legislation.”

Survey finds Floridians want right to rent out their homes to vacationers

Most Floridians want the right to rent out a bedroom, or their whole home, or their rental property, as short-term lodging for vacationers.

A new survey conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy and released Tuesday finds that 73 percent of Floridians believe they and their neighbors should have the right to rent out their primary homes to vacationers for short periods of time, and only 15 percent think it’s a bad idea. The same portion of the Florida population thinks it also should be OK to rent out a secondary or investment residential property for short-term vacationers.

The matter of vacation rentals has sizzled through Tallahassee for several Legislative Sessions running and is doing so again this winter, as the interests behind vacation rental houses, a patchwork industry held together by marketing giants like Airbnb and HomeAway, go against those concerned that mini-illegal hotels can destroy residential communities, a position supported by both municipal and county organizations and the traditional hotel and motel industry at risk of giving up market share.

This year the battle, to regulate or deregulate vacation rental homes, is being fought over what is now the Committee Substitute to Senate Bills 1400 and 1640 in the Florida Senate, and House Bill 773 in the Florida House. It’s playing out as a battle of property rights of the home owners versus property rights of their neighbors, or the elimination of patchwork, local regulations versus preservation of the city and county home rule, while the vacation home marketing companies and the hotel organizations seek the background.

The question of what Floridians think was reinforced by the Mason-Dixon survey, which found only small numbers of Floridians – less than 20 percent across the questions and across even nearly all of the demographic breakouts – who have no opinion on the matters. The pollster reached 625 Florida registered voters, on both land lines and cell phones, from Jan. 3 through Feb. 1 last week. Mason-Dixon said the margin of error was no more than 4 percentage points.

Among the findings:

– 73 percent believe Floridians should have the right to rent out their primary homes on short-term bases, while 15 percent believe they should not.

The positive responses never fall below two-thirds or rise above four-fifths of respondents under demographic breakdowns by region, gender, age, race, or party affiliation.

– 73 percent believe Floridians should have the right to rent out a secondary home or investment property as a vacation rental, and only 16 percent disagree.

Again, there was very little change in any of the support across regions, genders, ages, races or party registrations.

– 61 percent of respondents believe regulations of vacation rental homes should be consistent throughout the state, while 22 percent believe it should not.

Once again, there was consistency in the opinions across demographics, with people in Southwest Florida (68 percent yes to 17 percent no) showing the most support for consistent regulations, and those in Tampa Bay (55 to 26) and Central Florida (56 to 27) showing the least support for that idea.

Bill criminalizing unpermitted access to electronic devices moves forward

Law enforcement officers in Florida could soon need probable cause and warrants to access a suspect’s mobile location tracking device.

Those potential new restrictions are provided in a Senate bill (SB 1256) that cleared its first committee stop on Tuesday. The proposal, sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, would also make it a crime to read a text message, email or other communication on a person’s cell phone without their permission, or without a warrant.

“We need to make sure Florida laws keep pace with changes in technology,” Brandes said. “With more and more families utilizing microphone-enabled communications tools to aid in daily household activities, this legislation makes sure our laws are clear with regard to when and how these devices can be subject to search,” Brandes said.

The measure cleared the Senate Criminal Justice Committee without debate. It also drew the backing of social media giant Facebook.

Under Brandes’ bill, an individual would not face criminal punishment in cases where an electronic device was accessed for business purposes and the information accessed is not “personally identifiable” or is collected in a way that “prevents identification of the user of the device.”

Following its passage, Senate President Joe Negron praised the proposal. He said it would address “current ambiguities” and protect Floridians from unconstitutional property searches.

Under Brandes’ bill, a law enforcement officer who wants to get the exact location of a suspect through their cell phone location tracker would be required to get a court-issued warrant.

Once a warrant is issued, the period of time that the data may be accessed may not exceed 45 days unless the court grants an extension to the warrant.

A House companion (HB 1249) sponsored by Tampa Republican Rep. Jamie Grant is moving ahead in the chamber and has two more committees before it hits the full floor.

Grant’s bill does not offer protections to businesses that gather information that is not personally identifiable.

Payday lending bill moves ahead in House

A House panel on Wednesday adopted a “strike-all” amendment to a bill that would change regulatory requirements governing the payday-lending industry, which consumer advocates criticize for creating “debt traps” for poor Floridians.

The proposal would comply with new federal rules set last year by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau last year meant to ensure lenders determine if a borrower can afford to repay the full amount with interest.

State Rep. Jamie Grant, a Tampa Republican, said his bill would move to a “product that does not require the underwriting that makes the economics of the transaction unsustainable.”

Under his bill, a consumer may not borrow or have an outstanding balance that exceeds $1,000. And the maximum fees that a lender may charge cannot be more than 8 percent of the borrower’s outstanding balance on a biweekly basis.

It is expected, however, that the bill will raise the fees consumers must pay in some instances.

In Florida, there are 923 licensed short-term lenders. Between July 2016 and June 2017, these non-bank cash advance services approved $3 billion in loans to consumers with fees totaling $306 million.

Consumer and civil rights groups — including the NAACP, the Florida Alliance of Consumer Protection, the Florida Credit Union Association and Florida Legal Services — have long opposed these services, which they argue are a trap for poor Floridians.

State Rep. Janet Cruz, a Democrat co-sponsoring the bill, defended the effort, saying she grew up with a family that didn’t have access to credit cards. She shared that her mother, Gracie, used short-term loans to provide for her family.

“Being poor or financially challenged doesn’t mean that you are dumb,” Cruz said.

Following an hour-long debate on the bill, Grant admitted he is “conflicted” by the bill and that it is not a bill he would pass if “he was king.”

“The reason why this bill is striking a chord with all of us in this body is because we simultaneously understand that there are people in this state who don’t have access to traditional capital who have legitimate needs — urgent needs,” Grant said.

Rep. Sean Shaw voted in favor of the measure, saying he has constituents in “the most economically depressed part of Tampa” that rely on these short-term loans.

“If they were to go away, I would tell you that cable bills would not be paid, electricity would be turned off, cellphone and water bills (would go unpaid) — and that’s not something I am prepared to do,” Shaw said.

Former Congressman Kendrick Meek and former House Speaker Tom Feeney, who in 2001 helped pass the payday loan law to include protections intended to help cash-strapped Floridians, both spoke out in favor of the proposed legislation.

Feeney said the new federal rules will result in a significant reduction in credit availability and that Florida “needs to avoid this problem.”

“The Florida model for short-term, small-dollar loans has worked for our citizens, and I encourage state lawmakers to consider protecting this important credit option to keep it available for years to come,” Feeney said.

HB 857 now heads to its last committee stop and an identical version of bill, SB 920, is moving ahead in the Senate.

With four Brightline pedestrian deaths, Debbie Mayfield imploring need for state safety regulation

Now that four people have been killed after somehow walking or bicycling into Brightline railroad trains’ paths, the state senator who has been pushing for Florida to regulate safety for the state’s new high-speed, private passenger rail service decried whether there have been enough tragedies for the state to start considering train safety.

“How many more people have to die in order for us to really take a look at safety measures?” implored state Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Melbourne Republican who has been pushing bills for two years trying to get Florida to regulate train safety before Brightline trains start coming through her Senate District 17 communities in Brevard and Indian River counties, as well as others up and down Florida’s Atlantic coast.

Mayfield actually made that declaration Wednesday afternoon before the fourth fatal accident happened.

Brightline, formerly known as All Aboard Florida, hasn’t been commercially operating a full week yet, and for a few months before its only runs had been occasional test, training or promotional exercises, or just efforts to move train sets from one place to another. Yet now the company is dealing with four fatal accidents involving its trains. The most recent reportedly occurred Wednesday afternoon when a man riding a bicycle was struck by a train in Boynton Beach.

The third fatality, the one that brought Mayfield’s declaration, came last Friday evening when a 32-year-old woman  reportedly ducked under a down crossing gate at a street crossing, also in Boynton Beach, and then was struck by the Brightline train on its final promotional run before it was to start commercial service the following morning.

Brightline officials offered thoughts and prayers and full cooperation with all investigating agencies. But with law enforcement investigations underway, they could say little beyond that, other than to provide assurances that the company is doing all it can to assure safety.

The second pedestrian had been killed on that track in November when a 35-year-old woman was hit by a test run of a Brightline train in Deerfield Beach. The first was killed in July when a woman was hit in Boca Raton, a death ruled a suicide in front of another Brightline train on a test run.

The fatalities demonstrate both the warnings that Mayfield and her allies in the Florida Legislature have been trying to put forward for two years now, and the challenges that Brightline or any railroad faces, recognizing that, no matter what the train companies might do, there’s an almost random potential for tragedies if someone wanders onto a track in front of an oncoming train, just as there is if someone wanders onto a highway in front of oncoming street traffic. In fact, also on Wednesday a pedestrian was killed by the much slower SunRail commuter train in Winter Park.

This session Mayfield introduced Senate Bill 572, the proposed High-Speed Rail Passenger Safety Act, while her counterparts in the House of Representatives, Erin Grall of Vero Beach and MaryLynn Magar of Tequesta, offered House Bill 525.

Last month Mayfield decried the need for state safety oversight after a high-speed Amtrak train on its maiden run derailed in Washington state, killing three. And then Friday night came news that a third person had been killed after being struck by Brightline trains.

“This is a tragedy. You don’t want anything like this to happen,” Mayfield said. “But how many more people, whether it’s suicides, whether its accidents, or whether they just happen, before we really take a look at putting safety first when it comes to high-speed rail coming through our communities?” Mayfield implored, shortly before the fourth death occurred.

Her comments were similar to those from Brent Hanlon, chairman of Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida, which has long been leading the community fight against Brightline’s plans to extend high-speed rail service up much of Florida’s Atlantic Coast.

“First and foremost, we express our deepest condolences to the family members of all three victims,” Hanlon said in a news release issued by CARE-FL before the fourth death was announced. “This is exactly why we are fighting for our communities. Enough is enough. We need safety measures in place that will protect our pedestrians, our school children who may walk or bike along the tracks to school, our first responders and members of our community. AAF continues to tout its commitment to safety, but three deaths during test runs indicate something is seriously wrong.”

Right now Brightline is running only through Palm Beach and Broward counties, from West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale. Later this year train service will be extended to Miami. The company intends to develop high-speed tracks from West Palm Beach to Orlando to one day provide service from Miami all the way to Orlando. For now, the maximum speed is about 79 mph for the South Florida segment. From West Palm Beach to Cocoa, through the districts of Mayfield, Grall and Magar, the train could reach 110 mph. From Cocoa to Orlando it could reach 120 mph. The company also has talked about extending lines to Jacksonville and Tampa, though nothing formal has been announced.

Specifically Mayfield’s bill and the House counterpart seek to have the Florida Department of Transportation impose, inspect for, administer, and enforce safety regulations on any high-speed passenger trains in Florida, of which Brightline would be the first, and so far the only known. There also are some fiscal issues in the bill, as well as reporting and transparency requirements for rail accidents and rail safety. She also wrote to Gov. Rick Scott last month urging him to back her bill after the Washington rail disaster.

Brightline officials insist they are building their system with the highest safety standards offered by the Federal Railroad Administration. That includes pursuing additional measures that would not necessarily be required by federal rules, including upgrading all public at-grade railroad crossings to include gates, warning time systems, bells, flashing lights and signs; implementing “positive train control” high-tech train braking systems; and upgrading crossings to meet highest federal safety standards, whether federal rules would require them at those specific crossings or not.

The company also cited public safety education efforts that include a tri-language [English, Spanish and Creole] rail safety public service announcement campaign; partnerships with school districts to distribute safety information; 40 Brightline employees trained to give safety presentations throughout the communities; and outreach efforts throughout the rail corridor.

Mayfield insisted that safety assurances need to be in law, tailored for Florida, inspected, and enforced, and that the company’s agreements with the local authorities and the Federal Railroad Administration  do not provide the level of requirement that her bill would impose.

She acknowledged that proposals in her legislation might not stop pedestrians from ignoring gates, horns, and other warnings and wandering in front of oncoming trains, as appeared to happen in each of the four Brightline fatalities. But she argued that the Florida Department of Transportation could and should take responsibility for identifying risks and seeking safety measures to address them.

“The things we’re trying to address in this bill is to make somebody accountable for the oversight and regulation of any high-speed rail that comes through the state of Florida. It’s pretty clear that the bill says, establish safety recommendations, reporting requirements and training to assure the safest environment for impacted communities as well as passengers.”

Dr. Nicole Fanarjian, Sarah Lipton-Lubet: Florida lawmakers are subsidizing anti-abortion lies

Wouldn’t you want to know if your taxpayer dollars were being used to lie to women about their health?

That’s exactly what is happening here in Florida. Each year, the Florida Legislature funnels taxpayer dollars to “crisis pregnancy centers,” (CPCs) anti-abortion organizations posing as legitimate health care clinics. Under the guise of providing reproductive health services and pregnancy-related information, these fake clinics shame women and lie to them to prevent them from accessing the care they want and need.

Often camouflaged as health care facilities and purposely located near real clinics that provide the full range of reproductive health services, CPCs try to lure women away from facilities that can actually meet their reproductive health care needs.

When a woman enters a CPC for any type of service, she is given biased counseling, misinformation and, at many “clinics,” religious seminars. Often, she hears false claims about fetal development and the health effects and safety of abortion care (in reality, abortion is one of the safest medical procedures in the United States).

To be clear, CPCs peddle falsehoods that have been repeatedly discredited by extensive scientific research and the country’s most prominent medical associations.

Florida women describe being harassed, bullied and given blatantly false information at CPCs. Janessa from the Tampa Bay area had been so ill from her high-risk pregnancy that she was hospitalized, unable to work and struggling to make ends meet.

Given her compromised health, she decided an abortion was her best option. Hoping to save money on the ultrasound she needed before her appointment, Janessa went to a nearby clinic that advertised free ultrasound services.

Unfortunately, the clinic was an anti-abortion CPC, and instead of providing Janessa with a reliable ultrasound, they shamed her for deciding to have an abortion.

Staff repeatedly forced her to view ultrasound images and told her they would call her after she left to discuss her pregnancy. Janessa was sure of her decision to obtain abortion care, but she was shaken by her experience at the CPC and intimidated by the staff’s threats to repeatedly contact her against her wishes.

Unfortunately, there are many similar stories of deception and harassment directed toward Florida women by CPCs.

CPCs are deceptive. They undermine a woman’s right to access abortion care. They undermine the trust at the foundation of the patient-provider relationship by posing as health care providers and peddling inaccurate medical information. And they undermine a woman’s dignity by attempting to shame and pressure her and take away her ability to make her own decisions.

Yet none of this has slowed the push by extremists in the Florida legislature to legitimize and fund CPCs with taxpayer dollars.

Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Jacksonville) has introduced SB 444, which would permanently fund CPCs with taxpayer dollars. His bill intentionally restricts women’s access to the full range of health care services by funneling public funds to entities that exclusively “promote and support childbirth,” while cutting out qualified medical providers who offer the full range of reproductive health services including birth control and abortion care.

By sending tax dollars to CPCs, anti-abortion lawmakers in Florida are demonstrating a total disregard for the truth, undermining a woman’s right to make her own informed medical decisions and denying her the respect and dignity she deserves.

Florida lawmakers need to know that taxpayers are watching. We will not stand idly by as hard-earned tax dollars in the form of public funding go to fake clinics that harm Florida women.


Dr. Nicole Fanarjian is a Florida obstetrician and gynecologist. Sarah Lipton-Lubet is V.P. for Reproductive Health and Rights with the National Partnership for Women & Families.

Campaign finance reforms advance with bipartisan support

A pair of measures that would reform the state campaign finance system, including barring Gov. Rick Scott and Cabinet members from raising money during Session, cleared a House panel on Wednesday with bipartisan support.

State Rep. Evan Jenne said his proposal, HB 707, is a “common sense rule” and not “an indictment or finger pointing” at the governor, who is widely expected to run for U.S. Senate, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who is running for a another term, or Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican gubernatorial candidate.

“This is no indication of those four individuals, it is simply a matter of what is good for the goose is good for the gander,” Jenne said.

Both the Florida House and Senate prohibit members from accepting contributions during a regular, extended, or special Legislative Session. The proposal would add the same restrictions to statewide elected officials.

The proposal would make it a misdemeanor to accept a single political contribution and a felony if an individual solicits or accepts two contributions during Session.

In the vein of reforming the campaign finance system, state Rep. Frank White, who is running for Attorney General, championed a proposal that would repeal a 30-year-old state public campaign financing system.

“Most of you know that I am running for statewide elected office and if this does go on the ballot it would not affect my campaign whatsoever,” White said.

That measure cleared the House Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee. It would eliminate a system that gives statewide candidates taxpayer-funding matching dollars if they agree to limit their expenditures. Under the current system, outside contributions of up to $250 are matched and contributions above that amount are matched to $250.

“Our system dolls our millions of tax dollars to incumbents and other experienced politicians,” White said.

Speaker Richard Corcoran has pushed to abolish the system with the Constitution Revision Commission, which meets once every 20 years to propose changes to the constitution. Corcoran has called the public campaign financing system a “gross waste of taxpayer money” and “welfare for politicians.”

“You really have to be clueless or just plain selfish to accept money from our state coffers that could go to our school children, first responders, or be put back in the pockets of our taxpayers,” Corcoran has said.

Both measures have one more committee stop before they head to a full House vote.

If the measures are passed by the Legislature, they would be put on the 2018 ballot and would need 60 percent voter approval to go into effect.

10 issues to watch during Session

Florida lawmakers will start the 2018 Legislative Session Tuesday, with Gov. Rick Scott giving his annual State of the State address.

During the subsequent two months, the House and Senate will negotiate a state budget and consider hundreds of bills. Here are 10 big issues to watch as the Session moves forward:


Scott has proposed an $87.4 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The proposal includes politically popular ideas such as boosting education funding and providing tax cuts. But the proposal is only a starting point for lawmakers, who are expected to face a tight budget. A September analysis estimated a slim $52 million surplus for the coming year — and that did not account for the state’s costs from Hurricane Irma.


Eyeing money from a 2014 constitutional amendment about land and water conservation, lawmakers will consider a series of proposals that could shield property from development and restore waterways. For example, Senate budget chief Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, has proposed spending $100 million a year on the Florida Forever program and wants to set aside $50 million a year for the restoration of the St. Johns River, its tributaries and the Keystone Heights lake region in North Florida.

Health Care

House Republican leaders likely will renew a push to ease health-care regulations, an effort they say would help increase access to care and lower costs. Examples include eliminating the “certificate of need” approval process for hospital building projects and ending a restriction on patients staying overnight at ambulatory surgical centers. Such proposals, however, have died in recent years in the Senate amid opposition from parts of the hospital industry.

Higher Education

Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, has made a top priority of revamping the higher-education system and will continue seeking changes during his final term. Senators are expected to quickly approve a bill that would make permanent an expansion of Bright Futures scholarships and take steps to further bolster need-based aid. Negron also wants changes such as holding universities to a four-year graduation standard in performance funding.

Hurricane Irma

When Hurricane Irma smashed into Florida on Sept. 10, it reset priorities for the 2018 Legislative Session. Lawmakers are considering dozens of ideas for responding to Irma and preparing for future storms. For instance, they are looking at possibly providing financial help to the agriculture industry, which took at least a $2.5 billion hit in Irma. They also will grapple with Scott’s push to require long-term care facilities to have generators and fuel to keep buildings cool when electricity goes out.


Insurance lobbyists will try to persuade lawmakers to revamp laws dealing with a controversial practice known as “assignment of benefits,” which the industry blames for increased property-insurance costs. The practice involves policyholders signing over benefits to contractors, who then pursue payment from insurers — often leading to disputes and lawsuits. Lawmakers also will consider renewed proposals to eliminate the state’s no-fault auto insurance system.

K-12 Education

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, has made clear he wants to continue expanding school-choice programs, which draw opposition from Democrats and many public-school officials. The House has started moving forward with a bill that would offer voucher-like scholarships to students who are bullied in public schools. Meanwhile, the House and Senate face a key budget disagreement on the use of increased property-tax revenues in funding public schools.

Opioid Epidemic

With overdoses skyrocketing and families being torn apart, lawmakers will look for ways to address the state’s opioid epidemic. Scott wants to spend $53 million to address the issue, with much of the money going to substance-abuse treatment. Scott and lawmakers also could place limits on initial opioid prescriptions that doctors write for patients. The idea is to prevent patients from getting hooked on prescription painkillers and then moving onto potentially deadly street drugs.

Tax Cuts

Since taking office in 2011, Scott has made cutting taxes a hallmark of his administration. As he enters his final Legislative Session, Scott has proposed $180 million in tax and fee cuts. The proposal, however, does not include major changes in the tax system. Instead, it includes a 10-day sales tax “holiday” for back-to-school shoppers and reductions in motorist-related fees, including fees for obtaining and renewing driver’s licenses.

Texting While Driving

Lawmakers in recent years have repeatedly rejected efforts to toughen the state’s ban on texting while driving. But the issue has a better chance of passing during the 2018 Session after Corcoran announced that he supports making texting while driving a “primary” offense. Currently, it is a “secondary” offense, meaning motorists can only be cited if they are pulled over for other reasons. But if it is a primary offense, police would be able to stop motorists for texting behind the wheel.

Marleny Olivo: Palm Beach School Board should stop attacking charter school students

This week I asked to join litigation against the Palm Beach County School Board. As a working mother of two young sons, this is not a battle I wanted to fight.

But I have little choice. The school board is mistreating charter school students, including my younger son.

Board members have filed a lawsuit against House Bill 7069, which the Florida Legislature adopted last Session. This bill requires all education dollars to be spent on public school students equally, including charter students. But the board doesn’t want to comply.

It is ridiculous for the board to think district school students deserve more money than those in charter schools.

Charter schools, after all, are public schools. They are funded by public dollars, though managed privately. They must meet strict standards, and they’re closed if they receive failing grades or don’t meet parents’ expectations.

Yet the school board wants to disregard its obligation to the county’s charter students.

This is why I have joined the Academy for Positive Learning, which my 10-year-old son attends, in filing a motion to intervene in the school board’s lawsuit.

The board’s opposition to equalizing education funding is only the latest of its efforts to undermine charter schools. It consistently has rejected charter school applications, denying all the applications it received in 2014-2015.

When its rejection of one charter was overturned on appeal by the Florida Department of Education, the school board litigated all the way to the Florida Supreme Court, where it lost in September.

This animosity toward charter schools hurts children. Tens of thousands of charter school parents in Palm Beach County, like me, know first-hand what the charter option can mean to a child.

My 13-year-old attends a district school and has always done well. But my younger son had trouble at a district school, particularly with bullying. The state’s charter school option allowed me to enroll him in the Academy for Positive Learning, where he is safe and knows any bullying will be addressed immediately.

At the district school, he was distracted and his grades were inconsistent. With fewer students per class at the Academy, he now makes mostly A’s.

Opponents sometimes characterize charter schools as “cherry-picking” the “best” students. But more than 85 percent of Academy students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and a quarter of its students are English-language learners. Yet the Academy is an “A” school.

Like school board members, I want strong district schools, which do a fine job for most students, such as my older son. But not all students learn in the same manner or at the same pace. Charter schools can offer programs designed for students who struggle in the typical classroom setting.

A study released by the state Department of Education this year found charter students, particularly minority students, are making significant academic gains and frequently outperform their peers in district schools.

So why would the school board oppose these alternatives?

The school board has argued the state’s charter policies take education decisions “out of the hands of local voters.” But in fighting charter schools, the board is taking education decisions out of the hands of parents.

As a parent, I love school choice, but fair funding for charters is necessary to make that choice meaningful.

The Palm Beach County School Board should stop pitting district students against charter students and focus on giving all our children the best education possible.


Marleny Olivo lives in West Palm Beach.

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