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Florida House faults universities over salaries and spending

A top Florida House Republican says that state universities are spending way too much money inappropriately and that they don’t need more help from taxpayers.

State Rep. Carlos Trujillo also suggested Wednesday that legislators may need to look at how much university presidents are paid, as well as even how much football and basketball coaches are paid. The Miami Republican and House budget chief said too many people work for universities or university foundations who earn more than $200,000 a year.

The House is scrutinizing university spending at the same time that the Florida Senate is poised to approve a major overhaul of colleges and universities that includes spending more. Senate President Joe Negron is pushing the proposal to put Florida schools on par with other well-known universities.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Senate considers Joe Negron’s higher education legislation

The Excellence in Higher Education Act, a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron, has been set up for a vote by the full Senate.

The bill (SB 2), carried by Bradenton Republican Bill Galvano, was discussed Wednesday on the floor.

Achieving many of the bill’s goals, which could cost up to $161 million, depend on funding getting approved in the 2017-18 state budget.

The legislation, among other things, increases certain scholarship benefits, overhauls how colleges and universities measure progress and attract top professors, and mandates block tuition—a flat rate per semester—rather than by credit hour.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat, unsuccessfully suggested adding a financial impact study to the bill for schools to see how block tuition would affect their bottom line. Florida State University had claimed a $40 million hit if block tuition was enacted, he said.

In his December 2015 speech accepting the nomination for the chamber’s presidency, Negron laid out a legislative plan that included boosting the state’s higher ed institutions, which he called “special, exceptional places.”

Last April, he went on a “state university listening tour,” barnstorming the state with fellow senators and other state officials, hitting 12 institutions of higher learning in four days.

One aim is to get more students to graduate college in four years.

Critics of the legislation, including Republican Sen. Tom Lee, earlier had raised concerns over “non-traditional students,” many of whom are lower-income and must work while they go to school, which can extend the time they take to graduate.

But Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon offered an amendment Wednesday, which was adopted, to help schools like Florida A&M University, rewarding them for “access rates at or above 50 percent.”

Bill to expand juvenile civil citations advances in Senate, law enforcement continues to resist

Legislation to create a statewide civil citation program for juveniles statewide advanced in a Florida Senate Committee Wednesday.

But members of the police and sheriffs association continue to resist the bill as currently drawn.

Miami Republican Senator Anitere Flores’ bill (SB 196) would mandate law enforcement officers to offer a civil citation for youths admitting to one of 11 separate misdemeanors: possession of alcohol beverages; battery; criminal mischief; trespassing; theft; retail and farm theft; riots; disorderly conduct; possession of cannabis or controlled substances; possession, manufacture, delivery, transportation, advertisement or retail sale of drug paraphernalia and resisting an officer without violence.

Flores amended her legislation to require that at least one diversion program must be countywide, but counties could still work together on other programs, as some smaller counties had raised objections. She also said that law enforcement officers would have discretion on whether to give the youth a citation for an offense if they have a previous felony already pending on their record.

The issue of mandating that law officers will otherwise not have discretion as to make an arrest or a civil citation continues to be an issue with law enforcement.

“We don’t want to criminalize youth,” insisted Matt Dunagan, the Florida Sheriffs Association’s assistance executive director of operations in testifying before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice. But he insisted that officers need the ability to have flexibility on what to charge a youth with, though the intent is that if they are arrested they are not saddled with that blot on their record.

“We believe the best way to move forward on that is to make sure that those records can be expunged and that when they go and apply for a job, for first-time misdemeanors, that they do not have to check that box if they’ve ever been arrested,” Dunagan said.

Shane Bennett with the Florida Police Chiefs Association concurred with his law enforcement colleague, saying specifically his group had an issue with the classification of battery as being listed in various misdemeanors specified for a civil citation in the bill.

But some members of the committee weren’t sympathetic.

“If law enforcement in this state had been a little bit better in adopting these programs and utilizing the way that they should be used, then perhaps we wouldn’t be in the situation of having to say we’re going to make you do it,” said Lake Worth Democrat Jeff Clemens.

In her summary before the committee, Flores said that misdemeanor battery is unwanted touching — not punching somebody in the face, which would be a felony. She did say she was open to creating a new definition of a misdemeanor battery to placate law enforcement.

Flores added that the reason for a statewide bill is that while some counties are more liberal about offering civil citations to wayward youth, others aren’t, and it’s just a draw of luck of your location that could affect a young person’s life.

To use an example, Flores praised the Pinellas County Sheriffs Dept., which has a 94 percent of eligible youths for civil citations receive it. However, the eligibility rate is much lower across the Howard Frankland Bridge, she notes.

“You’re in Hillsborough County, and if you’re a child in one of these situations, your chances just dropped to a third,” she said. “There’s a two-thirds chance that you’re at a wrong place at the wrong time.”

There are two bills closely tracking Flores’ legislation in the House, including legislation sponsored by Seminole Republican Larry Ahern.

Senate President Joe Negron is a big supporter of criminal justice reform. He issued a statement after the vote, saying,

“In too many cases, we have become a society where law enforcement officers are brought in to referee the day-to-day challenges of raising children. This legislation strikes an appropriate balance between public safety and decriminalizing the mistakes of adolescents.”

 

Capitol Reax: Opening Day of the 2017 Legislative Session

The 2017 Legislative Session kicked off Tuesday with Gov. Rick Scott’s penultimate “State of the State” address, and speeches from Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“This session represents Florida’s best chance yet for solving an ongoing environmental catastrophe that affects millions of Floridians.

For nearly 20 years, scientists have agreed that a southern reservoir will reduce harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee to our coastal waterways, rehydrate America’s Everglades and Florida Bay, and help meet the growing water needs of 8 million Floridians in the years ahead.

Senate President Joe Negron, Senator Rob Bradley and Representative Thad Altman are to be congratulated for their leadership. We look forward to working with them, along with House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Governor Rick Scott. We are hopeful that this critical water infrastructure project becomes a reality.” – Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg

 “AIF congratulates Governor Rick Scott on all of his accomplishments outlined in his State of the State address today, and supports his business-friendly agenda for the coming year.

Since the day the Governor took office, he has promised Floridians that he would grow our job base, cut our taxes and create an environment where new businesses want to locate, stay and contribute to our economy.  Our Governor has done just that for our Florida families.

This legislative session, AIF and our members stand with Governor Scott in ensuring Florida job creators are excelling and Florida families are benefitting from a pro-business environment in their home state.  AIF congratulates Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature on making Florida one of the best places to do business in the United States.” — AIF President & CEO Tom Feeney

“After 20 years of Republican state government control, it’s clearer now more than ever that the status quo is not working for the people of Florida. 44 percent of households across the state struggle to make ends meet; our infrastructure is ill-equipped to meet the demands of our ever-growing population; the income gap is among the widest in the country; and the state’s pre-K program is shamefully underfunded by $400 million.

And yet in the latest display of misplaced Tallahassee priorities, Gov. Scott heralds more corporate tax breaks as the path forward at the expense of small businesses and communities across the state. Lawmakers must stop rewarding their special interest campaign contributors and instead focus on the real issues that impact everyday Floridians’ lives.

When lawmakers fund public education, our children will be better prepared to join the workforce. When we put more money in Floridians’ pockets, they will spend it at small businesses in their communities, helping boost our economy. When we maintain safe highways and roads, Florida will be that much more productive and economically competitive.

These times require smarter and wiser use of taxpayer dollars as a means to create an environment for good-paying jobs in every corner of the Sunshine State. This is not about hard choices, but a matter of priorities.”  — FloridaStrong Executive Director Charly Norton.

“We appreciate Governor Scott’s passion for job creation, common sense regulatory reform and tax cuts. There is no question that Governor Scott and the Florida legislature have helped Florida endure the recent recession, and through their effective leadership the state of our state is strong. But make no mistake, the positive strides and gains we’ve made together are not because of top down big-government programs. Because Florida entrepreneurs are the best investors of their dollars, they are thriving in the low tax, low regulatory environment which are among the most critical reasons millions of Americans from across the country have migrated to the Sunshine State.”

Americans for Prosperity-Florida and the over 180,000 individuals that have taken action with us to hold their elected official accountable call on Governor Scott and the Florida legislature to continue focusing on the key steps that make our state the best place to live, raise a family, and start a business. We’ve laid out a series of priority bills that if enacted can assist in fast-tracking the opportunity of success for all Floridians, by focusing on free-market policies that level the playing field.”

We hope the legislature forgoes the call by Governor Scott to maintain a rigged system by keeping the quasi-state agency, Enterprise Florida in existence. Lawmakers have an opportunity to cut wasteful spending and end corporate welfare by passing HB 7005.”

The other critical needs of this state must be balanced and met. We call on the legislature to focus on common sense free-market health care reforms to expand access for patients to receive the best care available. We also hope this is the year that School Choice policies receive the most favorable advancements to empower our children and their families to receive the best education.” – AFP-FL State Director Chris Hudson

“The Florida League of Cities has profound concerns about Senate Bill 569. This legislation will strip away local authority in favor of private utility companies, giving Big Telecom a massive corporate handout by granting them virtually unlimited access to use resources within public rights of way.  

“We look forward to continuing to work with Senator Hutson and other interested parties to prevent the harm this bill would inflict on the ability of local communities to shape the character of their own hometown.”Florida League of Cities President and Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie

“It’s well established that the best decisions for the future of a community are made by leaders within that community. Senate Bill 596 disregards that proven fact, ignoring the views of local decision-makers and instead handing authority to giant telecommunications corporations.

“While Florida’s mayors embrace innovation and new technological advancements, this legislation threatens our ability to help shape the look and feel of our hometown communities and gives private corporations unfettered access to public rights of way. This would be a terrible mistake, and we strongly oppose Senate Bill 596.” — Palm Shores Mayor Carol McCormack, President of the Florida League of Mayor

 

Joe Negron backs Gulf Coast compensation process

Senate President Joe Negron on Tuesday said he was committed to getting $300 million in settlement money from the 2010 BP oil spill to affected communities in northwest Florida.

Negron spoke to reporters on the first day of the 2017 Legislative Session.

“I don’t believe that we should set up some complicated bureaucracy,” said Negron, a Stuart Republican.

He said he’s working with Sens. Bill Montford, Doug Broxson and George Gainer, all of whom represent coastal areas in the Panhandle, to make sure constituents “get compensated for their actual economic damages.”

He toured affected areas at the time, telling a story of one hotel that couldn’t get any guests and had to lay off all its employees.

“This isn’t just a policy priority. It’s a personal priority,” Negron said.

Millions of barrels of oil surged into the Gulf in April 2010 after an oil well ruptured under BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling platform. Eleven rig workers died and 17 were injured.

It took until that July to cap the well; meantime, tarballs and oil washed up on 1,100 miles of coastline, keeping away the usual summer tourists and their money. Hotels, restaurants and tourism-related businesses were hit hardest.

A House measure filed recently would eliminate some oversight for the Triumph Gulf Coast board selected to allocate the settlement money, the Panama City News-Herald has reported. It also would have exempted tourism businesses from getting paid.

Negron said legislation needs to be passed soon: “We need the state of Florida to write a check,” he said.

He also opined on medical cannabis, charter school funding, Everglades restoration, and said he supported some sort of pay raise for state workers this year.

A Periscope video of his remarks can be viewed below:

Senate President Joe Negron https://t.co/ilZ2L2d4t0

Dorothy Hukill, recovering from cancer, watching from home as Senate convenes

Sen. Dorthy Hukill wasn’t in Tallahassee for opening day of the 2017 Legislature, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t on the job.

Hukill, chairwoman of the Education Committee, is recovering from surgery for cervical cancer, and her doctors wouldn’t let her travel to the state capital.

Nevertheless, the Port Orange Republican has remained active in the legislative process during committee weeks, Senate President Joe Negron told the Senate.

He’d spoken to her shortly before the Senate convened, Negron said.

“I want to report to all of us who care about her and who are her friends and extended family that she is doing an amazing job overcoming this medical challenge that’s been presented to her,” Negron said.

“She has been completely active during the entire time of her recovery on behalf for her constituents. She is in charge of determining what bills get heard in the Education Committee. She’s responsible for developing policy. She’s in regular contact with us.”

Hukill is eager to return to the Capitol as soon as her doctors clear her for travel, Negron said.

“In all the conversations I’ve had with her, she talks about us, what’s happening here. And she feels badly about the effects on her constitutents and on the process rather than on herself,” he said.

“She doesn’t talk about her medical condition, or the challenges or the incredible progress she’s made in overcoming this. That says a lot about her,” he said.

“I know she’s watching this morning, and we look forward to having her back.”

Just imagine huge can of worms opened by religious liberty bill

The Hillsborough County public school district has straightforward rules in its student handbook about religion.

It says students can talk about religion, practice their religion, can be excused to observe a religious holiday, and – most important for the context of our discussion today – decide for themselves whether they want to participate in things such as student-led prayer or other practices.

The basic rule is this: If students lead the religious activity – fine. If teachers or administrators take part – not fine.

Districts in Miami-Dade and Orlando have basically the same policy.

Apparently, that’s not good enough for the state Senate Education Committee, which Monday approved SB-436. It’s a measure designed to protect religious liberty, except that such liberty already exists. The 5-2 vote was along party lines, of course; five Republicans said yea, two Democrats were naysayers.

A statement released by Senate President Joe Negron after the education committee did its work, was a clear indication of what he has in mind.

The statement said: “Freedom of Religion is a central right protected by our Constitution. This legislation makes it clear that the State of Florida stands for religious liberty and will take the steps necessary to protect the free speech rights of public school students, parents, teachers and school administrators.”

A statement released by state Sen. Dennis Baxley was even more to the point.

“We should be encouraging, rather than preventing our students from expressing their religious convictions,” Baxley said. “This legislation safeguards Freedom of Religion by protecting our students from being discriminated against based on the free expression of their religious ideals in spoken word or prayer, attire, school assignments and extracurricular activities.”

I can see worms crawling out of that just-opened can by the thousands – assuming this bill passes. Let’s play a game called “just imagine.”

Just imagine the bill passes and a teacher or administrator decides freedom of speech includes preaching the gospel in class or over the school public address system. What gospel would that be?

What happens when a Muslim student takes offense and demands classroom time to offer prayers to Allah along with equal time at the microphone?

Just imagine a Jewish kid goes, “Hey, wait a minute …”

Let’s get really absurd and just imagine a Satanist wants the same freedom. Can’t happen, you say? It already has – in 2014 at the state capitol, not far from where this current bill was being fast-tracked through committee.

Satanists demanded to erect their own holiday display to counter a Nativity scene by a Christian group.

So why do this at all? It seems like obvious pandering to me.

There is nothing already on the books that says kids and teachers can’t pray in public schools. I imagine many of them already do as the SAT tests are passed out. They can read the Bible during breaks. I have heard from parents, though, who say that even these student-led actions can put a lot of pressure on their kids to conform.

Don’t believe it? Try sitting out a “voluntary” public prayer sometime and see the looks you get. But they’re going ahead with this bill and I wouldn’t be shocked if it became law – at least until it is overturned in the courts.

This has been touted as bill that will protect Christians from alleged persecution. Baloney.

Real persecution is what Christians face in places like Cuba, China and many Middle East nations. Real persecution is being dragged from your home and flogged or executed for your belief.

The stuff these lawmakers are talking about doesn’t qualify.

Florida Senate convenes in Tallahassee, adopts compromise budget rules

The Florida Senate is in session.

Senators convened at 9:30 with a prayer and the traditional singing of the national anthem.

“They need wisdom, direction, and understanding,” Pam Olsen, president of the Florida Prayer Network said during the invocation.

“Keep their marriages strong” while the members are “here doing the people’s business,” she prayed.

“I know I’m asking for a miracle, but make this session end on time.”

There for the occasion were Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, plus members of the Florida Supreme Court.

“We understand you have a busy morning,” Senate President Joe Negron told Scott, who was due to deliver his State of the State address later than morning.

One of the first orders of business was approval of rules changes designed to prevent a meltdown over the House’s strict new rules for member projects in the state budget while respecting the Senate’s prerogatives.

In reaching the agreement with the House Friday, “potentially we dodged a bullet that could have stopped our appropriations process in about the fifth week,” budget chairman Jack Latvala said.

Negron discussed his hopes for education funding during the session, including building the state’s universities to “national elite” standard, comparable to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Virginia, and the University of Michigan.

Also, that every student in Florida, regardless of financial and family background, be able to attend the state university of his or her choice. They might have to work their way through college, he said, but he hopes “there will never be a financial impediment to a student attending a university and graduating on time.”

He touted his plan to prevent discharges of toxic algae from Lake Okeechobee — which, he said, draws unflattering national attention to the state. He wants to buy land to store overflow water south of the lake.

“In the end, we’re going to have to have a place for the water to go” to avoid damaging discharges to communities to the east and west of the lake, he said.

Negron also highlighted his proposal to create alternatives to the criminal justice system for youthful misdemeanors. “Let’s have some room for young people to make mistakes” that doesn’t jeopardize their job prospects later, he said.

Negron endorsed proposed legislation to require unanimous jury verdicts to impose the death penalty, shift the burden of proof to prosecutors in “stand your ground” cases, and protect students’ right to pray in schools without compulsion.

He praised the governor’s, House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s, and his own appointees to the Constitutional Revision Commission, saying he hopes the panel will protect individual rights.

“I really think there’s a special part of opening day — this is really when a lot of our constituents are going to get engaged” in the legislative process.

“I’m asking all of us to share in that renewed energy and commitment,” he said, “and look at today as Day One going forward.”

 

Guns, gambling and taxes: Legislators return to work

Once the Florida Legislature kicks off its 60-day Session March 7, legislators are expected to pass, or kill, dozens of measures dealing with everything from abortion to gambling and the environment.

So far, more than 2,000 bills have been filed, but in the end, legislators usually pass fewer than 300 pieces of legislation each year.

Here’s a look at some of the top issues this Session:

DEATH PENALTY: Florida legislators are expected to quickly pass a measure that would require a unanimous jury recommendation before the death penalty can be imposed. Last year, the state Supreme Court declared a new law requiring a 10-2 jury vote to impose the death penalty unconstitutional.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Voters last November overwhelmingly approved Amendment 2, which allows higher-strength marijuana to be used for a wider list of medical ailments than had been allowed under state law. Legislators will consider bills to implement the amendment, including possibly expanding who can grow and sell medical marijuana.

GUNS: There are about two dozen gun-related bills that already have been filed and the vast majority would expand gun rights so they can be carried in places that they are now not allowed including university campuses and non-secure areas of airports. Democrats have proposed more restrictions, but they have virtually no chance of passing.

GAMBLING: Top legislative leaders say they would like to come up with a comprehensive overhaul of gambling laws. But so far, the House and Senate are divided on what should be done.

The Senate is considering a bill that would allow slot machines at dog and horse tracks in eight counties outside South Florida. The Senate gambling bill would also allow the Seminole Tribe to offer craps and roulette at its casinos.

The House version would allow the Seminoles to keep blackjack and slot machines at its casinos for 20 years. But it would not allow gambling to expand to other parts of the state.

WATER: Senate President Joe Negron wants 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.

JUDICIAL TERM LIMITS: House Speaker Richard Corcoran wants to impose a 12-year term limit on Supreme Court justices and appeals court judges. The House is backing a constitutional amendment for the 2018 ballot that would ask voters to make the change. But it’s unclear if the Senate will consider the proposal.

BUDGET: Florida legislators are required to annually pass a new budget. Gov. Rick Scott has recommended an $83.5 billion budget that includes money for tax cuts, steep reductions for hospitals and uses local tax dollars to boost school spending.

House Republicans are opposed to Scott’s use of local property taxes and they are expected to call for large budget cuts while also increasing spending on education. Senate President Joe Negron wants to eliminate a tax break for the insurance industry and use the money to cut taxes charged on cellphone service and cable television. Negron also wants to boost spending on universities and colleges.

EDUCATION: Legislators are considering several bills dealing with schools, including one that would require elementary schools to set aside 20 minutes each day for “free-play recess.” Another bill would allow high school students to earn foreign language credits if they take courses in computer coding. Legislators are also considering changes to Florida’s high-stakes standardized tests, including pushing back the testing date to the end of the school year.

HIGHER EDUCATION: Negron has called for an overhaul of the state’s colleges and universities that requires the state to cover 100 percent of tuition costs for top performing high school students who attend a university or college. The Senate plan also calls for boosting efforts to recruit and retain university faculty.

ABORTION: Several abortion bills have been filed including one that would make it easier for women to sue physicians for physical or emotional injuries stemming from abortions.

ECONOMIC INCENTIVES: Corcoran wants to scuttle the state’s economic development agency and trim back spending at the state’s tourism marketing outfit. The move is strongly opposed by Gov. Scott who says they help the economy, but Corcoran has criticized the efforts as a form of “corporate welfare.”

HEALTH CARE: Legislators are considering several proposals that would eliminate limits on certain types of health care facilities. They may also overhaul the state worker health insurance program and expand the use of direct primary care agreements between physicians and patients.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

mobile phone service

Business groups oppose tax break swap

A coalition of Florida business groups is giving the thumbs-down to state Sen. Anitere Flores’ proposal to pay for a cut in the state’s tax on mobile phone and satellite and cable TV service by repealing a tax break to insurers.

The legislation (SB 378) would swap the insurance break for a 2 percent reduction in the state’s communications services tax (CST). The proposal is a priority of Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican.

Negron earlier this year said he was looking to eliminate the insurance deal this year, a 15 percent tax credit on the salaries that insurers give their full-time workers here in the state.

But the coalition – including Associated Industries of Florida (AIF), the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and the Florida Insurance Council (FIC) – on Monday suggested the move would be a net neutral.

Moreover, if the measure passes as is, Gov. Rick Scott could see himself jammed up by competing priorities: Cutting taxes for middle-class Floridians and keeping the state’s business community happy.

The state could see $300 million in communication tax savings, charged on mobile phone and satellite and cable TV service, but that would be eaten up by “a $300 million increase in insurance premiums, negatively impacting all Floridians,” according to a press release.

“These premium increases will at least be equal to the reduction in the CST, leaving consumers without any actual economic relief,” it said.

“Doing away with the tax credit will increase the tax burden on Florida insurers who employ more than 200,000 Floridians in typically high-wage paying jobs, and will endanger future job growth in the industry,” said Cecil Pearce, president of FIC. “The salary tax credit reduces the premium tax liability, which helps keep insurance premiums as low as possible.”

Flores’ bill, which does not yet have a House companion, has been referred to the Senate’s Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax, and the full Appropriations panel for hearings in the 2017 Legislative Session, which starts Tuesday.

 

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