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Rick Scott vetoes higher education bill, priority for Joe Negron

Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a wide-sweeping higher education bill, saying the legislation “impedes the ability of state colleges to meet the needs of the communities and families they serve.”

The bill (SB 374) was a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron, who has made improving the State University System a cornerstone of his term as Senate President.

The bill, among other things, enhanced policy and funding options for state universities to “recruit and retain exemplary faculty, enhance the quality of professional and graduate schools, and upgrade facilities and research infrastructure,” according to a May 5 conference report. It also restructured the governance of the Florida College System and modified “the mission of the system and its institutions.”

Scott appeared to take issue with the provisions dealing with the state college system. In a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner explaining his veto, Scott said the legislation “impedes the State College System’s mission.”

“This legislation impedes the State College System’s mission by capping the enrollment level of baccalaureate degrees and unnecessarily increasing red tape. This interference impedes the ability of state colleges to meet the needs of the communities and families they serve,” he wrote. “In addition to this legislation, the total budget of the State College System was cut by $26.7 million during the 2017 Regular Session.”

Scott went on to say that while the bill makes “positive changes to several State University System programs, and there are many provisions I think would be good for students, it does so at the expense of the Florida College System.”

Negron said he fundamentally disagrees with that assessment.

“I fundamentally disagree that SB 374 makes positive changes to our universities at the expense of Florida’s community colleges. Like Governor Scott, many members of the Senate attended our state’s community colleges and we recognize the vital role they play in our public education system,” said Negron. “For that very reason, we crafted SB 374 to further elevate Florida’s nationally-ranked community colleges through a renewed focus on their core mission – on-time completion of vital associate degrees and workforce credentials that prepare students for jobs in communities across our state.”

In addition to changes to the state university and state college systems, the bill also increased student financial aid and tuition assistance by expanding the Florida Bright Futures Academic Scholars award to cover 100 percent of tuition and specified fees, plus $3000 per fall and spring semester for textbooks and other college-related expenses; expanding the Benacquisto Scholarship Program to include eligible students graduating from out-of-state; and establishing the Florida Farmworker Student Scholarship Program.

In his veto letter, Scott said the expansion of Bright Futures will still occur in fiscal 2017-18.

“Because this important expansion currently exists in the budget and proviso language in SB 2500, Florida’s students will still benefit from this critical program,” wrote Scott. “I urge the Legislature to pass legislation that revisits these issues and expands Bright Future Scholarships permanently while recognizing the importance of both our state colleges and universities in the 2018 Legislative Session.”

Negron said his travels across the state have taught him the importance of Bright Futures, and said the governor’s veto makes advance planning “much more difficult.

“As I have traveled the state talking to families, I have learned what an important role Bright Futures plays as students plan their financial investment in a college or university education,” he said. “Students and families deserve certainty when making these important decisions, and today’s veto makes advance planning much more difficult.”

The veto comes just days after the end a Special Session, where Scott saw many of his priorities approved. While the Senate backed Scott throughout the regular Session, there appeared to be some tension between the Senate and the governor during the three-day special session.

The special session also saw a reconciliation between Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who were often at odds with each other throughout the regular session.

Scott and Corcoran embarked on a one-day, multi-city victory tour Tuesday to highlight the legislative victories. A spokeswoman for Negron said Tuesday that Negron had already departed for a prior commitment in California before the events were confirmed, but said he “looks forward to attending future events with the Governor and Speaker Corcoran to discuss the important accomplishments of the 2017 Session.”

Is there a deal to get out of Tallahassee on time?

Quick hit: With hours left in the Special Session, rumors of a final deal abound.

Details are scarce, but one Senator close to negotiations said “there could be a path to get our work completed today,” putting it at a 60 percent probability.

The Senate could get its money for hospitals, but the House will dictate how to spend it.

Moreover, medical marijuana implementation is expected to pass without incident.

A deal on education funding is all but signed off on by Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

What we don’t know: The fate of the Senate’s veto overrides.

As the AP’s Gary Fineout tweeted, “One possible out – but risky – is to add the higher ed vetoes the Senate wants to the school funding bill. But Scott could veto again … Unless of course @FLSenate can get @FLGovScott office to assure them that he won’t veto the higher ed projects a 2nd time.”

Denise Grimsley, Kelli Stargel ask Joe Negron to support veto overrides of 2 budget line items

Two senators have asked Senate President Joe Negron to support expanding the call for a special session to override two line-item vetoes.

Sens. Denise Grimsley and Kelli Stargel sent a letter to Negron on Wednesday asking for his “assistant and support in expanding the call for Special Session 2017-A to include the veto override of two budget line items.”

Grimsley and Stargel have asked for Negron’s support to override Gov. Rick Scott’s veto of $3 million for Polk State College and $1 million for the IFAS 4-H $ Family Initiative.

In their letter to Negron, Grimsley and Stargel said the decision to veto funding for Polk State College “will have a negative impact in our community and will result in the Lake Wales campus shutting down.”

As for the 4-H & Family Initiative veto, the two women said it will “negatively impact the development of leadership skills for young Floridians interested in the agriculture industry.” The funding, Stargel and Grimsley wrote, has been part of the base for “many years and was singled out for the the first time in the 2017 Regular Session.”

Lawmakers agree to tackle medical marijuana during Special Session

Lawmakers reached agreement early Wednesday, hours before the start of this week’s Special Session, to include medical marijuana implementation in the call.

After FloridaPolitics.com broke this news, the Florida Senate announced that Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, would “file legislation to implement Article X, section 29 of the Florida Constitution, which allows the use of marijuana by patients with debilitating medical conditions. The Senate will consider the bill during this week’s Special Session.”

The agreement calls for 10 new growers to be licensed this year, in addition to the seven that already hold a state license under an existing, limited cannabis program. Five new growers would be added for every 100,000 patients, Sen. Bill Galvano, who was involved in negotiations, told the Tampa Bay Times.

As for a cap of on the number of dispensers each grower can open, the magic number is 25. Under the proposed legislation, the cap on dispensaries will sunset in 2020.

Funding for medical marijuana research at the Moffitt Cancer Center is also expected to be included in the legislation.

At a brief floor session Wednesday, House Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues of Estero told members the Senate bill appeared to “match up” with the House’s position. He expected a bill on the House floor by Thursday.

The Senate bill, released later Wednesday, tracked the reported highlights.

“This legislation demonstrates fidelity to the Constitution by implementing the amendment passed by the voters last November,” Senate President Joe Negron said in a release. “The bill will also further the work the Legislature has done over the past few years to pass legislation authorizing the medical use of marijuana and other developing medications for our fellow citizens who are suffering from serious medical conditions and illnesses.”

The 2017 Legislative Session ended without a bill to implement the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment. An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

In this year’s regular session, ended in May, lawmakers failed to agree on a bill related to the medical cannabis constitutional amendment passed in 2016. Just over 71 percent of statewide voters approved the measure.

The two chambers this year came to an impasse over the number of dispensaries, with the Senate moving to 15, “five times the original cap of three in an earlier version of the Senate bill,” Negron explained in a recent memo.

But the House “responded by setting its dispensary cap at 100 and providing a deadline for issuing new licenses of more than a year from now. Obviously, the Senate was not in a position to accept this House proposal. The medical cannabis bill then died,” Negron wrote.

The state in 2014 legalized low-THC, or “non-euphoric,” marijuana to help children with severe seizures and muscle spasms. THC is the chemical that causes the high from pot.

The state later expanded the use of medicinal marijuana through the “Right to Try Act,” which includes patients suffering intractable pain and loss of appetite from terminal illnesses.

Joe Henderson: When a quid pro quo turns into quid pro no, all bets are off

As the special session of the Legislature was set to begin Wednesday, everyone heard of how the compromise deal that appeared to be the framework for a budget agreement was close to collapse.

Humm.

It brought Senate President Joe Negron into sharp focus, since he seems to be the one leading the charge to turn the quid pro quo reached in secret last week with Speaker Richard Corcoran and Gov. Rick Scott into a quid pro no.

It makes for dandy political theater and all, but shouldn’t all of this have been worked out BEFORE the three amigos appeared on stage together last Friday to tout the budget agreement? The way it was presented made it sound like everyone had gotten something they wanted and all the other lawmakers had to do was see the brilliance of the compromise and pull out their rubber stamp.

Guess not.

Let’s try to make at least a little sense out of this, shall we?

Simply put, the way education will be funded in Florida appears to be at the center of this knockdown, drag-out.

Negron’s main interest appears to be increasing money for the state university system. He has long championed an effort to bring Florida’s institutions of higher learning into the same status as, say, those in Michigan and Virginia.

That’s not surprising. Negron is an educated man, holding a master’s degree from Harvard and a law degree from Emory University. He apparently wants to restore money to the university system that would otherwise be redirected to the K-12 public system.

He also wants to use some of the state’s reserve fund to restore $260 million in cuts to hospitals

Why he didn’t make that point during the now-infamous secret meeting last week with Scott and Corcoran isn’t clear. Then again, maybe he did and the other two weren’t paying attention.

I’ll bet they’re paying attention now, though.

In a pre-session memo to senators, Negron said, “I have made no agreement that would dictate an outcome for this special session. Nor have I made any agreement to limit the subject matter.”

State Senator Jack Latvala tossed in a grenade of his own with this tweet: “Just 3 months ago @richardcorcoran wanted to abolish EFI and Visit FL. Now he wants to give them $150 million plus. What changed?”

For the acronym-challenged, EFI stands for Scott’s beloved Enterprise Florida jobs incentive program. Visit Florida is the tourism promotion arm. Corcoran used his opposition to both programs (CORPORATE WELFARE, he screamed) as a kind of Trojan horse so he could push forward with what appears to be his real agenda — an expansion of charter schools.

With the possibility of a Scott veto looming over Corcoran’s signature piece of legislation, they thought they reached the compromise that was unveiled last Friday. Scott seemed satisfied with the funding for his programs, and Corcoran threw in a few requirements in the name of accountability about how the money will be spent.

I guess they didn’t count on Negron’s last-minute gambit.

Corcoran responded to Negron’s memo with a lengthy statement that accused him of wanting “a massive property tax increase, wants to weaken accountability provisions for VISIT FL and EFI, and wants to raid reserves to give to hospital CFOs. Needless to say, the House is not raising taxes, not softening accountability rules, and not borrowing against reserves to pay for corporate giveaways.”

Whew!

There is no way to know how this is going to end or how long it will take, so I won’t hazard a guess. The last time I tried to do that, I got whiplash. I don’t want to make it any worse.

Florida colleges to Rick Scott: ‘Urge legislative leaders to restore our cuts’

As state lawmakers head back to Tallahassee for a special session this week, the Florida College System is are asking Gov. Rick Scott to reconsider millions upon millions of cuts to their base budgets.

Thomas LoBasso, the president of Daytona State College and the chairman of the Council of Presidents, sent a letter to Scott asking the governor to “reconsider the proposed Florida College System budget, which includes $30.2 million in recurring base cuts to one of Florida’ most critical economic engines.” The letter asks Scott to urge legislative leaders to restore cuts and “make the FCS whole again.”

“We are all focused on developing a world-class higher education system and building the workforce pipeline — continuing Florida’s course of outpacing the nation as you continue to build our economy, jobs, and education to be the best in the nation,” wrote LoBasso in his letter. “The $30.2 million in permanent funding reduction to the Florida College System will be detrimental to our state and local communities and could take years to restore and even longer to recover. The range of reductions at each college is between $190,000 at our smallest institution to over $4.6 million at our largest with the average a little under $1.1 million.”

LoBasso said the services that will be cut help the state’s “most vulnerable and underserved students succeed, and these budget cuts will hurt them the most — many of whom are first-generation college students, minorities, veterans, students from families with low incomes or nontraditional students returning to the classroom.”

“The Florida College System is essential in the seamless connection between K-12 and our university system,” wrote LoBasso. “As we all work together to boldly ensure student success for our 800,00 students, we urge you to reconsider the Florida College System budget during this special session.”

Scott signed the fiscal 2017-18 budget on Friday, vetoing nearly $11.9 billion, including the main state account that goes to public schools and $410 million in projects.

However, Scott has not yet signed a sweeping higher education bill, a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron. That bill (SB 374) calls for several reforms of the state college and university system. The bill, among other things, modifies oversight and operations of colleges, sets limits on what four-year degrees colleges can offer, and renames the state college system the Florida Community College System.

The Senate sent Scott the bill on June 5, and he has until June 20 to act on it.

 

Report: Mailers from Illinois PAC targeting Joe Negron over education bill

A mailer from an Illinois based political committee targeting Senate President Joe Negron is landing in Treasure Coast mailboxes.

The Palm Beach Post reported voters living in Negron’s Treasure Coast-Palm Beach district are receiving mailers from SunshinePAC, a newly formed Illinois-based PAC, criticizing the Stuart Republican over his support of a wide-sweeping education bill (HB 7069).

The mailer, according to the Palm Beach Post, calls Negron out for making making “backroom deals” and says “our schools are paying the price.”

“Behind closed doors, Joe Negron and his friends in Tallahassee passed HB 7069 which takes away much needed funding to our public schools,” the mailer says, according to the Palm Beach Post.

It also urges voters to call Gov. Rick Scott and encourage him to veto the measure, a top priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran. The bill, according to House records, has not yet been sent to Scott for his consideration. However, Scott is largely expected to sign the bill once he receives it.

According to the Federal Election Commission, SunshinePAC formed on May 26 and is headed by John Hennelly. Hennelly is a former Florida director for the Service Employees International Union, and now serves as a consultant with Democracy Partners, according to the Palm Beach Post.

With school funding in jeopardy, Florida GOP at odds again

An effort by Florida’s Republican leaders to put aside recent acrimony and reach a new budget deal was falling apart on the eve of a three-day special session.

If legislators can’t reach an accord, Florida’s public schools could be in danger of losing billions for the upcoming school year.

Legislators are scheduled to return to the state Capitol on Wednesday. They plan to pass a new budget for the state’s public schools and set aside money for top priorities of Gov. Rick Scott, including spending more money on tourism marketing.

Scott last Friday vetoed nearly $12 billion from the state budget that takes effect on July 1. Most of the money was tied to the main account used to pay for school operations. Scott zeroed out the money with the expectation that legislators would return this week and increase the money that goes to each student by $100 over this year.

But Senate President Joe Negron warned Tuesday in a memo to senators that he has “made no agreement that would dictate an outcome for this special session.”

He also said that the Senate may try to override some of Scott’s other budget vetoes that were aimed at state universities and higher education. The governor last Friday vetoed more than $400 million in projects from the budget, a quarter of which were tied to the state’s 12 public universities. It would take a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate to override any vetoes.

Negron added that the Senate would also seek to dip into reserves to offset $100 million in cuts that legislators had made to hospitals during the session that wrapped up in early May. And he said that the Senate wants to use a rise in local property taxes – all of it coming from new construction – to help boost public school funding.

The Senate leader’s comments drew a scathing rebuke from House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who called the Senate school proposal a tax hike and said House Republicans would not support tapping into reserves to “pay for corporate giveaways.”

“Without question the House will not allow funding for our schoolchildren to be held hostage to pork barrel spending and special interest demands,” Corcoran said in a statement.

The new drama unfolding with the Legislature came after it seemed that Scott had brokered a deal with legislative leaders to resolve a long-running feud.

For weeks, Scott had harshly criticized GOP legislators for cutting money to the VISIT Florida tourism-marketing program and greatly scaling back the state’s economic development agency. The governor had repeatedly warned he could veto the entire budget.

But last Friday at a hastily arranged news conference at Miami International Airport, Scott announced a deal under which he said legislators had agreed to boost school funding, while also setting aside nearly $140 million that would eliminate cuts to VISIT Florida and pay for a new grant program that would help businesses. Both Negron and Corcoran stood by the governor while he announced the agreement and the special session.

But other senators said that Negron was not involved in the negotiations, and a spokeswoman for him said he joined the news conference because he was invited to it.

McKinley Lewis, a spokesman for Scott, said that the governor was “very clear” about what he wants legislators to do this week and that he would not support legislators passing any other items that were not part of last week’s budget agreement.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Jack Latvala: ‘Cooling-off’ period applies to Special Session bills

Sen. Jack Latvala is telling fellow senators that funding bills planned for this week’s Special Session will be subject to the state’s constitutionally-mandated “cooling off” period.

That potentially means, if the bills are changed, that lawmakers could be stuck in Tallahassee past Friday, when the session is scheduled to end.

The Clearwater Republican, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a Tuesday memo that he and Senate President Joe Negron, an attorney, had “reviewed relevant legal precedent and accepted the advice of our professional staff regarding the application of the 72-hour cooling off period.”

A House spokesman wasn’t immediately available for comment.

The Florida Constitution requires that “all general appropriation bills shall be furnished to each member of the legislature, each member of the cabinet, the governor, and the chief justice of the supreme court at least seventy-two hours before final passage by either house of the legislature of the bill in the form that will be presented to the governor.”

“Out of an abundance of caution,” the Senate will allow its bills funding public education, tourism marketing agency and economic development “to rest in final form for 72 hours prior to a vote,” Latvala wrote.

“For this reason, the Secretary (of the Senate) has distributed the filed versions to each member of the Legislature, the Governor, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and each member of the Cabinet,” he said.

More significantly, he said that “if amendments are adopted in Committee or on the Floor, the Secretary will issue a new distribution indicating the start of a new 72-hour cooling off period.”

“Thank you for your time and consideration of these important matters,” Latvala added.

The full memo is below:

Joe Negron: Senate will consider veto overrides

Senate President Joe Negron, in advance of the Legislature’s 3-day Special Session this week, told members in a Tuesday memo he expects “a proposal to override the veto of some university and higher education funding.”

The Stuart Republican also left the door open for medical marijuana implementation to be added to the call, saying he had made no deal “limit(ing) the subject matter to the issues listed in the Governor’s proclamation.” They are education, tourism marketing and economic development funding.

Legislative negotiators are reportedly close to striking a deal regarding marijuana dispensary caps, limiting the number of retail locations, that hamstrung lawmakers during this year’s regular session that ended in May. Introducing marijuana legislation would require a two-thirds vote.

The state’s medical cannabis amendment was passed in 2016 by just over 71 percent of statewide voters. An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

In the memo, Negron tells senators the House “has indicated a willingness to move toward the Senate position on a number of issues, including the level of public school per-student funding and the amount of state investment in tourism marketing and economic development” and added he “made no agreement that would dictate an outcome for this Special Session.”

The “additional spending of approximately $350 million for K-12 funding, Visit Florida, and EFI (Enterprise Florida) would largely originate from the funds made available from vetoed projects originally funded with non-recurring general revenue,” Negron said.

“This use of non-recurring revenue to fund next year’s recurring needs negatively impacts our budget, and potentially our bond rating, in future years,” he added. “Here are some early ideas that have emerged in the Senate:

“Our Appropriations Chair, Sen. (Jack) Latvala, will file legislation this afternoon that will provide an additional $215 million to the (state’s) student funding formula. This funding will originate from $72 million in state funds ($66 million recurring; $6 million non-recurring) and $143 million (required local effort) increase (new construction only).

“Chair Latvala will also file legislation to address policy changes with regard to Visit Florida and EFI. This legislation will include a requirement that (the Department of Economic Opportunity) return to the state funds (approximately $107 million) held in escrow outside the state treasury to the SEED Trust Fund, which has been a bipartisan priority of the Senate for many years.

“In addition, Sen. (Anitere) Flores will file a bill today that will reduce the general revenue cut to Florida’s hospitals by $100 million, down from the $200 million cut passed in the 2017-18 (budget). This $100 million will come from reserves.

“This is consistent with the Senate’s earlier action during 2017 Regular Session to reduce the anticipated $250 million general revenue cut to $200 million. Once approved, our Working Capital Reserve Account would remain over $1.2 billion and our total reserves would exceed $3.2 billion.

“I also expect that the Senate will consider a proposal to override the veto of some university and higher education funding that represent major priorities of senators.”

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