Before we delve into what happened in Tallahassee this week, we wanted to remind you of the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), which held its first public hearing this week. The CRC is convened every 20 years for the purpose of reviewing the state constitution and proposing amendments which are placed on the ballot in the next statewide election. Despite the late notice of the meeting, the venue was packed, and many progressive organizations were able to turn out their supporters for the meeting. The Gainesville Sun printed a recap of the meeting which you may want to take a moment to read. Please make plans to attend the CRC meeting in your area and bring ideas of what you want to see in the Florida Constitution. Currently, the following meetings are scheduled:
Miami-Dade County, Thursday, April 6 from 5-8 p.m., Florida International University (FIU), Frost Art Museum, 10975 SW 17th St, Miami, FL 33199. (Free parking will be available)
Palm Beach County / Boca Raton. Friday, April 7 from 9 a.m. – noon, Florida Atlantic University (FAU), FAU Stadium Recruiting Room (located indoors), 777 Glades Road, Boca Raton, FL. 33431. (Free parking will be available)
The website for the CRC is flcrc.gov. If a meeting hasn’t been announced in your area yet, please check out the CRC website periodically and our Facebook and Twitter accounts for breaking news and information.
Now for what happened at the Capitol Complex this week! We are almost halfway through Legislative Session this year, and it ended up being a fairly busy week for education bills, which is great news as legislators are looking to give Florida’s students as many educational options as possible. Both the House and the Senate released their proposed budgets this week and will begin to shift some of their focus to ironing out those details. Some of the subcommittees had their final meetings for the year, and so this is the point where bills begin to die if they are not moving through the process. We are continuing to work hard to see that good legislation is passed this year.
ADOPTION / FOSTER CARE
This bill helps families in crisis by allowing parents to place their children with respite care families temporarily while they work to better the situation for the entire family (whether it is seeking treatment for addiction, finding a job, etc.) This program is for families where there are no allegations of abuse/neglect which would cause DCF to remove the children from their home.
The Senate bill will be heard by its first committee on Monday. The full House will hear the bill on Tuesday with an expected vote by the full House on Wednesday.
Despite the fact that Planned Parenthood sent some of its supporters to oppose this bill, it cleared its final House committee on Thursday in an 11-5 vote. Opponents spoke against the bill, which in no way mentions Planned Parenthood or limits a woman’s right to an abortion, on the basis that religious counseling may occur (which is prohibited in the bill), staff credentials, and questions over whether audits of the facilities were conducted (the contract with the Department of Health requires them). What was clear is that Planned Parenthood is only pro-choice if you make their choice – an abortion. Crisis pregnancy centers offer support and valuable services, not just when a woman is pregnant, but even after she has her baby (for the first year of its life).
The House version is scheduled to be heard by the full House next Tuesday. The Senate bill is still in the committee process – the second committee stop is the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services which is not scheduled to meet again until April 13th.
This week was very busy for education bills in both the House and the Senate. Besides the bills listed below, committee bills were rolled out in the House which would make significant changes to education – namely one that would allow charter school organizations with high success rates in poverty-stricken communities to build schools near perpetually failing schools and one that would provide funding for charter schools. Neither of these proposed bills were without controversy. Opponents of both bills wanted to see additional tax dollars given to traditional schools in hopes that they would improve rather than allow charter schools to compete or receive funding taxpayer dollars. While charter schools are public schools, opponents saw them as competition rather than an additional tool in the public school arsenal to help educate Florida’s youth.
This bill seeks to ensure that school districts cannot interfere with a family’s decision to homeschool once they are provided proper notice unless they receive corroborated outside evidence that the children are not being educated properly.
The House bill was very quickly passed out of its final committee on Thursday morning in a unanimous vote by the Education Committee. It is headed to the floor of the House, but the Senate version has yet to pass its first committee. The Senate bill was heard in a workshop this week but has not been scheduled for a vote next week. If it is not heard the following week for a vote, it may be dead for the year.
This bill removes a requirement that 2nd through 5th graders be enrolled in a public school in the year prior to enrolling in virtual school.
The House bill passed favorably out of its second committee unanimously and has one more stop before heading to the floor for a vote by the full House. The Senate version was heard in an Education Committee workshop on Monday but was not voted on. It will need to be scheduled for a vote before it can move forward.
This bill expands the students who are eligible for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program.
The House bill passed out of its second committee this week in a 12-3 vote. It has one more committee stop before heading to the floor for a vote by the full House. The Senate version was heard in an Education Committee workshop on Monday and has been scheduled for a vote in that committee for next Monday. The Education Committee is the first stop out of four total for the Senate bill so it must start moving quickly if it is to pass this year.
This bill seeks to require the publication of certain state assessment tests every three years. Currently, no one has access to the questions on these exams, including the Department of Education nor any government officials. Students are being told that they cannot tell anyone the content of test questions, including their parents.
The Senate bill was heard in the Education Committee workshop this week but has not been scheduled for a vote yet. The House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee will hear the House version next Monday morning for a vote before it heads to its final committee.
HB 7037 Addressing Gambling Long-Term
Sponsor: Rep. Mike La Rosa (R) and the Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee
This bill will constrict or freeze gambling in Florida by requiring the Governor to renegotiate the state’s compact with the Seminole Tribe, with terms for a 20-year contract.
This bill passed out of its final committee on Thursday afternoon in a 19-11 vote along party lines. An amendment was filed to change a provision which allowed charter schools to be funded through the revenue-sharing agreement with the Seminole Tribe. The amendment failed along party lines but was used by some members of the Commerce Committee as an excuse as to why they were not supporting the bill. Other detractors said the funding issue was not the only problem they had with the bill. Florida Family Action supported the bill in committee and called on the House to not back down from the spirit of the bill when negotiating with the Senate on the state’s gambling issues. FFA continues to believe the House bill is better policy and better for Florida’s families, businesses, and our tourism brand than the massive expansion of gambling that the Senate bill provides.
This bill seeks to help children who have been the victims of sex trafficking by requiring the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to maintain a database of services available for victims of commercial sexual exploitation, increases the situations in which a defendant’s confession may be used at trial, outlines procedures for assisting victims, and requires officials to follow up with victims within six monthsto evaluate services used and their effectiveness.
While the House bill was not heard this week, one of its originally assigned committees of reference was removed. This is a good sign, as it increases the chances that it will get to the floor for full House consideration. There was no action on this bill in the Senate this week.
Sponsor: Rep. Ross Spano (R), House Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee
This bill allows victims of human trafficking to sue the individuals who engaged in their trafficking.
Both the House and Senate versions of the bill will be heard next Monday. It will be the first time it is heard in the Senate.
HB 303 / SB 436 Religious Liberty in Public Schools or “Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act”
Sponsors: Rep. Kim Daniels (D), Rep. Patricia Williams (D), Sen. Dennis Baxley (R)
This bill codifies the current state of religious liberty in public schools. It prohibits a school district from discriminating against students, parents, or school personnel on the basis of religious viewpoints or expression and clarifies that a school cannot penalize or reward a student’s religious expression in their coursework, artwork, or other specified assignments. It provides equal access to all religions and non-religions before, during, and after school.
This bill was placed on the calendar for the 2nd reading in the House on Tuesday, with expected passage on Wednesday. There are some differences between the House and Senate versions, so it remains to be seen whether the House will adopt the Senate version as-is or amend it to be identical to the House version and send it back.
This Resolution pronounces that the Legislature opposes and requests the repeal or fundamental alteration of UN Resolution 2334, which stated that Israel’s settlement activity constitutes a flagrant violation of international law, has no legal validity and is a major obstacle to the vision of two states living side-by-side in peace and security. It calls on the US to ensure that the UN Resolution is no longer one-sided and anti-Israel and authorizes all final-status issues toward a two-state solution to be resolved through direct, bilateral negotiations between the parties involved.
On Tuesday, the House adopted this resolution, and the Senate passed out of its final committee in a 9-1 vote. It is scheduled to be heard by the full Senate next Tuesday.
The CWA adds sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to Florida’s Civil Rights Act of 1992 as impermissible grounds for discrimination. This bill provides a new way for LGBT individuals to sue employers and small businesses for discrimination and would allow men access to use women’s showers, locker rooms, bathrooms, women’s domestic violence shelters, etc.
This bill which we have described as the worst bill proposed in the Florida Legislature due to its effect on public safety and religious liberty has not been scheduled to be heard in committee. We continue to educate legislators on the dangers of this piece of legislation, and it continues to be dead on arrival despite some liberal Republican support.
SB 8 Gaming Expansion Bill
Sponsor: Sen. Bill Galvano (R)
The massive gambling expansion bill was heard in 2nd reading on Wednesday and then passed by the full Senate on Thursday in a 32-6 vote. On the floor on Wednesday, additional amendments were added to the bill which were specific carve outs for various gambling interests. The bill sponsor, Sen. Galvano, stated that passing the bill was merely getting the Senate in posture for negotiations with the House. We are sure that gambling interests throughout the state (with the exception of the Seminole Tribe) are over the moon with this bill because it expands gambling in every arena possible. The Senate sponsor may believe that this will improve the Senate’s position at the negotiating table with the House – which seeks to restrict gaming in the state for the next 20 years. Sen. Galvano did concede on the Senate floor that a compromise between the House and the Senate may not be possible this year.
Unfortunately, the bill was met with little discussion or resistance on the floor, and after Thursday’svote, the bill was immediately certified and sent to the House for consideration. We would like to recognize and thank those senators who voted against this harmful measure: Sen. Dennis Baxley (R), Sen. Aaron Bean (R), Sen. Denise Grimsley (R), Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D), Sen. Kelli Stargel (R), Sen. Victor Torres (D), and Sen. Tom Lee (R) (whose vote was recorded after the official vote).
The bill has been placed on the Special Order Calendar for the full House to hear next Tuesday along with HB 7037 which is the House’s gaming proposal.
Dubbed “Whiskey and Wheaties,” this bill would allow grocery stores and large retail stores to sell hard liquor in their main store rather than building or renting a separate store to sell liquor.
In a bit of intrigue this week, this bill was pulled from the Special Order Calendar on Wednesday during the floor session of the House. The differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill seemed to have caused some difficulties on the final passage. A compromise may have been reached as the bill is back on the House floor schedule for next Tuesday.