“The pattern of shoot-first-ask-constitutional-questions later has again come back to haunt Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature, this time with the 2011 law requiring government workers to contribute 3 percent of their salaries toward the state's pension plan. We've seen the same result with Florida's mandatory drug testing for welfare applicants, which a federal judge halted last year after ruling the program likely wouldn't pass legal muster. Now, a Tallahassee judge has ruled that Gov. Scott and Legislature acted unconstitutionally in enacting the 3-percent contribution, a de facto pay cut that has hit middle-class workers like teachers and prison guards hard. … Walter Halil, 57, a music teacher in Broward for 24 years, said, ‘The state is reneging on an agreement. When I started teaching I knew I wasn't going to get rich, but they said I wasn't going to have to pay for my retirement.’ But that hasn't stopped Scott from inflaming passions -- and resentment -- against public-sector workers who get guaranteed pensions upon retirement.”
-- South Florida Sun-Sentinel columnist Michael Mayo.
Corporate trigger debate gets more tense
The Florida Senate spent more than two hours on Thursday night debating the hot-button parent trigger bill. Opponents offered a whopping 20 unfriendly amendments to the proposal. Seven were heard. Two passed. Each of the votes was very, very close. What does that mean for Friday's highly anticipated final vote? Sen. Paula Dockery said she believes there are enough votes to kill the bill. "We're there," said Dockery, a member of the coalition fighting the proposal. "We'll be 20-20 tomorrow, unless we pick up some more [votes]." Sen. John Thrasher, a supporter, said he wasn't sure how the vote would go. The trigger bill would allow parents at low-performing schools to choose a turnaround strategy for the school. One option: parents could petition to have the school converted into a charter school. Supporters say parental involvement is the only way to create lasting change at struggling schools. But opponents say the proposal is intended to line the pockets of for-profit charter-school companies, which would have access to new business. The bill passed along party lines in the House earlier in the session. In the more moderate Senate -- a body that has been sharply divided after a failed attempt to oust future leadership -- the parent trigger has been a lightning rod, with expected 2014-16 Senate President Andy Gardiner pushing for it. There has been plenty of drama. Last week, a coalition of Democrats and Republicans blocked an attempt to fast-track the bill to the Senate Floor. Later, a bipartisan group was able to prevent the proposal from being added to the calendar. But with the clock winding down on the session, Senate President Mike Haridopolos and Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, secured a last-minute hearing. With all of the amendments on Thursday, senators didn't get time to debate the bill. They passed two "unfriendly" proposals: one requiring that parent signatures be verified, and one prohibiting foreign-born charter-school operators from taking over failing traditional schools. Supporters were not amused -- and, when the night ended at 10 p.m., exhausted. "This is about trying to stall, trying to kill Sen. Benacquisto's bill," said Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, referencing the bill's sponsor, Lizbeth Benacquisto. Countered Democrat Sen. Eleanor Sobel: "This is not about running any clock."
Opponents include teachers unions and a coalition of Florida parent-led groups including the PTA, also watching the two-hour debate from the gallery. The measure has already flared emotions and procedural maneuvering in the Senate. Speaking against the bill, Sen. Larcenia Bullard invoked hanging chads, fraudulent petition-gathering campaigns in which dead people’s names were signed on petitions and other horribles. “Trigger bill is double-barrel Glock,” Bullard, R-Miami, said.
"This bill is a hoax to further privatize our public schools," Rita Solnet, a Palm Beach County parent advocate, wrote in an open letter to StudentsFirst, an organization pushing the bill. "This bill no more empowers me than it does the gecko on my patio from taking over my home."
Las Vegas School District wonders if for-profit education firm is worth the money
“Weird vibe” pervades Capitol
The mood going into the final day of the 2012 legislative session has darkened amid speculation that major bills are being killed for political payback. Last year there was a meltdown in the Senate on the final night of session as Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, led a revolt against Senate leadership for supporting substantial law changes in budget conforming bills. Throughout the session this year, observers looked for signs of a repeat. And signs were emerging on Thursday. SB 820, which would repeal the statewide septic tank requirement, appeared in trouble. The bill language was amended onto a Department of Health reorganization bill, HB 1263, but that bill also was rumored to be in trouble. "A lot of it’s becoming personal over there," Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West, said of the Senate. "That’s unfortunate but that is what it is. And so now, it’s not necessarily the issue, it’s who supports the issue or who opposes the issue as opposed to the issue itself." "It's a weird vibe going on today," said one lobbyist walking through the Capitol. Lobbyist David Cullen said, "Weird doesn't begin to describe it."
House debates $70 billion budget into the wee hours
The Florida House talked into the evening Thursday on its $70 billion budget plan that slashes funding for universities but boosts it for classrooms, charter schools and hometown projects in the backyards of powerful politicians. Lawmakers have to wait until today to pass the 2012-13 budget that increases spending on schools by about $840 million but slashes $200 million in prison spending and $300 million from universities – likely forcing them to raise tuition. The budget also cuts funding for court clerks, provides $55 million from the state’s traditional public-school construction program to build charter schools, doubles spending on tourism advertising, and gives the governor $86 million in corporate tax-incentives. House Democrats complained Thursday night the GOP-written plan favored companies over people. “Voodoo economic does not work. Trickle-down economics does not work. And most certainly corporate welfare does not work,” said Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach.
Senate passes $830 million business-tax break
Legislature puts business-property tax cut on ballot
Hernando unions combining efforts (Joe Vitalo quoted)
Hillsborough graduation rates expected to drop (Sherman Dorn quoted)
High school recruiting bill heads to Scott
Senate approves bill to allow bigger tuition hikes at top universities
Legislators should demand better on higher ed
Bait and switch: USF Poly folly (by Paula Dockery)
Labor groups march on Capitol to protest budget cuts
Hundreds of workers from labor groups across the state held a rally at the Florida Capitol on Thursday to protest budget cuts in the $70 billion state budget set to be voted on today. Groups traveled from as far as Miami to protest proposed cuts to health care and higher education. After rallying in the rotunda between both state House and Senate chambers, protesters marched to the front of the Capitol. A labor group representing nurses across the state said they were protesting proposed cuts to assisted living facilities, among other cuts to health care in the state. The state is currently preparing to make deeper cuts to Florida’s Medicaid program, a move that has drawn fire from health care advocates. Many protesters also spoke out against proposed cuts to hospitals serving low-income patients. Labor groups all over the country have long criticized the Legislature for continually cutting state spending while refusing to raise other forms of revenue. Rodelio Coneza, who also traveled from Miami with a group called 1Miami, said that “everyone needs to start paying their fair share” because the cuts to public programs have been unfair to the poorest Floridians. “[Florida] is the worst state for that,” he said. “It’s a shame.”
U.S. added 227,000 jobs last month