Today's news -- December 18, 2017



Some bullies survive beyond the schoolyard *

Sometime soon, members of the Florida House will be asked to consider a solution for bullying in public schools. It’s a dubious idea based on the premise that students should flee their tormenters, and use voucher funds to attend a private school of their choice. And you can safely bet that a majority of the Republican caucus will vote in favor of this suspicious bill should it reach the House floor. Why is that? Because a bully will make them. Call it irony or call it dysfunction, it is the reality of the current Florida House. While House Speaker Richard Corcoran is the one pushing this supposed anti-bullying bill, you could make a pretty strong argument that he is the biggest bully in Tallahassee. This isn’t necessarily uncommon, or even frowned-upon, in the state Capitol. House speakers and Senate presidents have considerable sway in their chambers, and good leaders take advantage of that. The variable is in the style. Do they merely encourage direction, or do they actually stifle disagreement? Do they rally support, or do they threaten retribution? Do they give members the freedom to vote their conscience, or do they insist on blind adherence? You can get a pretty good idea of Corcoran’s style while reading William March’s recent Tampa Bay Times story about numerous Republican legislators voluntarily giving up their seats in the past year. Corcoran is, no doubt, passionate about his beliefs. He also is hellbent on creating a legacy. (And it hasn’t gone unnoticed that a lot of his passion projects are, in the grand scheme of things, minor issues that will simply provide nifty slogans for next year’s governor’s race.) Usually, a speaker’s arm-twisting occurs out of sight and is often carried out by faithful minions. In Corcoran’s case, it took a very public turn earlier this year toward the end of the session. Unhappy that Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, was introducing a bunch of amendments that would have effectively killed a heavily lobbied bill Corcoran supported, the speaker angrily confronted him on the House floor. It took only a few seconds, but the message was sent. More importantly, it was received. Do not get in Corcoran’s way on this one. When it was time to vote on the bill — which would have allowed major retailers such as Walmart and Target to sell hard liquor in their stores — a handful of representatives had disappeared. The bill passed 58-57. Later, the five missing representatives entered nay votes. Another representative changed his vote from yea to nay. That means House members opposed the bill 63-57. But after-the-fact votes do not count, and so the bill passed. And Corcoran got his way. (Temporarily, as it turned out, because Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the legislation.) Now it’s not uncommon for legislators to miss votes. But it’s a little suspicious for five members to miss a highly contentious bill. And it’s even more suspicious that they all voted nay when they returned. If you like, you could blame the representatives for not being there to vote their conscience. But you also could argue that the power wielded by the speaker sometimes leaves them without much choice. For instance, if you have a bill that is important to your constituents, you don’t want to risk having the speaker torpedo that legislation because you did not offer absolute loyalty on another occasion. And make no mistake, Corcoran decides what bills will pass or fail or even be heard. Several legislators I spoke to recently said Corcoran does not often retaliate. But they also said he does not need to. Like putting a head on a spike in medieval days, it only takes one to get a point across. In this scenario, Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, looks like an unfortunate example. Peters apparently fell into disfavor when she chaired the energy and utilities subcommittee. Peters told a reporter that a fracking bill that would have raised customers’ electric rates was placed on her subcommittee’s agenda without her knowledge. The logical assumption was that the highly unpopular legislation (which didn’t survive) was being pushed by House leadership. Now Peters, who plans to leave the House for a run at the Pinellas County Commission, has found herself shunned in Tallahassee in her final session. When it came time to hand out 2018 committee assignments, 66 of the 76 House Republicans were named chair, vice-chair or had some other leadership role. Of those without spots, seven are freshmen, one is running for attorney general and one resigned his chairmanship after a DUI arrest. That leaves Peters as the lone veteran legislator to be snubbed. You can call that petty politics, but it has an effect. If you have fallen into disfavor, it means you have little chance of getting legislation heard. You are essentially neutered as a public servant. Corcoran is certainly not the first to flex his office’s muscles, but there is a clear perception that he is more ruthless and unforgiving than recent occupants. So, does that make Corcoran a leader or a bully? According to Merriam-Webster, a leader is someone who has commanding authority or influence, and a bully is someone who threatens others who are weaker or more vulnerable. I suppose they don’t have to be mutually exclusive.


State cash to send bullied students to private schools? *

On its face, House Bill 1 sounds like an effective countermeasure to bullying in Florida's public schools. If your child is the victim of a bully in a public school, she or he could receive a state voucher — up to $7,000, depending on the child's grade level — to transfer to a private school. Or maybe the bullied student wants to transfer to another public school. HB 1, also known as the Hope Scholarship Program, would provide up to $750 to help cover transportation costs. Kindergarten through 12th-grade students would be eligible for a scholarship if they have "been subjected to an incident of battery, harassment, hazing, bullying" or other offenses, including kidnapping, physical attack and robbery, according to the bill. Is this really the state's legislative solution to the bullying problem in Florida public schools? To allow a victim to transfer to a private school or another public school if he/she has been subjected to an incident of bullying? Sadly, yes. What's wrong with this proposal? Plenty. First, HB 1, sponsored by state Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, could prove costly. More than 36,000 Florida students reported incidents of bullying, harassment, fighting and physical attack during the 2015-16 school year, according to state data. The cost of funding the transfer of thousands and thousands of students to other schools could be substantial. Wouldn't it be better — and far less expensive — to use some of these funds to supplement and improve existing anti-bullying programs in local schools?  Second, consider what this proposal teaches victims. Or the bullies. HB 1 would teach victims of bullying that the way to deal with your problem is to run — to another school. It would teach bullies that there are limited consequences for their actions. This proposal would make a lot more sense if it were the bullies getting transferred, not their victims. Third, the state's traditional public schools already compete with charter schools for limited education funds. HB 1 could potentially accelerate the drain of funds from public to private schools. Fourth, HB 1 would do little to change the culture of bullying. Bullies thrive in secret. They derive their power, in large part, from the fear they engender in their victims. Creating an environment that encourages victims to come forward is the way to cripple a bully's power and break the cycle. The solution to bullying is NOT facilitating the transfer of bullied students to other schools. The solution is holding bullies accountable for their actions and teaching conflict-resolution skills to all children. Let's redouble our efforts to address bullying at home and school before proceeding down the path of transferring bullied students.


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OCEA president “insulted” by school district’s offer (Lisa Harwas and Graham Picklesimer quoted)


Pinellas schools sheltered thousands during Hurricane Irma. Here’s what it cost.


He’s the kind of teacher that climbs on the roof to make a point


State should support school districts to benefit teachers, students


Puerto Rican teachers find homes in Central Florida classrooms


Duval gains 200 new students with language needs from Puerto Rico


Tax savings for k-12 tuition riles public school advocates (Lily Eskelsen García quoted)


Vouchers schools get millions of tax dollars to discriminate against LGBTQ students


What GOP proposal to overhaul tax code means for schools, students and parents


DeVos delays rule on racial disparities in special education


What Huckabee Sanders said about the Sandy Hook school shootings (Randi Weingarten quoted)

No more A’s, B’s or C’s? That’s what some private schools are talking about.


California charter head used school money on weapons, clothing, personal expenses


Boston parents mobilize to fight stealth charters and vouchers


ACLU slams charters in Arizona for discriminating against students they don’t want


House GOP bill could limit federal oversight of student loan companies


Why does education take back seat to sports?


State AFL-CIO re-elects top officers (Mike Williams and Andrew Spar quoted)


Judicial appointments could trigger constitutional crisis, lawyers warn


Senate: Report on Latvala probe won't be completed until this week


Floridians warned to prepare year-round for stronger hurricanes


The year is 2037. This is what happens when the hurricane hits Miami


After Hurricane Irma, affordable housing becomes endangered in Keys


Jacksonville expects $85 million tab for storm-related costs


Nursing home owner argued A/C failure would spur evacuations. It didn’t.


Anger grows as Puerto Rico misses power restoration deadline


Life without power in Puerto Rico


Months after storm, Puerto Rico stares down another blow: the tax bill


The next crisis for Puerto Rico: a crush of foreclosures


U.N. visits Puerto Rico to assess help for hurricane victims


The spiraling diaspora from Puerto Rico


Rebuilding Puerto Rico, one small gesture at a time


Hurricanes, economic blight force increased Puerto Rican migration to First Coast


Inland flood threat increasing in South Florida


Counties, and now some businesses, focusing on climate threat


How do you prevent more urban sprawl in Florida? This new plan goes back in time


State’s $1.1 billion Hardest Hit Fund winding down after some hard knocks


Powerhouse cast embroiled in tale of taxpayer loss,


Constitution Revision Commission coming to Pensacola


Taxpayer subsidies of Tampa golf courses are on the rise as struggles continue


Scott and Corcoran reach deal over lottery


Scott leaves indicted leaders in office


Lawmaker proposes year-round daylight saving time


Poverty in America is a moral outrage. The soul of our nation is at stake.


The human cost of the ghost economy


Who created today’s strong economy? Janet Yellen.


Trump labor adviser's plan to cut federal compensation, even paid holidays


Five things Trump did last week while you weren't looking


How the federal government slowly became a business


Republicans’ $1.5 trillion tax plan appears on track to pass this week (Randi Weingarten quoted)

Republicans are rushing to jam their 503-page tax bill through Congress


A middle-class tax cut? Americans aren’t buying it


The tax bill that inequality created


Republicans are joining a festival of corruption


The Republican tax bill is an American tragedy, built with brute-force politics


How Republicans learned to sell tax cuts for the rich


What’s in the tax bill, and how it will affect you


Buried in 503-page tax bill, a new provision that personally benefits Trump


Cornyn doesn’t have answer on loophole that enriches Corker and Trump


A tax plan to turbocharge inequality, in three charts


Homeowners have had it good. Too good, says the tax bill.


What's missing from tax bill? Anything that would help working and middle classes


The Republican tax bill is an American betrayal


Why GOP tax plan could mean cuts in state and local services


Final tax bill called a blow to environment


Sanders: Trump tax cuts a barely disguised reward for billionaire donors


McCain, in treatment for cancer, is likely to miss Senate tax vote


Trump promised he’d keep jobs here. But the tax plan might push them overseas.


File your taxes on a postcard? A GOP promise marked undeliverable


In one New Jersey town, pending tax changes create anxiety


Tax bill largely preserves incentives for wind and solar power


Tax bill would curb breaks for sexual abuse settlements


On the eve of the tax vote, Republicans place a big bet for 2018


Tampa mother fears GOP tax plan will send disabled son out of state


Rubio tax bill saga is a perfect expression of Republican priorities


Rubio caves on Florida-hostile tax bill


Democrat calls out Republicans, including Curbelo, for supporting Arctic drilling


Why Democrats failed to tank tax reform


Ryan’s recipe for a robust economy: Have more babies


The Republican tax plan will make it more expensive to donate to your church


Trump lawyers set for key meeting with special counsel this week


Image of cooperation between White House and Mueller starts to fracture


Trump says he won’t fire Mueller, as campaign to discredit Russia probe heats up


Trump’s suggestive comment about a Flynn pardon, and the pattern behind it


Mueller unlawfully obtained emails, Trump transition team says


Republicans accused of concocting email scandal against Mueller


Trump escalates criticism of FBI role in Russia inquiry


Trump made at least seven false claims about Russia in 90 seconds


Trump claims the FBI is tainted and its reputation in tatters. This shows he’s wrong.


Trump embellishes the truth in a speech to the thin blue line


Kushner’s legal team looks to hire crisis public relations firm amid Russia probe


Judge signals release of Manafort to Florida home under curfew and GPS monitoring


Trump-Russia: Republicans trying to kill off investigation, says Schiff


House panel to interview publicist Goldstone, Wasserman Schultz today


GOP lawmaker: Top FBI officials will be subpoenaed


Top Senate Republican joins effort to discredit Mueller investigation


The unchecked threat from Russia


The shady data firm that might be a key Trump-Russia link, explained


The White House’s odd statement about giving U.S. intelligence to Putin


Republicans keep on telling voter-fraud fairy tales


A last push for Obamacare sign-ups — and worries about who got hurt


Obamacare extension gives Floridians two more weeks to sign up


Court temporarily blocks trump order against contraceptive coverage


Congress should fix flood insurance, children’s health insurance now


GOP leaders in House, Senate endorse conflicting shutdown strategies


Trump compares legal immigrants on diversity visas to trash


Congress unlikely to pass DACA replacement by year's end


Fight to save DACA is especially personal for these congressional interns


What happens to a family when they have equal rights, and then lose them?


Watchdog report finds moldy food, mistreatment in immigrant detention centers


Trump administration adds restrictions for visa-waiver countries


ACLU says two teens seeking abortions have been stopped by Trump administration


Keys sheriff: Nothing to ACLU claims of illegally jailing immigrants


Trump’s push to fill courts with conservative judges hits first speed bump


These embarrassments prove Senate is rushing through Trump’s judicial nominees


FCC sacrifices the free and open Internet on the altar of deregulation


Who will be hit hardest by net neutrality? Marginalized Am

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