Today's news -- February 22, 2012


Exemption for professional teacher organizations draws union ire

A spat in Duval County between a nonprofit organization that provides legal counsel and training to teachers and the actual teachers’ union has helped lead to legislation that moved through both chambers of the Florida Legislature on Tuesday. The Professional Educators Network is a statewide organization that provides legal counsel, liability insurance and professional training to teachers, but doesn’t engage in collective bargaining, doesn’t contribute or endorse political candidates and doesn’t consider itself a union. When it began heavily recruiting teachers in Duval County recently, the local teachers union objected, and the state Public Employee Relations Commission decided PEN was engaging in union activity and must register as a union as state law dictates. But Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, and Rep. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, want to exempt PEN from the state statutes governing public employee unions. The legislation, SB 1698 and HB 1115, passed through the Senate Pre-K-12 Education Committee and the House Education Committee, respectively, along party lines. The House version is headed to the House floor, while the Senate version is scheduled for two more committee stops. “I think it’s simply for teachers to have an alternative. I think competition is good. I think it makes the union better,” said Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale. Ron Meyer, general counsel for the Florida Education Association, the largest teachers’ union in the state, spoke in favor of a failed attempt by Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, to put PEN and similar organizations under Florida’s union laws when they offer legal counsel or engage in other union activity. “When PEN crosses over and starts representing teachers like a labor union represents teachers, they should follow the law,” Meyer said. Montford’s amendment and a similar change offered by Rep. Martin Kiar, D-Davie, to the House bill were not approved.

“They ought to be governed by the exact same laws,” said Kevin Watson, a lobbyist for the Florida Education Association, the state’s top teachers union. “We should not pick winners and losers at the legislative level.”


Superintendents pan school grading changes

School superintendents say proposed changes to Florida's school grading system would be unfair and cause needless failures. The Florida Association of District School Superintendents outlined its objections Tuesday in a letter to Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson. The group wrote that it supports increased accountability but many proposed changes go too far. The superintendents contend they would particularly harm schools that serve low-income and minority neighborhoods and undo efforts to win community support. Among the examples they cited is a proposal to automatically fail a school based on a low reading proficiency score even though it may otherwise have an overall passing grade. The superintendents also objected to holding home schools accountable for the performance of students after they have been sent to alternative schools or special education centers.


Broward schools to rehire laid off teachers (John Tarka quoted)


Manatee Board approves teacher pay cuts


Marion Cannon had a cause: Better pay for teachers

Marion Cannon was a librarian who fought for more than two decades as a union negotiator to boost the take-home pay of schoolteachers across Orange County. "A lot of people called her Marion the librarian," said longtime friend Denise Ward. State Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, called her a pillar of the local Democratic Party. Cannon, of Orlando, died Saturday of cancer, a condition diagnosed three weeks earlier. She was 69. Cannon was a librarian, now called media specialist, at Winter Park High School from the mid-1980s until her retirement in 2009. Friends described her as brainy, politically astute and someone who wanted to change the world. From 1990 to 1994, she served as president of the local teachers union, the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association. For more than 25 years, she was on the association's bargaining committee, fighting for teacher pay raises, benefits and improved working conditions, said friend Cliff McInturff, who succeeded her as president. She was a tireless advocate for public schools and their teachers, he said. Randolph recalled that she lobbied legislators in Tallahassee and knew how to turn out a crowd at rallies, protests and public meetings. "She was everywhere," he said. "If she wasn't at an event, I probably didn't need to be there.",0,962293.story


Florida Senate bill that would require schools to teach September 11 passes committee


Study: Spanking may do more harm than good


Mazda test drive program pledges $1 million for nation's public school libraries (Dennis Van Roekel quoted)


Report: State university system has $80 billion economic impact

Remember all that talk about Florida's universities being an answer to the state's economic troubles? The New York Times points out that Florida lawmakers have a funny way of showing their commitment to that, with both the House and Senate now proposing big budget cuts to universities for the fifth year in a row. Even so, it seems the state universities are doing a decent job with what they've got. A report from the Florida Board of Governors released this month shows that the system has a total economic impact of nearly $80 billion. The report says 7 percent of Florida's more than $700 billion gross domestic product is directly linked to the state university system. It employs more than 58,000 faculty and staff. And its graduates account for more than 771,000 Florida-based jobs, or 8 percent of Florida's total workforce.


Alexander sees USF Poly split happening by this summer

Norman's amendments restore much of USF funding


USF drives bay area economy, jobs


House panel signs off UF and FSU tuition bill


Justices take up race as a factor in college entry

Ruling suggests state Supreme Court plan broad redistricting review
With about a week to go until oral arguments before the Florida Supreme Court over the state’s plan for legislative redistricting, justices are already fighting about how far the court can go in reviewing the new maps. In what could amount to a victory for opponents of the proposal for carving up House and Senate districts (SJR 1176), the court issued an order Tuesday calling for the Florida Democratic Party and a coalition of voting-rights organizations to hand over information they had on lawmakers’ residences. The court said it would then ask Attorney General Pam Bondi and the Legislature to review the addresses and make sure they’re correct. Democrats and the voting-rights groups -- including the League of Women Voters, the National Council of La Raza and Common Cause Florida -- contend that the lawmakers violated the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts provisions in the constitution by protecting incumbents. “In order for the Court to properly carry out its duties in evaluating this constitutional standard, it is necessary that the Court be provided with information concerning the residences of legislators,” the majority said in a 4-3 ruling. The unsigned opinion was joined by Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince, Jorge Labarga and James Perry. But in a sharply-worded dissent, Chief Justice Charles Canady said the majority was overstepping its bounds in what has traditionally been a limited review of the once-a-decade redistricting process making sure that the plan passed the most basic tests, such as ensuring that all districts are contiguous. “Nothing in the Constitution permits us to employ an interrogative process such as that undertaken by the majority,” Canady wrote. Justice Ricky Polston joined Canady’s dissent. Justice Fred Lewis dissented without comment. The boundary of the court’s authority is already shaping up as a major part of the case against the maps. The state has argued that nothing about the Fair Districts amendments -- adopted by voters in a November 2010 referendum -- changes what the court has to consider in its redistricting review. Challenges under Fair Districts can be heard later by a court without a March 9 deadline the Supreme Court faces for its review, supporters of the map say. But opponents have argued that the new amendments add standards to the Florida Constitution that justices are supposed to consider in their initial look at the maps. In a separate order, justices said they would allow the coalition of voting-rights organizations to file a reply to the arguments raised by the state on the jurisdiction question, and set a deadline of noon Wednesday for the filing. Bondi’s office and the House and Senate would have 24 hours to respond.


Public employees fight for respect at state Capitol


Committee approves two bills that restrict benefits for the poor


Tipped workers' minimum wage bill sparks controversy

A bill to change Florida's minimum wage law for tipped employees has touched a nerve with supporters of low-income workers. On Tuesday, it sparked a protest at an Outback Steakhouse restaurant in Miami Lakes. Servers and activists were encouraged on Twitter to "dress like the '80s" at the rally, to highlight the proposed $2.13 minimum wage, last seen in the mid-1980s. Another group, Fight for Florida, is encouraging restaurant patrons to print a card at to hand to servers with their tip. Though the measure won approval from one Senate committee it is unlikely to get final approval from the full Legislature. The House has shown no interest in taking up a similar proposal. The bill would allow restaurants and other employers to pay their staffs the federal minimum wage with tips of $2.13 an hour, instead of Florida's minimum with tips of $4.65. To qualify, companies would have to guarantee that employees make at least $9.98 an hour, when tips are included. South Florida AFL-CIO spokesman Jim Junecko said the initiative would hurt workers who are the lifeline of the state's tourism-based economy. The AFL-CIO organized Tuesday's protest at Outback Steakhouse. The Tampa restaurant chain supports the bill. "We have to fight every issue that strips away the rights of workers," he said.,0,511781.story


On second thought, House panel approves state worker drug tests


Gardiner survives attempt to unseat him in Senate presidency fight


How the prisons bill was defeated (by Paula Dockery)


Cities, counties fight proposed tax cuts imposed in Tallahassee


Legislators leave hard work to local officials,0,6706323.story


Will political bullies decide water policy in Florida?,0,5532785.story


Senate bill that encourages oil exploration and drilling on state lands likely is dead


Tallahassee power grab on transportation


Wealthy enriched by double-dipping U.S. plan


Tax-cut bill includes updates to jobless benefits system

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