A state budget of $88.7 billion was passed that includes $170 million in tax cuts and $400 million in school security measures.
Below is a synopsis of the most important bills that were passed (Gov Scott vetoed only 2 bills in this legislative session).
Permits a broader range of dual enrollment courses (students can enroll in postsecondary courses and receive both HS and postsecondary credit).
Allows districts to receive 100% of the 1.5 millage capital outlay and district flexibility to schools that did not meet State K-12 building code standards.
Provides ‘Reading Scholarships’ for students failing the FSA in grades 3-5 to give parents money to cover costs for tutors or other materials.
$400 million was set aside to increase school safety measures including $69 million for mental health programs in school and $98 million to upgrade other security measures.
“Bright Futures” scholarships that helps students pay for tuition at state universities cleared the legislature this year receiving $122 million that should ease the student loan debt for future FL college students.
The availability of computer-science courses was increased, including coding courses, in middle and high schools. Teachers who earn certifications in computer science and teach the courses can earn up to $1000 in annual bonuses.
Large school districts must employ an internal auditor and an investigation is triggered into districts that are unable to pay debts/liabilities and mandates that they withhold the salaries of certain superintendents and school board members who oversee districts that have financial emergency conditions (not so good). Prohibits former elected superintendents to lobby school districts. Aligns school board member salaries with beginning teacher salaries.
Expansion of charter schools with independent governing boards.
Expands vouchers to allow students who face bullying/harassment in public school’s to transfer to private schools using tax-funded vouchers (the voucners will be paid for by car buyers, who in registering their cars will be able to select the option of donating a portion of their sales tax to the “hope scholarship”). Further, this bill requires schools to display “In God We Trust,” the state motto.
Teacher unions would be de-certified if membership falls below 50% of eligible staff covered by a contract. (The effect would be to make the unions constantly recruit members to get their heads above the halfway mark, instead of negotiating contracts and representing educators.)
Raises the age from 18 to 21 to purchase any gun.
Imposes a 3-day waiting period for the purchase of rifles and other long guns.
Bans the sale or possession of “bump stocks” which allow semi-automatic rifles to mimic fully automatic weapons.
Creates allocations to assist school districts in establishing/expanding school-based mental health care.
Establishes a Risk Protection Order Act that allow police to petition a court to temporarily seize ammunition and guns for up to a year from a person who “poses a significant danger to himself or others.”
Allows specially trained teachers and other (more than 200,000) school personnel to be deputized by sheriffs and bring guns to school. School boards and sheriffs would need to agree to implement the program for it to go into effect. Teachers who work “exclusively” in the classroom would be excluded from the program but those with additional duties like drama coaches would be eligible.
Failed to ban the purchase of assault weapons (the weapon of choice for most mass shootings).
Supervisors of Election supported the effort that establishes requirements and processes for FL to become a member of a nongovernmental entity, designed to help states improve the accuracy of their voter rolls through data match identification of problematic registrations and to increase access to voter registration for all eligible citizens. (Supervisors of Election will most likely join the ERIC (Electronic Registration Information Center).
The House passed a Joint Resolution (7001) that places a proposed Constitutional Amendment on the 2018 ballot requiring a state tax or fee imposed, authorized, or raised by the Legislature be approved by two-thirds of the membership of each house of the Legislature. (Note: voters previously defeated this idea twice. This amendment, if passed, would negatively impact the legislatures ability to raise money for various needs like hurricane response.)
“Florida Forever” conservation program will receive $100.8 million that includes $5.8 million for the Rural and Family Lands Protection program, $6 million for recreational park development, $77 million for acquisition of unique lands, and $10 million for the FL Communities Trust program that includes land buying.
Rick Scott vetoed a bill (HB 1149) that would have allowed chemically treated, recycled water to be pumped into the state’s underground aquifers which could have led to aquifer contamination.
Wetlands protection (HB 7043) allows the state DEP to assume Federal Section 404 Dredge and Fill Permitting Authority upon approval of US EPA. The state gains power and authority to adopt rules to assume and implement permitting programs pursuant to federal Clean Water Act for dredge and fill activities in certain waters. (Note: the track record of success for states that have tried to self-administer this program is not good, and has resulted in diminished wetland protection. FL is expected to suffer a similar impact).
“Method Ban” SB 1890 was withdrawn on March 10, (a companion bill to HB 1429 that passed the House) to ban the abortion procedure called Dilation and Evacuation (D&E). D&E is the most common and safest method of abortion in the second trimester. The bill would have prevented women from having access to a safe abortion with a trusted physician. By dictating what medical procedures doctors can perform, this bill would have prohibited doctors from exercising their best medical judgment and providing their patients with the appropriate medical care.
Nursing home funding was increased by $130 million.
Opioid abuse prevention funding was increased by $53 million and prescriptions were limited to a 3-day supply, or 7-days if a doctor deems it “medically necessary.”
Permanent contract between Dept. of Health and the FL Pregnancy Care Network which runs more than 100 faith-based pregnancy centers was passed. It requires that at least 90% of the funding for the centers be used on pregnancy support and wellness. (These centers are known for their pro-life billboards on state highways, providing medically inaccurate information, and religious material).
Scott signed into law $400 million worth of one-time and recurring tax cuts — $290 million involves reducing the state property tax rate for schools by 5% and $110 million involves extending tax holidays (like back-to-school tax breaks which will last 3 days from August 5-7, shorter than the original proposal of 10 days) and permanently cutting sales taxes on manufacturing equipment.
Scott signed a bill to allow a sculpture of the famous FL educator and civil rights leader, Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) to replace the Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith as one of FL’s 2 representatives in the U.S. Capital statuary hall. Bethune was a founder of what became Bethune-Cookman University. She will be the first African-American woman honored by a state in the national hall.
A bill banning marriage under the age of 18 was passed but requires 17-year-olds (who can still marry) to get parental consent to wed, and take a premarital preparation course.
The Legislature codified into law the requirement that nursing homes receive emergency generators.
House approved legislation to let victims of human trafficking sue hotels and motels that, “knowingly and willingly” turn a blind eye to the illicit practices BUT on a procedural point it died in the Senate on the last day of session.
A constitutional amendment requiring super majorities of the House and Senate for future tax increases won approval and it will be on the Nov 2018 ballot.
A bill to prohibit food stamp recipients from buying soft drinks failed.
A bill to give judges more sentencing discretion and eliminate minimum mandatory sentences for non-violent drug trafficking convictions failed.
A bill to require cable and trash companies to automatically reimburse customers for missed service (vs. making the customer ask for it) failed.
Surprise! State employees did not get a pay raise – again. But members of the judiciary, firefighters and law enforcement officers will get a pay raise. Supreme Court Justices will see a 24% pay raise. (Other judges received a pay raise in October – so did Supreme Court Justices!).
Scott vetoed $64 million worth of line items including $29 million in local road projects and $25,000 trust fund appropriation to the Florida Housing Finance Corp, for “affordable housing programs.”
Teresa Jenkins, Legislative Liaison, Democratic Women’s Club of Charlotte County