Round-up of legislative updates from Reps. Janet Adkins, Dane Eagle, Heather Fitzenhagen and Jake Raburn

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A round-up of the weekly legislative updates from a variety of state lawmakers.

Rep. Janet Adkins:

The fifth week of session marked the midway point for the 60-day legislative session. It involved fewer committee meetings, but more time on the House floor.

The importance of this stage of the legislative process is when the “power” shifts from the state agency staff, lobbyists and special interest into the hands of the citizen lawmakers.

Prior to this point, lawmakers are essentially tied up in meetings and committee work for most of the day and do not have as much contact with one another. It is on the floor where members communicate, and it is the floor where the sovereignty of the citizens is housed in our state government. I always enjoy spending time with members, and this is when member priorities and the priorities of their constituents come to the surface and are engaged.

The Florida House had twenty bills on the special order calendar. When a bill is placed on the special order calendar, then the House means to take action on the bill. The special order calendar is determined by the Rules Committee, a committee of which I am pleased to serve as a member.

House Bill (HB) 7009, which included several provisions to increase charter school accountability and transparency, and HB 867, Parent Empowerment in Education, were on the calendar. As in any industry, there are “bad apples.” This past year, Floridians witnessed what I consider bad behavior by a charter school in Central Florida. I had filed HB 1267 to address both charter school accountability and funding concerns; however, the bill was never heard in committee.

HB 7009 addressed many of the accountability and transparency components of my bill, and I was happy to join as a cosponsor of this legislation. This legislation prohibits a charter school, upon termination of the charter, from expending more than $10,000 without prior written permission from the sponsor, unless such expenditure was included within the annual budget submitted to the sponsor; or is for reasonable attorney’s fees and costs during the pendency of an appeal; or is for reasonable fees and costs to conduct an independent audit. It also requires an audit to be completed by an independent third party within 30 days after a charter school is notified of nonrenewal, closure or termination.

Under this legislation, charter schools are prohibited from executing contracts that contain acceleration clauses requiring expenditure of funds based on closure or notification of nonrenewal or termination. Charter schools are also prohibited from executing contracts that extend beyond the term of the school’s contract with its sponsor and employees of the charter school or the charter management organization, and their spouses are prohibited from serving on the charter school governing board.

Finally, the legislation provides “clawback” power (if the money is not used for the provision then it reverts back) to the sponsor in case of violation of contract provisions. All of these components provide protection to Florida’s students and taxpayers by ensuring public dollars are spent appropriately. The bill passed the House with 87 yeas and 29 nays.

HB 867, Parent Empowerment in Education, passed with a closer vote of 68 yeas and 51 nays. The bill enables parents, by petition, to request the school district implement a parent-selected turnaround option if a school earns a grade of “F” and is required to select a turnaround option.

For parents whose children are trapped in a failing school, this puts power back into the hands of parents and citizens and provides a path towards a better future for that school. There is no question that sometimes, even when a school district wants to make changes, the institutional politics of indecision and delay, aimed at protecting the status quo, adversely affect the students and the families.

The turnaround option requested by parents must be considered for implementation by the district school board at a publicly noticed meeting, if the petition is signed and dated by a majority of the parents of students enrolled in the school or students who are scheduled for assignment to the school in the following school year.

The district school board may adopt the turnaround option selected by parents or a different option selected by the school board. If the district school board does not adopt the parent-selected option, it must include that option with the implementation plan submitted to the State Board of Education. The state board may approve the district’s plan or, if it determines that the parent-selected option is more likely to improve student performance at the school, require the school board to submit a plan for implementing the parent-selected option. However, if the school improves by at least one letter grade, the school no longer has to implement the turnaround option.

The bill also creates new requirements for school districts and charter schools regarding the assignment of students to classroom teachers. The bill prohibits consecutive student assignments to teachers with an annual performance evaluation rating of “unsatisfactory” or “needs improvement,” and requires parents of students assigned to an out-of-field or chronically, low-performing teacher be informed of the availability of virtual instruction delivered by an in-field, high-performing teacher.

Currently, Florida law does not prohibit school districts and charter schools from assigning a student in consecutive years to a low-performing teacher. School districts must notify each parent when his or her child is assigned to an out-of-field teacher or chronically, low-performing teacher; however, notification that virtual instruction is available as an alternative to such teacher assignments is not required.

I believe there has been a lot of rhetoric about the “parent empowerment” portion of the bill. The reality is there are very few schools each year that would be impacted by this language. The reality is there are already federally mandated options for the school board to choose from and the “parent recommendation” is just that-a recommendation. There is nothing that requires the school board to adopt that recommendation. The other major component of the bill has received very little attention: the prohibition of assigning a student for two consecutive years to a low-performing teacher.

Sometimes in Tallahassee, you hear all sides of the issue. As a lawmaker, you must consider the citizens and the people who are affected. At times, the interests of citizens are not the same as unions, school boards, school districts or others, and it is critical that policies serve the interests of working families and taxpayers. I believe this bill accomplishes those goals.

The House Appropriations Committee passed the house budget out of committee, and it is now ready to be debated on the House floor. I worked hard to get two special appropriations in the budget: funding for the St. Johns River Ferry and “seed” money for the Nassau County Sheriff’s office. I was pleased to see line 2206A in the House budget outlining $1,000,000 for the St. Johns River Ferry and line 1216 showing $100,000 in planning funds for the construction of a new Nassau County Sheriff’s Office.

Over the past decade, the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office has experienced roof failure, mold degradation, rodent infestation and major interior renovations to ease overcrowding and air quality issues in several of the occupied buildings.

I remember touring the Nassau County Sheriff’s office a few years ago, and my concern was with the area where evidence is stored. The current storage area for evidence is concerning because the administration of justice is compromised when the evidence is not properly secured. I can only imagine how upset I would be if someone who had harmed a family member was not able to be prosecuted because the evidence had been damaged. This is a fundamental responsibility of government, and I believe it is in the county’s and state’s best interest to address this very real problem.

The biggest highlight of the week was seeing County Commissioners Barry Holloway, Danny Leeper, Junior Boatwright and Pat Edwards, County Attorney David Hallman and County Manager Ted Selby at the Capitol. The state legislature is most effective when taxpayers, constituents and elected officials at all levels of government are actively engaged in the process and have their voices heard.

It was fitting that they were able to attend the Regulatory Affairs committee where I presented the local bill for Nassau County, HB 1283. The bill passed unanimously and is now ready to be considered on the House floor.

The weeks ahead will narrow the bills still under consideration, and the process will move quickly as bills are heard in the final committees and members spend long hours on the Floor. The amendments and the changes to bills can move quickly, especially as bills bounce between chambers, bill numbers change and bills are merged into larger packages.

You have to pay close attention and monitor for hostile amendments and measures that come up during the closing days. This is why being a good reader is so important. You have to not only read these amendments but you must also understand how they affect people in your district. Then, you must decide how you will respond.

Lawmakers are people like everyone else. During this time, many struggle with the separation from their families. It is important to understand, there is incredible sacrifice that is made for the good of this state and nation.

While the process is far from perfect, it is robust. Perhaps more important, it provides Floridians a voice and a chance to petition their government. Please make sure you do your part and communicate with your elected leaders at all levels. Like me, they really do care and want to know how you feel about the issues.

Thank you for the great honor of serving you.

Rep. Dane Eagle:

As I write this message, the Florida House is completing Week Six of the 60-day Session. My staff and I are working hard to represent your interests, and I am pleased to share this update about our work on your behalf.

At this point in the Session, most of our work shifts to the House floor. This week we considered and passed our proposed budget for fiscal year 2013-2014. Since the House budget proposal differs from the Senate budget proposal, the presiding officers in each chamber will appoint Budget Conference Committees to negotiate the differences and finalize a fiscally responsible budget for the State of Florida.

Also this week, the Florida House released its proposed alternative to Medicaid expansion: Florida Health Choices Plus+. I believe this prudent approach will create a stronger marketplace for better health, more choice and expanded coverage.  

I am proud to report that I passed HB 7035, relating to pretrial detention, out of the Florida House of Representatives on April 12th. The legislation adds two circumstances when a judge may detain a defendant before trial. HB 7035 will keep our most violent offenders off the streets.

I hope you will find these periodic updates timely and informative. For more information about anything you read in this newsletter, or if we can be helpful, please do not hesitate to reach out to me or my staff. Your input is always welcome.

Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen:

Dear Friends,

The climate in the Capitol has really begun to heat up as the budget process comes close to an end.  During the early portion of the week, each chamber (Senate and House) worked at a furious pace to ensure their budgets were finalized and voted upon by the end of the week.  On Friday, I was honored to vote affirmatively on a fiscally conservative and balanced budget.  Next week, the Legislature will join together during the “Conference Process” to create a final state budget.   

In addition, I worked with my fellow legislators to debate, vote and pass legislation during this Session’s last appropriations subcommittees, regular committee meetings, and on the House Floor.  I also met with several constituents from Southwest Florida, worked with my colleagues on local budget priorities, and debated and passed sponsored amendments and bills.  All the specifics of my 2013 legislation can be seen at www.myfloridahouse.gov under my member page and the “sponsored bills” tab. 

Again, I greatly appreciate the overwhelming support through emails and phone calls relating to my currently filed legislation.  For more information please do not hesitate to contact us. Your input is always welcome.

Rep. Jake Raburn:

We have just concluded week six of the nine-week legislative session. Today the House passed a crucial bill, HB 5001- General Appropriations Act, which is the only bill that the Florida legislature is constitutionally required to pass. You can read more about HB 5001 and additional bills that I believe to be noteworthy below. 
 
I also want to take time to thank the local realtors that stopped by on Wednesday in Tallahassee as well as everyone else that called or stopped by to provide their opinions or support.
 
As always, please feel free to contact me, or my staff whenever we can be of assistance.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.