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Senate avoids loading down schools funding bill with hostile amendments

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The Senate rejected amendments Thursday that might have blocked a meeting of minds with the House on public schools funding — including bids to tie the legislation explicitly to economic development investments.

“These issues have been parsed out separately,” said Sen. Gary Farmer, who offered both amendments.

“Let’s put them together. And let’s candidly assert ourselves as the Florida Senate. Let’s make a statement about what our policy is. Let’s send the House one bill, one package,” he said.

“Let’s do our thing, and maybe not be so worried about what they’re going to do.”

Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala was sympathetic, saying the leadership had decided against such a move to avoid a confrontation with the House.

“In the end, in the spirit of trying to arrive at a solution, we made the decision not to go in that direction,” Latvala said.

He stressed that the point was to inject $215 million — $100 more per pupil — into the schools.

“If we try to get too cute, we may blow the whole thing up, and we have come up here for naught. I think that would be very unfortunate,” Latvala said.

The debate set the bill up for a final vote on Friday.

It came during the second day of a three-day special session that Gov. Rick Scott called after he vetoed the $11 billion Florida Education Finance Program, the public education budget.

SB 2500-A is designed to supplement the Appropriations Act approved last month, to get around the 72-hour waiting period for budget bills, Latvala said.

Additionally, the Senate voted Wednesday to override Scott’s veto of the schools budget plus $75 million in higher education projects.

That did set up a confrontation with the House.

“We’d be the first Republican Legislature that overrode a Republican governor on pork-barrel spending,” House Speaker Richard Corcoran told reporters.

Additionally, the Senate set final votes on an Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida bill containing tougher oversight than does the version favored by Scott and the House. And on a bill that would restore $100 million of the $200 million cut from Medicaid reimbursements to hospitals in the state budget.

Details on those bills here.

Again, Corcoran didn’t sound interested.

“It’s not in the call,” the speaker said. “We’re happy with where we are with the funding for the hospitals.”

Senators used the occasion of the schools-funding bill to re-debate HB 7069, the House’s big Schools of Hope package from the regular session. The upper chamber passed that bill only reluctantly, as part of the budget deal reached in an extended session.

Farmer was behind a series of amendments seeking to pick away at HB 7069. He would have stripped most of the money out of the $414 million Schools of Hope and related programs and sent them to public schools, while preserving aid to students with disabilities.

A third would have provided $100 in social services for students in the struggling schools targeted for closure under HB 7069. Another would have stripped $30 million the disability money from that bill. All failed.

Sen. Dennis Simmons withdrew amendments providing for similar raids, in the interest of compromise with the House, he said.

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

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