Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Is Florida school districts’ challenge of HB 7069 over logrolling concerns moot?

A three-page, single-subject bill from 2018 could end up undoing several Florida school boards' challenge of a complicated, controversial 274-page education omnibus from 2017 they've been trying to kill.

The potential lawsuit slayer: The Legislature's annual readoption of statutes, as amended in its most recent term.

As part of their efforts to dispute the legality of HB 7069, nine districts argued the measure violated the rule that all legislation must focus on one subject. HB 7069, they noted, contained dozens of often unrelated matters.

So they took the question to court.

(The case is separate from another one, headed to an appeal, in which districts argue some of the specific actions in the bill were unconstitutional. Hear our podcast on that case for more details.)

The Florida Supreme Court handed the issue off to the Leon County circuit, where lawyers for the lawmakers and other defendants have filed motions suggesting the "logrolling" complaint shouldn't be heard.

Why? Because HB 7021, signed by Gov. Rick Scott on March 23 to take effect on the 60th day after session closed, reenacted the statutes including the changes made by HB 7069.

The lawyers note that the preface to the Florida Statutes makes clear their point. It reads, in relevant part, "once reenacted as a portion of the Florida Statutes, a statute is no longer subject to challenge on the ground that it violates the single subject requirement of s. 6, Art. III of the State Constitution."

"Because this reenactment has occurred, the alleged procedural deficiency has been cured, and the School Boards' single-subject challenge is moot," Attorney General Pam Bondi wrote in a recent filing on behalf of Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, one of the defendants.

Beyond that stance, the state also argues that the school boards have other avenues to challenge the law — witness two other cases also filed in the Leon County court. It further contends that HB 7069 did, indeed, meet the single-subject provision regardless.

"The single subject is 'education,' and it is not overbroad," the lawyers wrote. They added, "All provisions are properly connected to the single subject."

The fate of this case has clear implications on future legislative activity.

Concerns have mounted over the past several years that lawmakers increasingly have joined several bills together in an attempt to win passage of the less popular ones by linking them to ones with greater appeal. It happened again, though to lesser complaints, with this year's education initiatives — HB 7055 and also some smaller bills, such as HB 495.

Debate over bundling tangentially connected items into one measure also came up during Constitutional Revision Commission debate over its education proposal, which was forwarded to the Secretary of State on Wednesday. The CRC is not subject to the single-subject provision, although some members thought they should honor it.

Activists on all sides have their eyes on the issue, even if the court case does not survive. Count on the question of lumped-together legislation to keep popping up as long as the practice continues.

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