Expect 'full and open' budget debate in Florida Senate, education appropriations chairman says
Despite talk of a done budget deal, Florida senators will have a thorough debate over the education funding issues that have been sent to a three-day legislative special session this week, a key lawmaker told the Gradebook.
"In other words, we're going to do our job," said Sen. David Simmons, chairman of the Senate PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee.
Simmons has contended that the legislature did not meet that standard during its regular spring session, when it accepted a major education conforming bill (HB 7069) that leaders crafted in private. He voted against the bill after handling it on the floor but offering weak support of it, at one point telling senators to vote their conscience.
With talk of a veto swirling, Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran worked out a tradeoff where each would win some of his priorities, and then presented the ideas to Senate President Joe Negron. The concept, revealed Friday, now heads to the full Legislature.
After discussions with several senators, Simmons said he was assured a "full and open process" rather than a rubber stamping activity.
"Whatever comes to the Senate, I'm told it will be subject to the Senate's review, analysis, debate and ultimate vote," he said. "If we don't vote in the form sent over to us, we've got time to do it better. If it doesn't happen, it will be a victory for the democratic, open process. ... I am not afraid of having to come back. I am not afraid of the debate."
Simmons said he will continue to attempt to add reconsideration and revision of HB 7069, which has not yet been sent to Scott, to the special session call. He said the bill has some good ideas in it, but "the bad parts unfortunately outweigh the good."
He noted, for instance, that the legislation on one hand aims to provide incentives for top teachers to work in the state's lowest performing schools, but on the other creates major discincentives for heading to those schools, such as threatening them with closure after two years of poor performance.
"The goal is lost in the implementation," Simmons said, stressing he wants to help children in low-income areas get the help they deserve.
He suggested that improvement of HB 7069 would be better than killing it, but added, "it's got to be gotten rid of unless we can improve it."
Advocacy groups continue to pressure lawmakers and Scott on both the budget and HB 7069 as the special session approaches.
In a memo to senators, Latvala indicated that some of the $215 million in revenue added to public education would come from local property tax revenue on new construction, something the House has resisted as a new tax. He said the FEFP formula calculations from the regular session had not changed.
In a separate memo to senators, Senate President Joe Negron made clear that he had made no agreement dictating the outcome of the special session.
"Nor have I made any agreement to limit the subject matter to the issues listed in the Governor's proclamation," Negron wrote. "As always, any Senator may file legislation within, or outside of, the current proclamation for consideration by the Senate. Legislation outside of the call requires a two-thirds vote of the membership for introduction."
He further suggested that the Senate might seek to override some of the governor's higher education budget vetoes.
Speaker Richard Corcoran released a statement after the Senate position came out. He said:
"We stand with the Governor in his commitment to increase funding for our K-12 public schools and creating more jobs. But Instead of addressing jobs, honoring the will of the people in passing medical marijuana, or taking care of our public school children, the Senate President wants a massive property tax increase, wants to weaken accountability provisions for VISIT FL and EFI, and wants to raid reserves to give to hospital CEOs. Needless to say, the House is not raising taxes, not softening accountability rules, and not borrowing against reserves to pay for corporate giveaways. And without question the House will not allow funding for our schoolchildren to be held hostage to pork barrel spending and special interest demands."