Might Florida Best and Brightest bonus renewal face legal challenge?
Despite strong opposition by some Florida senators, the state Legislature approved a second year of the controversial Best and Brightest bonus that rewards teachers, in part, for their ACT or SAT scores of long ago.
Some key naysayers, including outgoing Sen. John Legg, criticized the action. Legg challenged the placement of Best and Brightest in the budget implementing bill, arguing the courts have said substantive policy that hadn't been approved otherwise did not belong in the appropriations act.
"I believe this Legislature has not has an opportunity to weigh in," Legg told his colleagues. "The process is circumvented by putting it in the implementing bill."
Appropriations chairman Sen. Tom Lee contended that there wasn't a problem, because the $49 million for the program appeared in the actual budget, and the implementing language simply commemorated the money. Calling it a symbolic victory for House supporters, Lee noted that the language would disappear if Gov. Rick Scott vetoes the expense.
The bonus has a "one year life span," he said. "We will have to come back and get our head around the continuation of Best and Brightest."
That debate, though, has led to a broader conversation about whether lawmakers went too far in legislating through the budget. Several organizations are talking about how to proceed if the governor leaves Best and Brightest in the budget, said Tallahassee lawyer Ron Meyer, who often represents the Florida Education Association and the school boards association.
"Sen. Legg's debate brought out ... that this is another classic example of logrolling," Meyer said.
Such moves have been found inconsistent with the Florida Constitution, he said. The constitution states that all laws "shall embrace but one subject and matter properly connected therewith, and the subject shall be briefly expressed in the title."
In Brown vs. Firestone (1980) the state Supreme Court wrote, "Were we to sanction a rule permitting an appropriations bill to change existing law, the legislature would in many instances be able to logroll, and in every instance the integrity of the legislative process would be compromised."
The question becomes whether what happened with Best and Brightest fits the definitions that Legg put forth, or those suggested by Lee. Getting an answer would depend on a lawsuit being filed, and so far it's all just talk.
Legg said he would suspect a suit if Scott does not veto the provision. Meyer said the taxpayer who might consider filing would have to balance the principle at stake and the value of everything else in the bill, which also would be challenged.