Gov. Scott signs 'school choice' education bill, 19 others into law; vetoes dental incentive
Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed into law on Thursday a massive education bill that will let public school students, starting in 2017-18, attend any school in the state that has space available.
Starting next school year, the measure also will let high school athletes have immediate eligibility when transferring schools, and it will subject charter schools to more accountability and a new formula for receiving capital dollars.
Scott also signed 19 other bills, including the session's main transportation package and new laws affecting health care policy and Citizens Property Insurance Committee.
He also issued his second veto of the session, disapproving of HB 139 -- which would have provided incentives for dentists who practice in underserved areas or who treated underserved people. Scott said it did not place "appropriate safeguards on taxpayer investments" and it "is duplicative of existing programs."
Scott has just three bills remaining to act on of the 272 that lawmakers passed during the 2016 session. Two require his action by Saturday and the final one -- a controversial bill reforming alimony and child custody arrangements -- is due for action by Tuesday.
Among today's actions, Scott signed four health care bills that are among the free-market changes pushed by the Legislature — and especially House Republicans — this year.
Under the new laws, advanced registered nurse practitioners and physician assistants can prescribe controlled substances. And psychiatric nurses will have additional prescribing authority, as well -- a change Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, says help address psychiatrist shortages in many parts of the state.
The governor signed a health care transparency bill (HB 1175) that creates a statewide database of hospital costs. It doesn’t go as far as legislation he proposed that would have added penalties for hospitals that “price gouge” customers.
"The way patients are charged for services at the hospital should mirror a free market system. We must ensure that prices and quality outcomes are aligned so Floridians receive the best care possible when they visit a health care facility," Scott said in a statement.
And he approved the first steps toward allowing telemedicine (HB 787) in Florida -- using technology to provide health care across distance, and even from other states.
He signed another health care bill, as well, which is not part of lawmakers’ free-market push. Supported by insurers and consumer advocacy groups, HB 221 ends the practice of “balance billing” by which patients are billed directly for out-of-network health care services. That legislation became the vehicle for a last-minute change by President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, to require insurers cover additional treatment options for children with Down syndrome.
"Insurance coverage will make these therapies more affordable for families across Florida who have either been struggling to pay out-of-pocket, or going without these life-changing services," Gardiner said in a statement.
Meanwhile, supporters of “school choice” policies heralded Scott’s approval of HB 7029, a 160-page education bill that lawmakers negotiated into the final hours of session.
“By expanding Florida’s school choice options, parents and students will be able to find an education solution that best fits their needs,” House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said in a statement.
The Republican-led Legislature passed the bill mostly on a party-line vote. It’s a combination of about a dozen different bills with various implications on Florida's education policy.
The most contentious aspect of HB 7029 affects how the state's 650 charter schools can get funding for construction and maintenance projects.
State dollars will now be weighted to favor charter schools that serve mostly impoverished students and those with disabilities. The state allocated $75 million for charter school capital projects in 2016-17 -- the same as what the state's 3,600 traditional schools will receive, in addition to their local sources of capital funding.
A casualty of legislative negotiations was an effort by the Senate to crackdown on businesses using state capital dollars to profit from charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed.
Advocates of traditional public schools wanted that included and they have said they also would've liked for the new accountability measures on charter schools to go even farther.
But the law does add at least some new standards for charters. They'll be required to provide "monthly or quarterly" financial statements -- so potential money troubles can be flagged early -- and any charter school with two consecutive "F" grades will be "automatically terminated."
The open enrollment provisions will affect all public schools, allowing students to attend any school in the state that hasn't reached capacity. The law gives preference to students living in the district, students moving because their parents are active-duty military personnel or students moving because of foster care placement or court-ordered custody arrangements.
State and district officials will now begin the steps to implement the policy. That''ll be an easier endeavor in some counties than in others; some parts of the state -- such as Tampa Bay -- already allow students to attend school across county district lines.
HB 7029 also codifies the performance funding formula for Florida's 28 colleges and 12 public universities and includes myriad smaller changes affecting statewide education policy.
For instance, Florida's 356 individual school board members will now be able to direct their taxpayer-funded dues to whichever membership association they want representing them.
The legislative intervention helps a bloc of conservative school board members -- several of whom have ties to Republican politics -- who broke away from the Florida School Boards Association last year and started their own coalition that they've had to self-fund.
Scott also signed Thursday a wide-ranging transportation bill (HB 7061) that requires DOT to install roadside barriers where state roads are next to lakes and ponds.
The bill also transfers the Pinellas Bayway to the state and requires state economists to study and report on the economic benefits of the state's five-year road construction work program. And it creates a new transportation oversight panel within the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority.
Regarding Citizens Property Insurance, homeowners will get more information in the future when deciding if they should voluntarily leave that state-run insurer for a private company. Under HB 931, homeowners will get new details on all potential offers to switch to a private carriers and Citizens itself will be responsible for mailing them, instead of leaving it to private companies customers have often mistaken as junk mail.
In the past, homeowners have complained that offers have come from private companies unfamiliar to them, which many mistook for junk mail and threw away. In addition, if there were multiple offers from private companies, Citizens only allowed one company of their choosing to present an offer. Now, Citizens will have to list all offers giving customers some customers more options.
Here are all the bills that Scott signed Thursday:
HB 153 -- The Healthy Food Financing Initiative – This bill directs the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to establish the Healthy Food Financing Initiative program.
HB 221 -- Health Care Services – This bill protects patients from paying unexpected bills for out-of-network services and provides additional treatment options for individuals with Down syndrome.
HB 287 -- The Principal Autonomy Pilot Program Initiative – This bill creates the Principal Autonomy Pilot Program Initiative to provide additional professional development training for school principals.
HB 423 -- Access to Health Care Services – This bill allows Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants to prescribe certain controlled substances.
HB 447 -- Local Government Environmental Financing – This bill refers to the Florida Keys Stewardship Act and provides funding for water resource projects and land acquisition in the Florida Keys.
HB 491 -- Water and Wastewater – This bill revises the current framework for governing water and wastewater utilities.
HB 585 -- Instruction for Homebound and Hospitalized Students – This bill streamlines the process for school districts to provide educational instruction to homebound and hospitalized students.
HB 821 -- Reimbursement of Assessments – This bill prohibits representatives who assist veterans in applying for benefits from charging the veteran an administrative fee.
HB 931 -- Operations of the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation – This bill revises various provisions relating to the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation.
HB 941 -- The Department of Health – This bills amends various practice acts related to health professions and occupations.
HB 977 -- Behavioral Health Workforce – This bill allows psychiatric Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners to prescribe certain controlled substances and expands eligibility for providers in a substance abuse program.
HB 981 -- Administrative Procedures – This bill clarifies the timeframe for agencies to evaluate the economic impact of administrative rules.
HB 1075 -- State Areas – This bill revises acquisition, management and surplus processes for state-owned lands and other state areas.
HB 1175 -- Transparency in Health Care – This bill requires hospitals to post their prices and average payments online.
HB 1305 -- Emergency Allergy Treatment in Schools – This bill provides schools with cost-saving options for acquiring epinephrine auto-injectors.
HB 7019 -- Education Access and Affordability – This bill promotes college affordability by providing tuition and fee transparency, textbook cost predictability, oversight of graduate school tuition, and accountability of Florida’s higher education system.
HB 7029 -- Education – This bill expands educational options for students and parents in prekindergarten, K-12, and higher education.
HB 7053 -- Early Childhood Development – This bill revises health and safety requirements for school readiness program providers.
HB 7061 -- Transportation – This bill makes various changes to the Department of Transportation and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, including implementing “Chloe’s Law” which provides additional roadside safety measures.
HB 7087 -- Health Care – This bill creates the Telehealth Advisory Council within the Agency for Health Care Administration.
Herald/Times reporters Michael Auslen, Jeremy Wallace and Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.