Romano: State Senate caves and all of Florida suffers

The fourth floor rotunda bridges the gap between the Florida House and Senate chambers at the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. [AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser]
The fourth floor rotunda bridges the gap between the Florida House and Senate chambers at the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. [AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser]
Published March 6
Updated March 6

In the end, they rolled over and played dead.

On guns. On education. On integrity and responsibility.

A group of Florida senators refused on Monday to stand up to the ambitions of the House speaker and the implied threats of the National Rifle Association.

And so Florida suffers.

It’s exasperating, but not necessarily surprising. Under feckless and toothless President Joe Negron, the Senate had already abdicated its traditional role as the state’s last hope for sanity.

Now, some might say that Negron only went along with Speaker Richard Corcoran’s sabotage of public schools on Monday in exchange for concessions on Negron’s higher ed agenda. Don’t buy it.

Corcoran practices a radical form of politics. He starts at an extreme place, and insists he will not budge. Then, instead of meeting halfway, he doles out crumbs and expects everyone to be thankful.

And the wimps in the Senate let him get away with it. For the second year in a row.

"The process by which this came down is essentially one chamber dictating to another chamber what to do,’’ said state Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale. "It’s a horrifying scenario.’’

This time, they failed to listen to the parents and students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who made it clear they wanted stronger gun laws. They failed to listen to the majority of Florida residents who have made it clear they agree. My guess is most senators also failed to listen to their hearts.

And while guns garnered most of the attention on Monday, the Senate also caved on Corcoran’s education bill that will divert millions and millions of dollars to private schools and potentially dissolve some teachers’ unions. Essentially, they hastened the end of public schools as we now know them.

"We do a lousy job, in my personal opinion, of representing working-class people,’’ state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said on the Senate floor Monday morning. "We should be ashamed of ourselves.’’

You might think this sounds overwrought. I assure you it is not.

Corcoran’s bill (HB 7055) was deviously packaged as a way to protect students who are being bullied and need to transfer to private schools to escape their tormentors. Except the bill doesn’t address the bullies. And it doesn’t acknowledge school choice already allows students to transfer to a charter or another public school. And, most absurdly, it doesn’t require real proof of bullying.

So the practical effect is that any parent can claim a child is being bullied, and then use taxpayer funds to transfer to a private or religious school. In essence, it permits the unfettered use of vouchers in a way that the Florida Supreme Court ruled was unconstitutional nearly 20 years ago.

And state Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, pretty much acknowledged that.

"This is the future,’’ Baxley said. "We’re empowering personalization of (education).’’

For the record, Lee, state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, and state Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, voted against HB 7055, which passed 20-17. State Sens. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, voted for it. It now returns to the House before heading to Gov. Rick Scott, who will presumably sign it into law.

And the privatization — not to mention the profit-making potential — of education in Florida just took another huge step forward.