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Your Weekly Legislative Update

March 11, 2013
Week One Session Summary
March 4 - 8, 2013
Legislative Session 2013

In This Issue...

  1. 2013 Legislative Session Begins
  2. Where to locate back Issues of Perception

2013 Legislative Session Begins

The Florida Retirement System – It’s What We Do at AFC!!

Monitoring changes to the FRS is one of the AFC’s top priorities during any legislative session. The Florida Retirement System (FRS) is a multi-employer, contributory plan that provides retirement income benefits to 623,011 active members, 334,682 retired members and beneficiaries, and 40,556 members of the Deferred Retirement Option Program. It is the primary retirement plan for employees of the state and county government agencies, district school boards, community colleges, and universities. The FRS also serves as the retirement plan for participating employees of the 185 cities and 257 independent hospitals and special districts that have elected to join the system. Of the total, Florida College System employees account for about 25K of current FRS participants.

 

Members of the FRS have two plan options available for participation: the defined benefit plan, also known as the pension plan, and the defined contribution plan, also known as the investment plan. In addition to the two primary plans, some eligible members have the choice of participating in optional retirement plans, which include the Senior Management Service Optional Annuity Program, State Community College System Optional Retirement Program, and the State University System Optional Retirement Program.

 

FRS bills moving swiftly in the House; Not so much on the Senate

Continuing his focus on making a revamp of the Florida state retirement system a signature issue for his speakership, House Speaker Will Weatherford (R, Dade City) has ushered a committee bill, HB 7011, very quickly through two of the three committees of reference. The bill began life as a proposed committee bill (PCB) in the House Government Operations subcommittee where it passed along party line vote on February 20.  The House Appropriations Committee passed the bill forward with a 13-9 vote on March 8. AFC CEO Michael Brawer has testified at both committee hearings in the House.  The bill’s next stop is at the House State Affairs Committee.

 

The bill would put new state employees going forward into a 401 (k)-type investment plan rather than giving them the option of a pension plan. The bill is seen as a way of moving the state into line with most private employers who did that long ago, and avoiding future deficits. But unions have blasted the measure as a threat to state workers' economic security. The bill has been referred to the House Appropriations Committee where it was heard on March 8 and passed.  Its next stop is the State Affairs Committee.  Speaker Will Weatherford has made this bill one of his priorities.  The bill is on the “fast track” through the Committee process. It is expected to pass the House within two weeks.  Summaries of each House and Senate retirement bills are provided below.

 

HB 7011 by Brodeur and the House Government Operations Committee - Florida Retirement System

This bill makes changes to the FRS, including, but not limited to:

  • Closing the pension plan (defined benefit) to new enrollees, and requiring all new enrollees to participate in the investment plan (defined contribution), effective January 1, 2014;
  • Eliminating the option for new enrollees to apply for disability benefits, effective January 1, 2014;
  • Expanding the investment options available to investment plan members;
  • Closing the Senior Management Service Optional Annuity Program to new participants and prohibits elected officials from joining the Senior Management Services Class, effective January 1, 2014.

 

This bill does not impact the ability of any current FRS enrollee to select participation in the pension plan or the investment plan. Changes included in the bill only pertain to new enrollees initially enrolled in the system on or after January 1, 2014.

SB 1392 by Simpson – The Florida Retirement System

This bill limits the reduction in FRS Pension Plan participants by closing the program to senior managers and elected officials only.  This group comprises about 1.5% of all participants.  The bill changes a few things.

  • New employees enrolled in the Florida Retirement System after January 1, 2014  are vested in the pension plan after 10 years of creditable service (currently 8 years);
  • Closes the Senior Management Service class to new enrollees effecti8ve January 1, 2014.
  • Requires senior managers and elected officials  initially enrolled in the Florida Retirement System on or after January 1, 2014 to be compulsory members of the investment plan;
  • Authorizes certain employees to elect to participate in the pension plan, rather than the default investment plan, within a specified time.

 

SB 726 by Simmons - Medical Leave Benefits

With the exception of federal laws or regulations governing family or medical leave benefits, SB 726 preempts the regulation of family and medical leave benefits to the state. The bill also entitles specified employees to rights related to an absence from work for illness or a medical emergency. In addition, the bill provides a process for an employee and employer to adjust the employee’s work schedule to accommodate employee doctor or dentist appointments. These absences from work and any work schedule adjustments may be conditioned upon employee participation in a wellness or preventive health program.

 

The bill does not limit the authority of a political subdivision to establish family or medical leave benefits for its own employees. Federally authorized and recognized tribal governments are not prohibited from requiring family or medical leave benefits for a person employed within tribe jurisdiction.

 

HB 655 by Precourt - Political Subdivisions,

This bill amends current law to also prohibit political subdivisions from requiring an employer to provide employment benefits that are not required by state or federal law. The term “employment benefits” refers to anything of value that an employee may receive from an employer in addition to wages and salary. The term includes, but is not limited to, health benefits; disability benefits; death benefits; group accidental death and dismemberment benefits; paid or unpaid days off for holidays, sick leave, vacation, and personal necessity; retirement benefits; and profit sharing benefits. The term “employer” refers to any person who is required to pay a state or federal minimum wage to the person’s employees. This bill also prohibits a political subdivision from:

  • Requiring, as part of a contract with the political subdivision, a minimum wage or employment benefit for employees of a political subdivision’s contractors or subcontractors;
  • Requiring, as a condition of receiving an abatement or subsidy, a minimum wage or employment benefit for employees of an employer that receives tax abatements or subsidies; or
  • Awarding contract preferences based upon the wages or benefits provided to employees.

 

However, the bill does not limit the authority of a political subdivision to establish a minimum wage or provide employment benefits not otherwise required under state or federal law for its own employees.

 

SB 1720 by Galvano - Developmental Education

This bill contains many of the components of the House Bill (7057) but there are some distinct differences.  The most dramatic difference is that SB 1720 prohibits the colleges from delivering stand-alone, non-credit developmental education courses for which student fees are charged.  Both bills increase counseling and advising requirements and allow for alternative assessments in addition to the placement test currently used.  Colleges may offer developmental education co-requisite education within a gateway credit course.  Additional options for students needing computational and communication skills include tutoring, supplemental compressed or modularized instruction, embedded content in the gateway credit course and applied academics in adult education.  Both bills create “meta-majors” which will provide different pathways for college mathematics required in various degrees.  Many questions exist on both bills, particularly the Senate bill.  The House bill was workshopped this past week in and the Senate bill will have its first committee hearing on Tuesday, March 12.

 

HB 7057 by the House Higher Education and Workforce Subcommittee - General Postsecondary Education

This is a very large bill that does numerous things which impact general education and other issues at Florida Colleges. Most importantly is that the bill undoes legislation that passed last year and resets general education requirements back to 36 hours (from 30).  The bill among other things also establishes an Office of K-20 Articulation in the Department of Education. Continuing efforts begun last year, it also creates a preeminent state research universities program by establishing academic and research standards for a university to be designated a preeminent state research university.  “Vocational preparatory education” is renamed “applied academics for adult instruction”. Additionally, the definition of “developmental education” is modified to mean instruction through which a high school graduate who applies for any college credit program may attain the communication and computation skills necessary to successfully complete (rather than to enroll in) college credit instruction. The bill renames “college preparatory” instruction to “developmental education”.  It also changes terminology of “common placement test” to “college placement test” for both colleges and universities, which will allow the use of a variety of tests.  

 

The bill also amends general education requirements for students initially entering the FCS or SUS in 2015-2016 (now 2014-2015) to require completion of at least one identified core course in each subject area as part of the general education requirements. It states that all public postsecondary educational institutions must accept these courses (now offer and accept) as meeting general education core course requirements.  This effectively eliminates the requirement that all institutions offer each course. The proposal continues the requirement that students initially entering an FCS institution or state university in 2014-2015 and thereafter must competency in a foreign language. The bill de-emphasizes stand-alone developmental education courses and requires admissions counseling to students who need extra help. It states that counseling must provide options for providing skills needed for college level work (including tutoring, extended time in gateway courses, and free online courses.  The proposal creates some new new definitions.  They include

  • Accelerated course structure- a course or strand of study that accelerates the progress of students from dev ed into college level coursework
  • Co-requisite education – preparatory academic instruction that is deployed through a variety of classroom, online, or blended instructional strategies and offered concurrently with college credit instruction. The term includes but is not limited to:
    • Compressed or modularized instruction –or coaching that supplements credit instruction
    • Embedded content-in a modified or extended credit-bearing course intended to contextualize or accelerate credit attainment
    • Developmental educ-instruction through which a high school grad who applies for any college credit program may attain the communication and computation skills necessary to successfully complete college credit instruction
    • Gateway course-the first course that provides transferable, college-level credit allowing a student to progress in his or her program of study
    • Mastery based education-customized, targeted instruction that addresses specific skills gaps
    • Meta majors-a collection of programs of study or academic discipline groupings that share common foundational skills. Finally, the bill establishes a Performance Funding program that shall be determined by:
      • occupational areas for which industry certifications may be earned;
      • priority given to occupational areas emphasized in state, national, or corporate grants provided to colleges;
      • providing up to $1,000 for each industry certification earned by the students;
      • limiting to $15 million for performance funding in the General Appropriation.

 

There are several other aspects to this bill that are too numerous to elaborate on here.  Special thanks go to Susan Lehr at FSCJ for providing this comprehensive analysis.

SB 1076 by Legg (SB 1720 and HB 7057 similar) – C.A.P.E.

Citing this act as the "Career and Professional Education Act (CAPE)" it revises the requirements that must be included in the strategic plan that the Board of Governors must develop which includes criteria for the designation of certain baccalaureate degree programs and graduate degree programs as high-demand programs.  It also changes requirements for high school graduation and accelerated high school graduation to include financial literacy and a rigorous industry certification program of study.  The bill would mandate requiring that the Postsecondary Industry Certification Funding List be used in determining annual performance funding distributions to school districts and Florida College System institutions.

 

HB1295 by Fresen and SB1718 by Flores (identical) – Miami Dade College referendum

This is the local referendum bill that would affect Miami Dade College only. It is enabling language that would authorize Miami Dade County to place a local initiative on the ballot of a 1/2 penny surtax dedicated to the College with a sunset provision of ten years. Because Miami Dade County is a home rule charter county there must be a general bill passed by the Legislature before the local voters can decide to support the College in this manner. The bill also calls for an Oversight Board with representation from the local community that would provide transparency and accountability for the expenditure of the proceeds. No state funds would be supplanted if the surtax is approved by the voters.

 

FROM THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA WIRE……

 

Senate Education Discusses School Safety Funding

A measure (SB 514) that would allow counties to create independent special districts to impose taxes to pay for school safety and mental health services with voter approval is before the Senate Education Committee. Interest in school safety has been high since the Newtown School massacre in December in Connecticut, but how to pay for major increases in security has been one of the big questions. This bill seeks to tackle that. Bills dealing with bullying (SB 626), the Bright Futures scholarship program (SB 680), notification requirements in emergencies at schools (SB 284) and several others are before the panel, along with a list of appointees up for confirmation. Those include Sally Bradshaw as an appointee to the state Board of Education; Alan Levine on the State University System Board of Governors; and Chris Corr on the University of Florida Board of Trustees.

Drones In Senate Judiciary

A bill seeking to find a balance between intrusion by the government and public safety, banning the use by police of unmanned aerial drones in most non-emergency cases (SB 92), makes another committee stop, getting a hearing Tuesday in Senate Judiciary. The committee also will take up a bill (SB 164) that would give foster parents more decision-making power and give youths the option of staying in state care until age 21. The bill essentially says that foster parents should be able to make decisions about extra-curricular and social activities that foster children participate in without undue interference from state bureaucrats putting into state law the right of foster children to normal childhood activities. The committee also takes up a wide-ranging bill (SB 436) dealing with code requirements in certain buildings, including requirements for condo boards related to hurricane mitigation, among several other bills before the panel.

 

Texting While Driving Ban Moves Forward

The sponsor of a measure to ban texting while driving in many cases said she thinks the proposal has a good chance to pass this year in the House, where it has been held up in the past by leaders who didn't like the idea. The bill (SB 52) was approved unanimously Wednesday in the Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee. But the real road block for many highway safety bills that some say infringe on personal liberties has always been in the House. Senate sponsor Nancy Detert said House Speaker Will Weatherford assured her it would be heard. "We have a really good chance this year," said Detert, R-Venice. "The speaker last year (Dean Cannon) did not like the bill and would not let it be heard in one committee. This year's speaker, I think, will at least allow his chamber to speak." In fact, the House version of Detert's legislation (HB 13) by Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, is on the agenda for the House Transportation and Highway Safety Committee on Thursday. The bills would make texting while driving a secondary offense, meaning drivers would have to be pulled over for something else before they could get a secondary ticket for texting. The bill has exceptions, such as allowing the use of "talk-to-text" technology, and allowing texting while a vehicle is stopped, such as at a red light.

 

Gov. Scott Kicks Off Legislative Session

As Gov. Rick Scott helped launch the legislative session last Tuesday, his message boiled down to this: "It's working." That likely will be a common refrain through the 2014 gubernatorial election, as Scott touts the addition of jobs, jobs, jobs and casts himself as leading the state out of the economic desert of the Charlie Crist era."Two years ago, Florida was losing jobs and many Florida families were losing their dreams. ... The short-sighted policies of borrowing on our future had led to disaster," said Scott, who, not coincidentally, could find himself running for re-election against the Republican-turned-Democrat Crist.

But Scott's State of the State address Tuesday spurred the Florida Democratic Party to describe the governor as being in a "state of denial." "Today, with a carefully crafted and poll-tested message, Gov. Rick Scott delivered his State of the State and tried to remake himself,'' Democratic Chairwoman Allison Tant wrote in a fund-raising email. "But Scott is in a State of Denial if he thinks he can run from his record."

By now, everyone knows that Scott --- who got elected in 2010 on a "Let's Get to Work" theme --- will use public appearances to focus on job creation. And Tuesday's address was no different, with Scott, for example, singling out Northrop Grumman, which had announced it would add 1,000 jobs in the state.
Similarly, Scott used the address to pitch his plan to eliminate the sales tax on manufacturing equipment, a move he says would help the state compete for jobs.

 

Scott, however, also set aside a good chunk of the address to call for giving $2,500 raises to teachers. That idea has faced skepticism from some Republican legislative leaders, who question the wisdom of giving across-the-board raises. But Scott said he sees paying teachers more as an investment in the state's future. "We don't want a war on teachers,'' Scott said. "We want a war on failure."

Medicaid Morass

While not a major part of the address, Scott reiterated his controversial stance that the state should expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act. That stance involves going ahead with the expansion for three years --- a period in which Washington is supposed to pay all of the tab --- and then revisiting the issue. "I concluded that for the three years the federal government is committed to paying 100 percent of the cost of new people in Medicaid, I cannot, in good conscience, deny the uninsured access to care," Scott said.

That stance drew heavy applause from Democrats gathered in the House chamber. But it also came shortly after House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, made clear he wants nothing to do with the expansion, describing the federal approach as destined for failure. "I believe it forces Florida to expand a broken (Medicaid) system that we have been battling Washington to fix, and I believe it will ultimately drive up the cost of health care," Weatherford said. "This inflexible plan, thrust upon us by the federal government, is not aimed at strengthening the safety net. It pushes a social ideology at the expense of our future."

With Weatherford and other House Republicans digging in against the expansion, Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said it appeared the House had "shut the lights off" on the issue. But House and Senate Republican leaders also said they were looking for ways to provide a health-care safety net, which could mean that the Medicaid issue will lurk throughout the session. While House and Senate Democrats are ready to move forward with adding hundreds of thousands of people to Medicaid, Senate Republicans have not publicly tipped their hands about the issue.

Meanwhile, the hospital industry and advocates for Medicaid beneficiaries are continuing to push for the expansion. Hospitals contend, in part, that extending Medicaid coverage to more people would reduce the amounts of uncompensated care they have to provide. "Governor Scott and the Legislature face very difficult public-policy choices on how to proceed with implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act,'' Tony Carvalho, president of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, said in a prepared statement Tuesday. "We believe that Governor Scott reached a logical conclusion that extends vital health coverage to nearly a million Floridians and assures our citizens get a return on some of the federal tax dollars that they are sending to Washington."

A Senate select committee is scheduled to meet Monday to discuss the Medicaid expansion, which might give a sign about how the Senate will move forward with the issue. The committee likely will hear about new estimates that the Affordable Care Act would cost Florida about $5.2 billion over the next decade, with about $3.5 billion stemming from Florida having to pick up part of the Medicaid expansion costs after the first three years.

Priorities, Priorities - Ethics

The Medicaid issue might be a huge question mark, but House and Senate leaders made clear on the first day of the session that they want to pass changes to improve ethics and fix problems in the elections system. The Senate unanimously voted for an ethics package that includes steps such as trying to slow the revolving door between the Legislature and the lobbying industry and trying to prevent lawmakers from using fund-raising vehicles known as "committees of continuous existence" to pay personal expenses.
"A lot of this wouldn’t be necessary if we all conducted ourselves, if everyone that was elected to office in the state of Florida conducted their lives and themselves in office, by just using a little common sense," said Senate Ethics and Elections Chairman. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.

A little later Tuesday, the House voted 118-1 to pass a bill that would address some of the controversial voting issues from the 2012 elections. For example, the bill would allow elections supervisors to hold up to 14 days of early voting --- an increase from the current eight --- and would add to the number of sites that could serve as early-voting locations. "I think the Legislature has some responsibility for some of the challenges we had in 2012," Weatherford said. "I readily admit that, and that's why we passed it on the first day." The House and Senate still need to reach agreement on the final details of the ethics and elections bills.

Quote of The Week

“Get thee glass eyes; And like a scurvy politician, seem to see the things thou dost not."                                                                                                 William Shakespeare

 

Perception is compiled weekly and distributed to AFC members.  Contributors to this week’s edition are: 

Michael Brawer (AFC), Sharon Crow (DSC), Victoria Hernandez (MDC), Erin McColskey (PBSC), Susan Lehr (FSCJ), Chris Hansen (Gray-Robinson)


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