In This Issue...
- Developmental Education
- Miami Dade Local Sales Tax Option
- From the News Service of Florida Wire
- Back Issues of Perception
2013 Legislative Session - Week 2
House FRS bill moves to the Floor
As reported last week, HB 7011 by the House Government Operations Committee has moved swiftly through its three committees of reference. The bill is poised to be heard on the floor of the House this week, possibly as early as Thursday. The revamp of the Florida state retirement system is a signature issue for House Speaker Will Weatherford (R, Dade City). Despite a parade of opposition from AFC, FEA, firefighters, police and sheriffs, first responders and state workers the bill has sailed through each committee stop being voted favorably largely along party lines. This is the bill that would put all new public employees effective January 1, 2014 into a 401(k)-type investment plan rather than giving them the option of a state pension plan.
Conversely, significant support seems to be aligning behind SB 1392 by Sen. Simpson (R, New Port Richey). This bill limits changes to eligible pension participants by closing the program to senior managers and elected officials only. This group comprises about 1.5% of all participants. The bill passed its first committee of reference, Government Oversight and Accountability, last Thursday. AFC CEO Michael Brawer did waive in support of this bill at that meeting. The Senate version of the pension reform bill is based on media reports and other state data being distributed that seem to indicate the “alarm” about the state’s pension plan is being overstated by the House proponents. The Senate’s more reasonable approach would also provide an incentive for current employees to switch to the investment plan by reducing the state required co-pay for those people to only 2%.
Both the House and the Senate are considering bills that would change the way Florida colleges deliver developmental education. The House Higher Education Committee is utilizing HB 7057 which contains several changes that were requested by the colleges. This includes a provision for institutional flexibility related to placement in developmental education. It also adds innovative methods, such as co-requisite support, in the delivery of non-credit courses. The bill does maintain the statutory allowance to charge students tuition and fees for non-credit developmental courses. SB 1720 by Galvano is a bit more controversial. This bill prohibits non-credit developmental education courses from being offered or funded. It allows for only credit courses to be offered with a co-requisite of developmental options such as tutoring. It deletes statute allowing tuition and fees for non-credit instruction. Several concerns have been cited and include:
- Eliminates current structure of (statutorily required) College Prep Courses
- Disallows charging tuition for non-credit courses. (Note: Adult Ed and Vocational Prep do not change)
- Provides a new definition of Developmental Education (formerly college prep): Instruction through which a high school graduate who applies for and enrolls in any college credit program may attain the communication and computation skills necessary to perform college-level work while also enrolled in college credit instruction.
- Implies diversion of lower performing students to adult basic education.
- Adds significant counseling and advising role.
- Allows students to choose options for remedial work rather than colleges placing students in appropriate instructional levels.
- Removes the ability to repeat a course once at regular tuition rates.
- Disallows Bright Futures to be used for developmental education.
- Removes exemption of remedial courses in counts toward excess hours.
SB 1076 (Legg) and HB 7057 create performance systems to reward colleges and vocational-tech centers up to $1000 per student for earning industry certifications connected to postsecondary training. The bills are unclear as to whether licensure is considered a certification, what standard of quality is expected for certifications, and if there will be variations in rewards for different quality/length in certifications.
HB 843 by M. Gaetz and SB 904 by Brandes allow students to take courses from a variety of institutions, and get credits towards diplomas and degrees. SACS accreditation may be impacted, and quality of prior instruction and new providers needs evaluation.
SB 1004 by Brandes and HB 1133 by Grant requires each public agency to submit an inventory of public data in its custody to the Secretary of State, twice annually. Serious concerns have been expressed about time and effort involved in meeting this requirement.
HB 7051 by the House Higher Education and Workforce Committee and multiple member bills on both sides address residency for tuition purposes. HB 7051 addresses the federal Ruiz case. It provides some simplification of the residency process, and allows veterans a waiver of the one year requirement. Additional language may address waiver for new employees of companies the State has recruited.
Florida Reference on Construction and Services
HB 307 by Tobia and SB 684 by Hays, and HB 1017 by Fresen bring back the issue of guaranteeing preference to Florida companies, with a 5% preference calculation. Federal law prohibits local/state solicitation preferences.
Miami Dade Local Sales Tax Option
SB 1718 by Flores and HB 1295 by Fresen authorizes a referendum authority for Miami-Dade County to impose a local surtax. This bill simply gives the county authority to put the referendum in front of the voters for consideration. The bill also includes a provision that state funds cannot be reduced to the college in lieu of local funds raised.
FROM THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA WIRE…
Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll emerged as a popular figure in Republican politics in 2000 when she tried to unseat Jacksonville Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown. Carroll lost the race and a rematch in 2002, unable to overcome the well-oiled Corrine machine. But challenging Brown --- who is disparaged by many Republicans --- helped fuel Carroll's political career.
A Navy retiree, Carroll served as executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans' Affairs before becoming the first black woman Republican elected to the Legislature. After seven years in the House, she became Rick Scott's running mate and, in 2010, was elected as the state's first black lieutenant governor.
But all that ended Tuesday as local, state and federal authorities swept into Internet cafes across Florida and began arresting 57 people on charges such as racketeering and money laundering. By the next morning, the Capitol came alive with news that Carroll had resigned as lieutenant governor. Carroll, 53, has not been charged with crimes. But while serving in the House in 2009 and 2010 she worked as a consultant for Allied Veterans of the World, an Internet cafe outfit that is at the heart of the investigation into an industry that has always faced questions about whether it featured illegal gambling.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement interviewed Carroll on Tuesday about her work for Allied Veterans. Later that day, she submitted her resignation --- a move that led to speculation the rest of the week about Carroll's activities and, ultimately, about who would replace her as Scott's second-in-command. Scott provided relatively little insight during a news conference Wednesday, though he praised Carroll's advocacy for the state's military and her efforts to help create jobs. "I will not elaborate on the details of her resignation further, other than to say that she resigned and she did the right thing for the state and for her family," Scott said.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Carroll said she did not believe she or a consulting company she co-owned are "targets" in the ongoing investigation. "My decision yesterday to resign as lieutenant governor represents my unwavering commitment to the great state of Florida," Carroll said. "I simply refuse to allow the allegations facing a former client of my public relations firm to undermine the important work of the governor and his administration."
But Carroll's political career appears all but finished. Making matters worse for the former Navy lieutenant commander, she will be remembered for her involvement with Allied Veterans of the World, a group that authorities say held itself out as a charity for veterans but actually was a gambling operation that enriched a handful of people. Scott said he won't name a replacement for Carroll until after the legislative session. With a re-election campaign coming up next year, the choice will be closely scrutinized.
Perhaps the most-mentioned name this week was Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican. Along with having experience on key issues such as education, she has largely steered clear of controversy and would add a Hispanic woman to the 2014 ticket --- a demographic profile that could have huge appeal to Republicans after their election struggles in 2012.
Turn Out the Lights, the Party's Almost Over
The Internet cafe industry learned how to play the Tallahassee game: Shell out political contributions. Spend big bucks on lobbyists. And, voila, beat back legislative attempts to shut you down. But it's funny how things changed Wednesday, after investigators started making arrests and locking the doors on dozens of the storefront businesses.
Legislative leaders moved at light speed --- at least by Tallahassee standards --- to announce that they supported shutting down Internet cafes and the games that critics have long contended are akin to slot machines. Cafes also quickly lost much of their political muscle and expertise, as prominent lobbyists cut business ties to International Internet Technologies, a key player in the industry. And on Friday morning, the House Select Committee on Gaming voted 15-1 for a bill that would effectively shutter the industry. The measure (HB 155) could to go to the full House next week, and a Senate committee will consider its version Monday.
Hundreds of Internet cafes have popped up across the state in recent years, with the industry saying they feature legal, computerized sweepstakes games. But lawmakers didn't appear willing this week to buy that argument. "These machines have always been illegal," said Rep. Carlos Trujillo, a Miami Republican who is sponsoring the House bill. "They're considered games of chance. They're illegal." Only Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, voted against the House bill, saying the Legislature might be moving too fast in response to the arrests. "While well-intentioned, this seems like nothing but what we consistently seem to do around the House and that is a knee jerk reaction to something that took place," Waldman said.
This Could Take a While
In the big scheme of things, the Internet cafe issue has far less of an impact than how lawmakers handle a potential expansion of the Medicaid program under the federal Affordable Care Act. But with a Senate select committee this week joining its House counterpart in rejecting the expansion, it appears that questions about offering health coverage to hundreds of thousands of additional Floridians will continue to percolate throughout the legislative session.
True, House and Senate Republicans have voted to reject expanding Medicaid. But Senate select committee Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, also pitched another plan that would offer expanded coverage through private insurers. While Negron's plan might not be a Medicaid expansion, it would target the same low-income people who the Affordable Care Act seeks to cover. What's more, it would rely on the federal money that otherwise would go to Medicaid expansion.
House leaders have expressed interest in the Senate concept, though numerous questions remain to be answered. Gov. Rick Scott has endorsed Medicaid expansion, but House and Senate Republicans appear to want to find another way to offer coverage. "I oppose the Washington plan, and I want a Florida plan,'' Negron said. "I think we have an opportunity to build a better program than what Washington is trying to force on us."
Democrats support Medicaid expansion. But they also noted that Negron's proposed alternative would address many of the expansion's goals. "Although Republicans voted against what they called 'traditional Medicaid expansion' they turned around and endorsed a program that still relies on the same federal dollars and still extends affordable health care to 1 million Floridians," Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, said. "Whatever name they opt to give the program, the bottom line is that money allocated by the federal government for Medicaid expansion will be the mechanism. In the Senate, the remaining question is no longer if, but who.
Perception is compiled weekly and distributed to AFC members.
Special thanks go to the members of the AFC legislative committee for their contributions to this issue of Perception.
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