Letter to the Editor
March 18, 2013
By Rep. Janet Adkins
The week in Tallahassee began on Tuesday morning with the Education Appropriations Committee. HB 189 was the only item on agenda. The bill revises the method for calculating the penalty for failure to comply with the class size requirements.
In 2002, voters approved the Class Size Reduction Amendment to Section 1, Article IX of the Florida Constitution. The amendment requires that the maximum number of students assigned to Pre-K through grade 3 not exceed 18. Additionally, grades 4-8 may not exceed 22 students and grades 9-12 may not exceed 25 students. Since 2003, the Legislature has appropriated more than $22 billion toward operational expenses and $2.5 billion in facilities funding to implement the Class Size Reduction Amendment. Still, school districts face operational challenges in meeting the class size when students transfer into a school after the beginning of the school year.
School districts that fail to meet the class size mandates pay a penalty. HB 189 changes the method of calculating this penalty by performing the calculation at the school average instead of at the classroom level. This bill will provide greater flexibility to school districts and allow them to made decisions that are in the best interest of the student, instead of having to disrupt a student’s academic year in an effort to avoid financial penalties. The bill passed the committee with 12 yeas and 0 nays.
Tuesday afternoon I presented HB 441 to the School Choice and Innovation Committee. This bill deals with juvenile justice education programs. Last month, I visited Impact House, a juvenile justice facility in downtown Jacksonville. Many times, the youth incarcerated in our juvenile justice centers are behind academically. I was told the young men at this facility, ages 15 to 19, were between grades 6 and 12. If we hope to make a difference in these young lives, we must do our very best to ensure they get an adequate education that will allow them to be productive members of society. Without a proper education, the state will probably have to publicly support these individuals for the rest of their lives.
HB 441 revises the responsibilities of the Department of Education and the Department of Juvenile Justice designated coordinators to include: training, collaboration and coordinating with local workforce boards and youth councils. It also requires the collection of information on the career education and transition performance of students in juvenile justice programs. It will require the implementation of a joint accountability, program performance and program improvement process.
During my visit at Impact House, I talked with two young men, one from Clay County and another from Columbia County. They were both within 15 days of release and were looking forward to returning to their families. When I inquired about their future plans, they both indicated a desire to further their education, but were unsure how their criminal charges would affect their desired careers. I believe we should do a better job in helping these young people find a path towards success.
HB 441 requires prevention and day treatment juvenile justice education programs, at a minimum, to provide career readiness and exploration opportunities as well as truancy and dropout prevention intervention services. It would also require residential juvenile justice education programs with a contracted minimum length of stay of 9 months to provide career education courses that lead to pre-apprentice certifications, industry certifications, occupational completion points or work-related certifications. I believe the investment we make in these lives will pay tremendous dividends in the future. The bill passed its first committee unanimously with 13 yeas and 0 nays.
Wednesday was a bit of a blur with the news of Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll’s resignation. I was saddened by the news but support her decision. I remember first meeting Jennifer in 2000 when she ran for Congress. She has been a friend ever since. The arrests from the previous day were still sending shock waves throughout the Capitol; not because of the allegation that it was illegal gambling, but because of the names involved. I remember visiting one of the internet cafes in Yulee several years ago with then Nassau County Deputy State Attorney Wes White. When we inquired about how you played, the employee described it as “gambling,” but was quick to say that she wasn’t supposed to say that word. I was convinced right then that it was wrong and needed to be stopped. I co-sponsored HB 3 in 2012, which would have banned internet cafes. While the bill passed in the House with a vote of 72 to 43, the Senate failed to act. When I recently reviewed the vote, it was mostly a bi-partisan vote with 70 Republicans and two Democrats voting to ban internet gambling; and 10 Republicans and 33 Democrats voting against the ban. I look forward to supporting this year’s legislation to cease this predatory business activity in the sunshine state.
Wednesday afternoon I chaired the K-12 Education committee where we unanimously passed HB 7091. This bill establishes three standard high school diploma designations: College and Career, Industry and Scholar. This bill will allow students to pursue an education that is interesting and relevant to them. All three designations will be rigorous, will require 24 credits and will allow us to better connect the skills of our students with the needs of employers. This bill will be heard next week in the Education Appropriations committee.
Thursday afternoon I presented HB 423 dealing with dyed diesel fuel before the Finance and Tax committee. Last summer I was contacted by Janie Thomas about several Nassau County shrimpers receiving letters from the Florida Department of Revenue asking them to remit sales tax on their purchase of dyed diesel fuel for the last three years. It was their understanding that they were exempt from paying this sales tax, just like those in the agriculture industry.
After several phone calls and review of Florida statutes, we learned that shrimpers were not included in the language exempting them from this tax. Dyed diesel fuel is used in equipment for construction and agriculture that are not intended for use on roads and highways. The fuel is dyed red so the U.S. Department of Transportation can easily tell the difference to ensure that vehicles on the highway are not using the dyed fuel.
It has been the policy in Florida to not tax food or the growing of food. In essence, if you tax the “inputs” of food, you are inadvertently taxing the product. Yet, the way the statute was written, commercial fishing and aquaculture were not exempted from paying sales tax on their dyed diesel fuel. HB 423 corrects this wrong and provides an exemption from the sales and use tax on dyed diesel fuel that is used for commercial fishing and aquaculture purposes. The bill received its second unanimous committee vote. It has one more House committee and will then be ready to be heard on the House floor.
In the coming weeks, lawmakers will begin to work on budget priorities. I have been working hard on two of my top priorities for 2013, funding for the St. John’s Ferry and some seed funding for the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office.
I began the drive home around 7:30 p.m. and was thankful for the quietness of the ride. It had been an exhausting second week, but very productive with two of my member bills moving through their committees.
Thank you for the honor you have given me to serve. God bless.
Janet H. Adkins