Before I head back to Northwest Florida for my final week at home prior to the start of the 2014 Legislative Session, I wanted to share a news article written by the Florida Current. The article summarizes certain key pieces of legislation the House and Senate are expected to take up on the Opening Day of the 2014 Legislation Session as part of the joint agenda, Work Plan 2014, Speaker Weatherford and I have identified for the coming session.
Florida Current: Gaetz predicts session to have a quick start
The first day of a legislative session is usually filled with pomp and ceremony and everyone greeting each other like long lost friends amid so many floral arrangements that in some years the chambers have looked more like the setting of a florists’ convention than a place for making law.
Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford had a different idea last year, passing an ethics bill on the first day. Gaetz said they intend to do it again with this year protection of Floridians, veterans and residency requirements the focus of the first day of the 2014 legislative session.
“We’ll take the sexual predator bills up and the ALF bill up on the first day,” Gaetz said Thursday. “We’re going to do what we did last year and break with tradition and not just have a ceremonial first day but start the session by doing real business right away.”
Gaetz and Weatherford, once again, have agreed on a joint agenda and committees have spent the winter committee meetings keying up bills for a quick start to the session.
Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed out a legislative package of bills aimed at cracking down on sexual predators. The measures include SB 522, which requires notification of the county sheriff when a sexual offender is released from the Civil Commitment Center; SB 524, which require colleges and universities to notify students when a sexual predator is on campus; SB 526, which increases sentences for adult-on-minor sex offenses; and SB 528 to increase registration requirements for sex offenders.
The bills are ready for a floor vote on March 4, the session’s first day.
Also waiting to be scheduled for a floor vote is SB 248. The measure clarifies regulations governing Assisted Living Facilities. It provides more authority to the Agency for Health Care Administration to revoke licenses; states that that Medicaid managed care plans are required to provide mental health services to residents; and sets fines for a variety of violations including the doubling of fines in some instances.
The House is on scheduled to pass the Florida GI Bill on the first day. The measure waives out-of-state tuition for military veterans, funds scholarships for members of the Florida National Guard and waives professional licensing fees for vets.
There are procedural technicalities that prevent both chambers from acting on measures dealing with predators, ALFs and the GI Bill but Gaetz is confident that the measures will be dealt with and sent to the governor early in March.
“(And) On the first day Speaker Weatherford and I plan to take to the floor a joint rule that tightens and clarifies the residency requirements for legislators,” Gaetz said.
Gaetz said he expects a measure overhauling the Department of Children and Families child protection services will also be ready early in the session.
You can access the above article online by using the following link, http://www.thefloridacurrent.com/article.cfm?id=36531615.
Now for a brief update on the work of our Senate Committees.
Work Plan 2014: Ethics Reform
In addition to the legislation mentioned above, this week the Senate also passed two key aspects of our 2014 Ethics Reform Legislation, both are components of the joint House and Senate “Work Plan Florida 2014,” which House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) and I announced last month.
On Monday, the Florida Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections, chaired by Senator Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater), passed Senate Bill 846, which aims to raise the standard of ethics across the state. Senate Bill 846 extends specific provisions within the Code of Ethics, such as anti-nepotism provisions, the voting conflict standards, and post-employment lobbying restrictions, to statutorily created quasi-governmental entities, like the Florida Clerk of Courts, Enterprise Florida, and Citizens Property Insurance. Under the legislation as currently drafted, Direct Support Organizations and Citizen Support Organizations would be required to adopt their own Code of Ethics at least as stringent as the state’s, and independent special districts that exercise ad valorem taxing authority, water management districts, hospital districts, children service’s districts, and expressway and port authorities would be required to set up and use lobbyist registration systems. Additionally, elected municipal officers would be required to complete four hours of ethics training annually, like constitutional officers who were subjected to this requirement last year. The Florida Commission on Ethics would be given the authority to investigate individuals who refuse to file their annual financial disclosure and have accrued the maximum automatic fine, and may recommend the official be removed from office.
Later in the week, the Florida Senate Committee on Governmental Oversight and Accountability approved Senate Proposed Bill 7034, Citizen Support and Direct Support Organizations, for introduction as a committee bill. The legislation establishes reporting requirements for statutorily-authorized Citizen Support and Direct Support Organizations. Direct Support Organizations and Citizen Support Organizations are statutorily created entities working to benefit or to provide assistance to a local government or agency, yet often operate with little or no oversight or accountability. In some cases, these ‘one off’ entities enhance, supplement, or replace the functions of traditional government and either receive actual taxpayer funds or operate under the endorsement of government—often making the activities of these organizations, including mismanagement or ethical lapses, synonymous with government.
Proposed Senate Bill 7034 requires each Direct Support Organization or Citizen Support Organization to annually submit a report to their “parent” agency. The report will then be available on the agency website. Among other things, the report shall include: (1) the authority under which the organization was created along with information regarding the mission/purpose of the organization; (2) a three-year fiscal outlook for the organization; (3) a copy of the organization’s adopted code of ethics; (4) a copy of the organization’s most recent federal exempt organization tax form(s), which are already a public record; and (5) financial reports that show revenues and state or federal funds received; expenses for travel, lobbying, entertainment, and capital improvements; and employee, officer, and contractor compensation. The legislation also creates a five-year sunset review provision for laws creating or authorizing each Direct Support Organization or Citizen Support Organization in existence on July 1, 2014, and for any such organization created or authorized in the future.
Work Plan 2014: Expanding Economic Opportunity Through Education
This week, the Senate also made great progress towards our goal of expanding economic opportunity through education. The Florida Senate Committee on Education, chaired by Senator John Legg (R-Lutz), passed Senate Bill 790, Education Technology, sponsored by Senator Legg; Senate Bill 732, Stanley G. Tate Florida Prepaid College Program, sponsored by Senator Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton); and, approved Proposed Senate Bill 7036, Postsecondary Education, for introduction as a committee bill.
SPB 7036, Postsecondary Education, by the Senate Committee on Education removes the automatic, annual increase of resident undergraduate tuition and specifies that rate increases can be provided in the General Appropriations Act. The legislation adjusts the tuition differential from a maximum increase of 15 percent down to 6 percent.
SB 790, Education Technology, by Senator Legg elevates funding and policy aspects of technology-enhanced classroom teaching and learning by creating a dedicated source of funding for school district technology purchases and activities to improve student performance outcomes. The legislation tasks the Department of Education (DOE) with developing a Florida digital classrooms plan that establishes minimum protocols, parameters, and requirements for the state and districts. School districts must develop and submit annually to the DOE a plan that is tailored to local assets, needs, and priorities within the general parameters established by the Department and that is based on improving student performance outcomes.
SB 732, Stanley G. Tate Florida Prepaid College Program, by Senator Galvano aims to provide the Florida Prepaid College Board better predictability of future tuition and fee payments to universities, thus reducing the cost of prepaid contracts. The maximum assessment and payment for state university registration fees, tuition differential fees, local fees, and dormitory fees is capped at no more than the actual cost charged by the state universities for such fees.
By developing Florida digital classrooms that integrate digital learning and technology into everyday instruction, we can ensure Florida students are acquiring the skills needed to compete and lead in today’s global economy. Additionally, by eliminating the automatic tuition increase, reducing the tuition differential, and ending the soaring cost of the Florida Prepaid Program we can provide some financial predictability and keep higher education affordable for more students and their families.
It is my great honor to serve as your voice in the Florida Senate. Please stay in touch, or stop in to visit us in our Tallahassee Office. During this busy time, I cannot tell you how much your prayers and words of encouragement mean to me.