LegisLetter: March 6, 2017

Volume 24, Number 1

Welcome to the first Legisletter of 2017. It is my honor to serve as the Chief Legislative Affairs Officer at Florida State University. Though I am a relatively new employee, I am proud to have earned my undergraduate degree and graduate degree from this incredible university. Before coming to FSU, I spent 20 years in the legislative process serving on staff in the House, Senate, and Governor’s Office.

Springtime in Tallahassee is the traditional season for pollen and politicians, and this year is no different. Florida State University has an enormous stake in the actions of our neighbors on Monroe Street. This year, our requests are big and bold — the largest funding request in the history of the university. We are asking the state to in invest heavily in FSU because we have a solid record of achievement with our current resources, and we have a comprehensive strategic plan for our future.

FSU is on the rise. Thanks to the efforts of our faculty, staff, and students we experienced the greatest leap in national rankings, moving up from 42 to 38 according to U.S. News and World Report. Our 4-year graduation rate is over 65%, placing us in the top 15 in the nation among peer research institutions.  Florida State University accepted the highest academically accomplished incoming freshman class in university history. The list goes on and on…

We have a great story to tell. Your Governmental Relations team looks forward to educating legislators and advocating for Florida State University.


FSU Day at the Capitol

The annual salute to Florida State’s significant contributions to our state will take place on Tuesday, April 4, from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

FSU Day at the Capitol has become one of the most popular traditions during the legislative session, and provides a wonderful opportunity to showcase our University’s programs and accomplishments to our friends in the legislature.

Through this event, Florida State is able to emphasize the University's long and proud heritage, and bring attention to the extraordinary achievements of our students, faculty and staff.

Preceding the day’s festivities, a “Seminole Evening” reception will be held on April 3, beginning at 5:30 p.m., on the 22nd floor of the Capitol. This special event is sponsored by the FSU Student Government Association and all University supporters are welcome to attend.

As always, FSU Day at the Capitol will include informative displays, which will be positioned throughout the plaza level, and second and third floor rotundas. Also featured will be University “celebrities” – administrators, legislative alumni and more – along with performances by the FSU pep band, cheerleaders and Flying High Circus. 

A special celebration of all things FSU will take place in the Capitol courtyard beginning at 11:30 a.m. with refreshments available for all to enjoy.

If your department has not yet signed up to display your achievements, please contact Toni Moore in the FSU Governmental Relations office at tmoore@fsu.edu or 644-3847.

Mark your calendars now for this Garnet and Gold event on April 4!

2017 Top Legislative Priorities

Each year, Florida State University administrators identify legislative priorities that are vital to the operation of the university. Below are the top legislative priorities for 2017.

Preeminence Funding - $20 Million
Florida State University has used preeminence funding in the past to make considerable investments in the quality and stature of the university.  In 2016, we had the greatest rise in national public university rankings, climbing five spots.  FSU has a goal to become a Top 25 university and a leader in student career readiness.  Preeminence funds will allow us to continue strategic investments, particularly in the STEM fields.

Faculty Retention & Lowering Student/Faculty Ratio - $31.5 Million
Florida State University’s current student faculty ratio is 25 to 1, which places us at 168th in the country according to U.S. News and World Report.  Investments in new hires combined with faculty retention would lower our ratio to 21 to 1.  FSU’s ultimate goal is 17 to 1, which is the level that Top 50 universities provide.  This investment would improve student success and promote growth in key academic areas.

Graduate and Post-Doctoral students - $18.5 Million
Florida State University has a disproportionately lower number of graduate students and post-doctoral research associates (postdocs) than our Public Research 1 peers.  Graduate students and postdocs are integral to the research activity of tope universities.  Our current graduate student-to-undergraduate student ratio places us at 59th out of those 81 peers.  Our postdoc population is currently around 65% of the average Public Research 1 university.  FSU is committed to dramatically growing its research activity, but this is not possible without significant expansion of the graduate student and postdoc populations.

Performance Funding - $10.6 Million
Florida State University has responded to performance-based funding by aligning key efforts and resources to strengthen student success.  Performance funding has enabled FSU to make considerable investments in elevating our retention and graduation rates, raising our retention rate to 93% and four-year graduation rate to 65%.  Continued performance funding will extend FSU’s trajectory and enable even more students to receive support and engagement needed to graduate and succeed in the job market.

Strategic Academic and Research Buildings

  • EOAS $29 million – This investment will complete the Earth, Ocean, Atmospheric Science Building
  • IRCB $10 million – Total state cost for the Interdisciplinary Research & Commercialization Building, funded by a 50%-50% partnership of state and private funds.
  • College of Business Legacy Hall $10 million – Planning and Engineering for an $83 million building funded by a 50%-50% partnership of state and private funds.
  • STEM Teach Lab $5 million – The facility will allow FSU to address the critical shortage of quality teaching labs on campus and provide inventory of instructional space with modern systems that can support the STEM disciplines.
  • Strategic Land Acquisition $5 million – The FSU Master Plan identified strategic land purchases that will enhance the opportunities for research and learning buildings on the main campus.  FSU has one of the most densely populated campuses in the entire SUS.

Employee Guidelines for Legislative Session

The 2017 Session of the Florida Legislature begins tomorrow. Please note the following Florida State University policies:

  • President John Thrasher, Associate Vice President for University Relations Kathleen Daly, Chief Legislative Affairs Officer Kathy Mears and Director of External Relations at the College of Medicine Laura Brock are the lobbyists for Florida State University.
  • No one on campus other than President Thrasher, Ms. Daly, Ms. Mears and Ms. Brock are authorized to lobby for Florida State University or the State University System.

However, the Legislature periodically requests faculty and/or staff to attend committee meetings or to formally respond to questions about certain issues.  FSU employees asked to appear before a committee must notify Kathy Mears at 644-4453 and submit a legislative contact form prior to making an appearance.

The form can be found on the Governmental Relations website at http://govrel.fsu.edu/.  If you have trouble accessing this form please contact Governmental Relations at 644-4453 for a hard copy.

Nothing here is intended to discourage FSU employees from exercising their individual rights as citizens or as members of groups or organizations not affiliated with the University.  Such rights include the freedom to express their views on legislation, provided that the views are not presented as those of FSU, the SUS, or a subunit of these.

Advocate for Florida State during the 2017 legislative session

Making Florida State’s legislative priorities real during the 2017 session will require active input from university alumni and friends.

Our vision is solid, our needs are real and we absolutely must have the energetic support of the Florida State faithful during the legislative session which begins tomorrow.  Proposed legislation is already moving and well underway, so we definitely need our alumni and supporters to engage with our priorities right now – and stay engaged throughout the year – if we’re going to achieve our legislative goals.

FSU has made supporters’ activism simple through its Advocate for Florida State website – www.advocateforfloridastate.fsu.edu  – where comprehensive information on the university’s legislative priorities is available to alumni and friends.

Plus when you register on the site, your email messages are automatically directed to the Florida legislative members who represent you.  We encourage you to go to the Advocate site and sign-up today.

Spotlight on Bills 030617

CS/SB 2 – Higher Education by Senator Bill Galvano (R – Bradenton), establishes the “Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2017” to strengthen funding and programmatic mechanisms so that every student in Florida, regardless of his or her economic circumstances, is able to access higher education and graduate on time in 4 years with a baccalaureate degree. Specifically, the bill:

  • Modifies the state university and Florida College System institution performance accountability metrics and standards to promote on-time student graduation in 4 years.
  • Increases student financial aid and tuition assistance to:
    • Expand the Florida Bright Futures Academic Scholars (FAS) award to cover 100 percent of tuition and specified fees plus $300 per fall and spring semester for textbooks and college-related expenses;
    • Expand eligibility for the Benacquisto Scholarship Program to include eligible students graduating from out of state; and
    • Revise the state-to-private match requirements for contributions to the First Generation Matching Grant Program from 1:1 to 2:1.
  • Establishes tuition incentives by requiring state university boards of trustees to adopt a resident and non-resident undergraduate student block tuition policy.
  • Strengthens “2+2” articulation by establishing the “2+2” targeted pathway program.
  • Requires school districts to provide notification to students and parents about applying acceleration mechanism credit to a postsecondary degree.

The bill was amended to expand and enhance policy and funding options for state universities to recruit and retain exemplary faculty, enhance the quality of professional and graduate schools, and upgrade facilities and research infrastructure. Specifically, the amendment:

  • Establishes the World Class Faculty and Scholar Program to fund and support the efforts of state universities to recruit and retain exemplary faculty and research scholars and specifies that funding for the program will be as provided in the General Appropriations Act (GAA).
  • Establishes the State University Professional and Graduate Degree Excellence Program to fund and support the efforts of state universities to enhance the quality and excellence of professional schools and graduate degree programs in medicine, law, and business, and specifies that funding for the program will be as provided in the GAA.
  • Authorizes the legislature to prioritize funding for certain projects under the Alec P. Courtelis University Facility Enhancement Challenge Grant Program for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, subject to the GAA.
  • Links education to job opportunities by modifying requirements of the strategic plan, developed by the Board of Governors (BOG), to require state universities to use data-driven gap analyses to identify internship opportunities for students in high-demand fields.

The bill passed out of the Appropriations Committee, its last committee of reference and is ready to be heard by the full Senate.  The House has two bills that address these issues, they are, HB 3 and HB 5, by Representative Bryan Avila (R – Hialeah), both bills are in the Post-secondary Education Subcommittee.
CS/SB 374 – Postsecondary Education by Senator Dorothy Hukill (R – Port Orange), creates the “College Competitiveness Act of 2017” to elevate the visibility of Florida’s community colleges as an important component of the state’s higher education delivery system. Specifically, the bill:

  • Strengthens public college-to-university articulation by establishing the “2+2” targeted pathway program to provide to students guaranteed access to baccalaureate degree programs at state universities.
  • Provides for oversight of, and advocacy for, the Florida Community College System (FCCS). The bill:
    • Establishes a State Board of Community Colleges (SBCC), and transfers responsibilities regarding Florida’s community colleges from the State Board of Education to the SBCC.
    • Renames the Florida College System as the FCCS.
  • Clarifies expectations and state oversight of baccalaureate degree programs offered by FCCS institutions, and:
    • Aligns the baccalaureate approval process for St. Petersburg College with the approval process for other FCCS institutions.
    • Establishes a cap on upper-level, undergraduate full-time equivalent (FTE) enrollment at Florida’s community colleges, but provides flexibility for planned and purposeful growth of baccalaureate degree programs if certain conditions are met.
  • Clarifies the K-20 education system mission by emphasizing the mission must be to avoid wasteful duplication of programs, and reinforces the distinct mission of Florida’s community colleges and technical centers in meeting Florida’s labor market demands and regional needs.

The bill reported favorably in the Education Committee and is now in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education.  This bill is comparable to SB 2 and HB 3 above.
HB 1073 --Postsecondary Educational Institution Affordability, by Rep Clemons (R – Lake Worth), prohibits Florida College System institutions and state university boards of trustees from increasing certain student fees. Highlights, relating to the SUS only:

  • Effective July 1, 2017 a university may not increase its athletic fee.
  • Effective July 1, 2017, a university board of trustees may not increase the financial aid fee.
  • Effective July 1, 2017, a university board of trustees may not increase the Capital Improvement Trust Fund fee.
  • Effective July 1, 2017, a university board of trustees may not increase student activity and service, health, or athletic fees.
  • Effective July 1, 2017, a university board of trustees may not increase the technology fee.
  • Deletes the Board’s authority to approve a proposal from a UBOT for a new student fee.
  • Effective July 1, 2017, a state university may not increase the distance learning course fee in excess of the amount established and effective as of June 30, 2017.
  • By September 1 of each year, each board of trustees shall report to the Chancellor the total amount of revenue generated by the distance learning course fee for the prior fiscal year and how the revenue was expended.
  • By November 1 of each year, the Chancellor shall report the total amount of revenue generated by the distance learning course fee for the prior fiscal year and how the revenue was expended, systemwide and for each institution, to the Governor, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
  • Each state university shall waive 25 percent of the cost of fees described in ss. 1009.24(7)-(14) and (17) for a graduate student who has a 0.25, or greater, full-time equivalent appointment as a graduate assistant, graduate research assistant, graduate teaching assistant, graduate  research associate, or graduate teaching associate.

The bill was filed last week.  The identical bill in the Senate, SB 1276 by Senator Kelli Stargel (R – Lakeland) was also filed last week.

HB 7007 – State Group Insurance Program by Representative Jason Brodeur (R – Sanford), provides that the State Group Insurance Program (program), administered by the Department of Management Services (DMS), is an optional benefit for employees that includes health, life, dental, vision, disability, and other supplemental insurance benefits. The program offers employees a choice among a health maintenance organization (HMO) plan, prefer provider plan (PPO) plan, and a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) with a health savings account (HSA). However, only one benefit level is offered for each plan type. Additionally, the employee’s premium for the HMO and PPO are the same, even though the HMO provides greater benefits.
The bill adds new products and services to the program by giving DMS broad authority to contract for a wide variety of additional products and services. Employees will be able to purchase new products as optional benefits. DMS is directed to contract with at least one entity that provides comprehensive pricing and inclusive services for surgery and other types of medical procedures. The contract requires cost savings to the program, which will be shared by the state and the enrollee.
Beginning in 2018, DMS is directed to contract with at least one entity that provides online health care price and quality information, including the average price paid for health care services and providers by county. The contract requires the entity to allow enrollees to shop for health care using the information provided to select higher quality, lower cost services and providers. The contract also requires the entity to identify any savings realized by the enrollee, and share those savings with the enrollee.
Beginning in the 2020 plan year, the bill provides that state employees will have health plan choices at four different benefit levels. If the state’s contribution for the premium is more than the cost of the plan selected by the employee, then the employee may use the remainder to:

  • Fund a flexible spending arrangement or a health savings account.
  • Purchase additional benefits offered through the state group insurance program.
  • Increase the employee’s salary.

The bill directs DMS to hire an independent benefits consultant (IBC). The IBC will assist DMS in developing a plan for the implementation of the new benefit levels in the program. The plan shall be submitted to the Governor, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives no later than January 1, 2019. The IBC will also provide ongoing assessments and analysis for the program.
The bill directs DMS to recommend employee contribution rates for standard plans and high deductible health plans for the 2018 plan year reflecting the actual benefit difference between the HMO and the PPO plans for both self-insured and fully insured products. The proposed enrollee premium rates for the 2018 plan year must be submitted to the Legislative Budget Commission (LBC) for review and approval. If the LBC does not approve the proposed rates, the rates provided in the 2017-18 General Appropriations Act will apply.
The bill provides $151,216 in recurring trust fund and $507,546 in nonrecurring trust fund authority to the Department of Management Services, and 2 full-time equivalent positions to implement the administrative provision of the act. The provisions of the bill are expected to have a positive, but indeterminate, fiscal impact on the state.
The bill has been referred to the Appropriations Committee.  A similar bill in the Senate, SB 900 by Senator Tom Lee (R – Brandon) has been referred to Governmental Oversight and Accountability, the Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government, the Appropriations Committee and the Rules Committee.

HB 6005 -- Licenses to Carry Concealed Weapons or Firearms by Representative Scott Plakon (R – Longwood), removes the provision currently in law that prohibits concealed carry licensees from openly carrying handgun or carrying concealed weapon or firearm into college or university facility.  The bill is waiting to be heard in the Criminal Justice Subcommittee.  There are three other bills that also allow carrying concealed weapons on a college campus and other currently prohibited locations.  They are: SB 140 by Senator Greg Stuebe (R – Sarasota), HB 803 by Representative Don Hahnfeldt (R – The Villages), and SB 908 by Senator Dennis Baxley (R – Ocala).