LegisLetter: February 26, 2018

Volume 25, Number 8

Last week thousands of parents, students, teachers, and concerned citizens marched on the Capitol asking Legislators to respond to the horrific Valentine’s Day mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

All eyes are appropriately focused on finding ways to prevent future attacks and keeping students safe. As a result, other issues such as the annual budget continue to be on hold.

Today marks the beginning of the final two weeks of the regularly scheduled legislative session. If House and Senate Leaders do not begin the budget reconciliation process this week, it is almost certain that the legislature will need to go into overtime, or a special session on the budget.

Compounding the complexity of the tasks for the final weeks are the many legislative proposals in play. To date, only 15 bills have passed both chambers. Virtually every legislative matter remains up for debate.

This edition of the Legisletter includes a summary of the major proposals relating to school safety offered by Governor Scott and by the leadership of the House and Senate.

There is also a summary of higher education proposals that have momentum for floor votes in the final weeks.

Finally, the most significant bill directly impacting Florida State University and the SUS (HB 423) is rumored to undergo significant changes at the last committee stop. The bill currently includes a mandate for block tuition, changes to performance based funding, expansion to Bright Futures Scholarships, and increases regulations on Direct Support Organizations.  The proposed amendments are not yet completed. We look forward to providing a detailed summary once the new provisions are published.

Thank you for your interest in legislative affairs. We are prepared for a frantic, and hopefully prosperous finish.

Kathy Mears


School Safety Proposal

The Parkland High School shooting two weeks ago has brought school safety to the forefront of importance for Governor Scott and the Legislature.  On Friday, Governor Rick Scott and the Legislature outlined their plans for increasing school safety.  Following is the Governor’s proposal and a summary of the House and Senate plan:

Governor Scott’s Proposal -- Keeping Guns Away from Dangerous and Violent People

  • Create the “Violent Threat Restraining Order” which will allow a court to prohibit a violent or mentally ill person from purchasing or possessing a firearm or any other weapon when either a family member, community welfare expert or law enforcement officer files a sworn request and presents evidence to the court of a threat of violence involving firearms or other weapons. There would be speedy due process for the accused and any fraudulent or false statements would face criminal penalties;
  • Strengthen gun purchase and possession restrictions for mentally ill individuals under the Baker Act. If a court involuntarily commits someone for treatment under the Baker Act because they are at risk of harming themselves or others, an individual would be required to surrender all firearms and not regain their right to purchase or possess a firearm until a court hearing. A minimum 60-day period would be established before individuals can ask a court to restore access to firearms;
  • Prohibit a person from possessing or purchasing a firearm if they are subject to an injunction for protection against stalking, cyberstalking, dating violence, repeat violence, sexual violence, or domestic violence;
  • Require all individuals purchasing firearms to be 21-years-old or over. Exceptions include active duty and reserve military and spouses, National Guard members, and law enforcement;
  • Establish enhanced criminal penalties for threats to schools, such as social media threats of shootings or bombings, and enhance penalties if any person possesses or purchases a gun after they have been deemed by state law to not have access to a gun; and
  • Ban purchase or sale of bump stocks.

$450 Million Proposal to Keep Students Safe

  • Mandatory School Resource Officers in every public school. These law enforcement officers must either be sworn sheriff’s deputies or police officers and be present during all hours students are on campus. The size of the campus should be a factor in determining staffing levels by the county sheriff’s office, and Governor Scott is proposing at least one officer for every 1,000 students. This must be implemented by the start of the 2018 school year;
  • Provide sheriffs’ departments the authority to train additional school personnel or reserve law enforcement officers to protect students if requested by the local school board;
  • Require mandatory active shooter training as outlined by the Department of Homeland Security. All training and code red drills must be completed during the first week of each semester in all public schools. Both faculty and students must participate in active shooter drills and local sheriff’s offices must be involved in training;
  • Increase funding in the Safe Schools Allocation to address specific school safety needs within each district. This includes school hardening measures like metal detectors, bullet- proof glass, steel doors, and upgraded locks. The Florida Department of Education (DOE), in conjunction with FDLE, will provide minimum school safety and security standards by July 1, 2018, to all school districts;
  • Require each school district that receives a Safe Schools Allocation to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the local sheriff’s office, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and any community behavioral health provider for the purpose of sharing information to coordinate services in order to provide prevention or intervention strategies;
  • Establish a new, anonymous K-12 “See Something, Say Something” statewide, dedicated hotline, website and mobile app.;
  • Establish funding to require access to dedicated mental health counselors to provide direct counseling services to students at every school. These counselors cannot serve dual roles, such as teaching or academic advising. Every student must have the opportunity to meet annually one-on-one with a mental health professional, and receive ongoing counseling as needed;
  • Require each school to have a threat assessment team including a teacher, a local law enforcement officer, a human resource officer, a DCF employee and DJJ employee, and the principal to meet monthly to review any potential threats to students and staff at the school; and
  • Require crisis intervention training for all school personnel. This training must be completed before the 2018 school start date.

*NOTE: All school safety plans as outlined above must be submitted by each public school to their County Sheriff’s Office, by July 15, 2018, for approval. Once all plans and requests for school hardening have been approved by the county sheriff’s department, in consultation with local police jurisdictions, plans can be submitted by the school district to DOE for schools to receive any state funds. School districts must also take all capital outlay funds received from taxpayers and use these funds for school hardening before it can be spent on any other capital outlay. This must be approved by the sheriff’s department and submitted to DOE by August 1, 2018.

$50 Million Proposal for Mental Health Initiatives

  • Expand mental health service teams statewide to serve youth and young adults with early or serious mental illness by providing counseling, crisis management and other critical mental health services;
  • Require every sheriffs’ office to have a DCF case manager embedded in their department to solely work as a crisis welfare worker for repeat cases in the community. This will require 67 additional employees to be hired at DCF by July 15, 2018; and
  • Provide law enforcement and mental health coordination matching grants to allow sheriffs to establish special law enforcement teams to coordinate with DCF case managers as outlined above.

Senate and House GOP Leadership Proposal on School Safety 

Firearm Safety

  • Establish new restrictions on purchase and ownership of firearms (all types)
    1. Increase the minimum age for purchasing a firearm to 21 years except for persons in law enforcement and active military personnel.
    2. Establish a 3-day waiting period for purchase of firearms except for concealed weapons permit holders or persons who complete a 16-hour hunter safety course approved by the Fish and Wildlife Commission. Provides time for criminal history checks.
    3. Ban bump stocks.
  • Enhance restrictions for persons subject to involuntary examination and commitment (Baker Act)
    1. Provide law enforcement and the court with the tools to enhance public safety by temporarily restricting firearm possession by person who is undergoing a mental health crisis and when there is evidence of a threat of violence.
    2. Prohibit a person adjudicated mentally defective or committed to a mental institution from owning or purchasing a firearm or obtaining concealed weapon license. Current law prohibits purchase, but does not limit possession.

School Safety

  • Improve school security capabilities through additional school resource and security officers, school hardening, programs. Establish safe school and security standards, review school safety and security plans, implement a school safety specialist training program, and update risk assessment procedures. Require training for school safety specialists as well as students and faculty. Require emergency drills for active shooter and hostage situations involving students, school personnel, and law enforcement experts.
  • A “marshal” program to enhance safety and security in schools through the use of law enforcement trained and screened school personnel who function as part of school security teams.
  • Improve responses to students presenting a danger to themselves or others
    1. Codify and enhance the activities of the multiagency network for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities (SEDNET).
    2. Require each school district to designate a school safety specialist and each school to establish a threat assessment team to provide a coordinated approach to evaluating and responding to students who pose a threat of violence.
    3. Remove barriers preventing school district and law enforcement authorities from referring students appropriately to mental health services or law enforcement.

Coordination, Information Sharing and Other System Improvements

  • Create an affirmative obligation for personnel in schools, law enforcement, and service agencies to communicate and work together when serving the same at-risk youth.
  • Establish a statewide commission to investigate system failures in the Parkland school shooting and prior mass shooting events and make recommendations for system improvements.
    1. Analyze evidence from the Parkland shooting and other mass shooting events in Florida to determine the extent to which failures in communication or coordination contributed to an inability to prevent deaths and injuries.
    2. Identify available tools, such as the Fusion Center or the Judicial Inquiry System, and recommend ways these resources can be used more effectively to identify risks and threats.
    3. Recommend changes in procedures or policies necessary to enhance communication among schools, law enforcement, and social service agencies.

Mental Health

  • Increase funding for mental health training, screening, counseling and services in schools

Public Records Exemptions

  • Protect victims and their families by preventing disclosure of certain personal information.

Spotlight on Bills

Update on Bills

CS/CS/HB 827 – Instructional Materials by Representative Byron Donalds (R – Naples, FSU Alum), expands upon opportunities for public involvement in the adoption of instructional materials by requiring the Department of Education (DOE) to conduct a public workshop on instructional materials before the materials are included on the state adoption list.

Last week, the Education Committee adopted a proposed committee substitute and reported the bill favorably. The proposed committee substitute differed from the original bill by:

  • expanding the time a school district must post instructional materials on its website prior to adoption at a board meeting from 20 days to 45 days;
  • expanding the state instructional materials adoption criteria to include age appropriateness and richness of curricular content;
  • specifying that the provision exempting certain instructional materials from local review procedures does not apply to instructional materials adopted by the DOE on or before July 1, 2018;
  • deleting the requirement that state instructional materials be adopted by the State Board of Education and instead requires the department to hold a public workshop on recommended materials prior to adoption by the commissioner;
  • requiring implementation of paper-based statewide, standardized ELA and math assessments for grades 7 and 8 by the 2019-2020 school year;
  • specifying that published state assessments must be in a format that facilitates sharing of assessment items;
  • requiring reading passages and writing prompts used in statewide, standardized ELA assessments to incorporate grade-level social studies core curricular content;
  • requiring the DOE to develop and disseminate sample course-at-a-glance and unit overview templates that school districts may use when developing curricula;
  • providing that home education students participating in dual enrollment are not responsible for providing their own instructional materials;
  • revising requirements for articulation agreements between public postsecondary institutions and home education students and private schools; and
  • specifying that only public postsecondary institutions must enter into articulation agreements with home education students and private schools.

The House bill is awaiting a hearing by the full House.  A comparable senate bill, CS/SB 1644 by Senator Tom Lee (R – Brandon), is waiting to be heard in the Rules Committee.

CS/HB 565 – Excess Credit Hour Surcharges by Representative Amber Mariano (R – Port Richey), exempts from the surcharge first-time-in-college students who complete the requirements for their baccalaureate degree program within 4 years.

Last week, the Education Committee adopted a strike-all amendment and reported the bill favorably as a committee substitute. The strike-all amendment requires a state university to refund the assessed excess credit hour surcharge, for up to 12 credit hours, to any first-time-in-college student who completes a baccalaureate degree program within 4 years after initial enrollment in a state university.

Accordingly, a student enrolled in a 120 credit hour baccalaureate degree program could take up to 144 credit hours, 12 credit hours more than allowed by current law. The student would be assessed the excess hour surcharge for the additional 12 credit hours but would receive a refund for the surcharge if he or she graduates in 4 years after initial enrollment.

The strike-all amendment removed the provision specifying that the assessment of the excess credit hour surcharge for each credit hour in excess of 120 percent of the credit hours required to complete the baccalaureate degree for students enrolled in a degree program designated by the BOG as an area of strategic emphasis in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, or health discipline.

The bill is scheduled to be heard by the full House this week.  A similar bill in the Senate, CS/SB 844 by Senator Aaron Bean (R – Jacksonville), is waiting to be heard in the Appropriations Committee.

Spotlight on Bills

CS/CS/HB 909 – Higher Education by Representative Bob Rommel (R – Naples), creates the “RISE to 55 Initiative” to boost postsecondary attainment among Floridians to 55 percent by 2025. The bill directs the Higher Education Coordinating Council (HECC) to:

  • increase awareness and utilization of existing state and local strategies and resources that assist students in earning postsecondary credentials in a timely manner;
  • develop public and private partnerships that encourage students to enroll in postsecondary programs, recognize and celebrate academic achievement, and increase communication among stakeholders;
  • facilitate transfer agreements to ensure that students are awarded postsecondary credentials that they have earned; and
  • provide recommendations to the Legislature, no later than January 15, 2019, on ways to increase postsecondary certificate and associate degree attainment of Florida College System (FCS) students who demonstrate unmet financial need after receiving existing state and federal financial aid awards.

The bill creates the "Campus Free Expression Act" (Act) and defines commercial speech, free speech zone, outdoor areas of campus, public institutions of higher education, and material and substantial disruption. An individual's expressive rights may not be infringed upon and institutions are prohibited from restricting expressive activities to a particular area of campus and designating free speech zones. Reasonable limits on expressive activities are allowed; however, students, faculty, or staff may not materially and substantially disrupt activities on campus. Restrictions must be content-neutral on time, place, and manner of expression, and must be narrowly tailored to a significant institutional interest. All restrictions must be clear, published, and provide for ample alternative means of expression.

The bill grants an individual standing to seek declaratory and injunctive relief, including reasonable court costs and attorneys’ fees, if his or her expressive rights are violated. It also requires student government associations to provide a written justification of funds allocated from the activity and service fee to each student organization that requests funding. In addition, each student government association must maintain a list of funding requests and awards on its website.

Last week, the Education Committee adopted a proposed committee substitute and reported the bill favorably.  The PCS is different from the original bill in the following ways:

  • Adds definitions of commercial speech and material and substantial disruption.
  • Revises the cause of action provisions to provide an opportunity for an individual whose expressive rights are violated to seek declaratory and injunctive relief including court costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees. The ability to seek damages was removed.
  • Requires the BOG to annually, by September 1, report on the intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity at each institution by conducting a survey of students, faculty and administrators.
  • Requires student government associations to provide written justification of funds allocated from the activity and service fee to each student organization that requests funding. Each student government association must maintain a list of funding requests and awards on its website.
  • Creates the “RISE to 55 Initiative” to boost postsecondary attainment among Floridians to 55 percent by 2025. The HECC is directed to:
    • increase awareness and utilization of existing state and local strategies and resources that assist students in earning postsecondary credentials in a timely manner;
    • develop public and private partnerships that encourage students to enroll in postsecondary programs, recognize and celebrate academic achievement, and increase communication among stakeholders;
    • facilitate transfer agreements to ensure that students are awarded postsecondary credentials that they have earned; and
    • provide recommendations to the Legislature, no later than January 15, 2019, on ways to increase postsecondary certificate and associate degree attainment of Florida College System (FCS) students who demonstrate unmet financial need after receiving existing state and federal financial aid awards. The HECC must include a cost estimate of covering the remaining cost of full-time tuition for such students.

House Bill 909 is awaiting a hearing by the full House. A comparable senate bill, CS/SB 1234 by Senator Dennis Baxley (R – Lady Lake, FSU Alum), was temporarily postponed by the Judiciary Committee last week.

CS/CS/HB 323 – Education by Representative Heather Fitzenhagen (R – Ft. Myers), establishes a one-half credit financial literacy course as an additional elective. The one-half credit financial literacy course must include topics such as opening and managing a bank account; balancing a checkbook; completing a loan application; computing federal income taxes; simple contracts; types of savings and investments; and state and federal finance laws.

The bill increases fiscal transparency of educational spending by requiring:

  • school boards to provide financial efficiency data and fiscal trend information;
  • the Department of Education to develop a web-based tool that identifies schools and districts with high academic achievement based on per pupil expenditures; and
  • school boards to provide a full explanation of, and approve, any budget amendment at the board’s next public meeting.

Last week, the Education Committee adopted a proposed committee substitute and reported the bill favorably. The proposed committee substitute differed from the bill by:

  • requiring school districts with previous operational audit findings to initiate and complete corrective action within a certain period of time;
  •  requiring instructional and administrative personnel, who extend DROP participation beyond the 60- month period, to have a termination date that is the last day of the school year within the DROP extension;
  • clarifying that the DOE’s Office of Inspector General must investigate allegations and reports of fraud and abuse from certain government officials;
  • requiring prior school board approval and anticipated costs for reimbursement of certain out-of-district travel expenses;
  • aligning school board member salaries with beginning teacher salaries or the amount calculated by statute;
  • clarifying that school officers and administrative personnel are subject to certain ethics standards, including training, reporting procedures, reference requirements and contract requirements;
  • requiring school districts with revenues over $500 million to employ an internal auditor;
  • revising the name of the preliminary ACT to the PreACT and including the ACT and the PreACT to specified assessments in databases for which the DOE must provide access for evaluation purposes;
  • requiring the DOE to develop a web-based tool that identifies schools and districts with high academic achievement based on per pupil expenditures;
  • requiring school boards provide financial efficiency data and fiscal trend information;
  • requiring school districts with low ending fund balances to reduce administrative cost and other expenditures;
  • requiring a third party to conduct an investigation of school districts who are unable to timely pay current debts and liabilities;
  • requiring school boards to provide a full explanation of any budget amendment at the board’s next public meeting;
  • requiring districts with financial emergency conditions to withhold the salaries of certain superintendents and school board members until the emergency is addressed;
  • repealing state law and cross-references relating to school district minimum classroom expenditure requirements; and
  • providing an appropriation to fund the web-based fiscal transparency tool.

A comparable bill in the Senate, SB 88 by Senator Dorothy Hukill (R – Port Orange), passed the Senate last month and is waiting to be heard in the House.  The House bill is ready for a floor hearing.

SB 1236 – School Safety by Senator Dennis Baxley (R – Lady Lake, FSU Alum), authorizes school principals to designate one or more persons who meet the qualifications in the bill to carry a concealed weapon or firearm in school buildings; school district superintendents may make the same designation as to administrative buildings. Additionally, the bill increases the safety and security measures that school districts must take, which include consulting with law enforcement agencies every three years and establishing emergency procedures for active-shooter and hostage situations.

Under current law, as a general matter, only law enforcement officers are exempt from the ban on possessing a weapon or firearm on the property of a school. This includes public and private schools from preschool to the postsecondary level, as well as career centers. The bill authorizes school authorities to designate one or more persons to carry a concealed weapon or firearm on school property. But to qualify as a designee a person must:

  • Be a former or current law enforcement officer or specified member of the military who did not have a firearms-related discipline incident while serving;
  • Be licensed to carry a concealed weapon or firearm;
  • Complete extensive training, and undergo continuing annual training, as specified in the bill; and
  • Pass a level 2 background screening, which involves a search of state and federal databases for evidence of whether a person has committed any of a long list of serious crimes, including those involving violence and sexual misconduct.

The bill was temporarily postponed by the Judiciary Committee last week.  The House companion, HB 621 by Representative Bob Rommel (R – Naples), is waiting to be heard by the PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee.

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