Monday, May 22, 2017

Recapping Florida’s 2017 Legislative Session - Part 2

As promised in my last post, here's a look at the major education policies contained in bills awaiting the Governor signature.

Testing - The many people who wanted fewer state-mandated tests, a later “testing window” (calendar) in which to give them, and a return to paper-based assessments got much less than they asked for. Just one end-of-course exam (Algebra II) and phys ed for student-athletes who don’t take a PE course were eliminated. The testing window was pushed back to start May 1 and reduced to two weeks, gaining one to three weeks of instructional time. Paper-based testing will be required for grades three through six in English language arts (ELA) and math starting in the 2017-18 year, and for all ELA and math exams no later than 2018-19. Test results will have to be provided more quickly and with clearer explanations. Exceptions are for third-grade reading and paper-based tests in grades three through six, which take longer to grade. These provisions are included in the massive HB 7069, which has not yet been received by the Governor but could well be vetoed.

Teacher Pay - The Legislature again this year favored bonuses for “effective” teachers over across-the-board pay increases for all teachers. They expanded the 2015 “Best and Brightest Scholarship” program to more teachers in that for the next three years, those who earn a "highly effective" rating would get a $1,200 bonus while those with "effective" ratings would get $800. After that time, new criteria would kick in for a higher payout. They also added an award for principals in schools with the highest percentage of Best and Brightest teachers, and eliminated the bonus cap for teachers whose students successfully complete AP, AICE and similar tests. Responding to teacher complaints, they  removed the requirement for districts to evaluate teachers using the controversial "value-added model," which relies on test scores. But they took away the ability of school boards to offer guaranteed employment extensions to teachers on annual contract, something many districts have done since 2011. All these provisions are included in HB 7069.

Mandatory Recess - Florida's self-designated "recess moms" wanted 20 minutes of daily elementary school recess. They found quick support in the Senate, but the House was slow to respond. The idea resurfaced in the final days of horse-trading and was included in the massive HB 7069, but with an unrequested exemption for charter schools.

Instructional Materials Review - Rep. Byron Donalds and local supporters including the Florida Citizens Alliance and Better Collier County Schools wanted non-parent community members to be able to challenge curriculum and library materials. Opponents, including Florida Citizens for Science, strongly opposed the controversial HB 989, citing supporters’ “vociferous opposition to established, accurate science concepts” including evolution and climate change. Following a massive lobbying effort by both sides, lawmakers adopted most of Donalds’ original bill. And districts will have to bring in an "unbiased and qualified hearing officer" to hear complaints and issue recommendations. Next stop: the Governor’s Office.

Religious Expression in Public Schools - Further testing the line between church and state, the Legislature passed SB 436, the "Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act.” Students may use religious content during lessons, wear clothing and jewelry with religious symbols at school, and participate in religious activities including prayer at school during “appropriate" times. Districts must adopt policies allowing "limited public forums" for students to pray at school events, and school employees may participate in student-led religious activities on school grounds, as long as the activities are voluntary and do not interfere with the employees' responsibilities. Next stop: the Governor’s Office.

Improve middle school study performance - The Legislature was shown data sourced to an email from the Foundation for Florida’s Future showing that Florida students in grade 8 have performed below the national average on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Mathematics test since 1990, and below or most recently at the national average on the NAEP Reading test since 1998. It was told that NAEP is “the largest nationally representative assessment of students’ knowledge and performance in a variety of subject areas, including but not limited to mathematics, reading, and writing.” In response, the Legislature passed HB 293 directing the state Department of Education to solicit competitive bids to “conduct a comprehensive study of states with high-performing students in grades 6 through 8 in reading and mathematics, based on the states’ performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress,” and submit recommendations to improve middle school study performance by the end of this year. The bill is pending in the Governor’s Office; he has until June 2 to act.

It’s not too late to weigh in

Do you oppose the lack of transparency with which so many education policy issues were decided and shoe-horned into a 274-page bill? Do you think there’s still too much state-mandated testing? Do you object to the charter-school exemption from the mandated recess time? Do you think the "Best and Brightest Teacher and Principal Scholarship" program is the best way to attract and keep the best teachers in Florida? Are you okay with the “Religious Expression in Public Schools” bill? Are you concerned about the education budget or any of the other policy changes included in HB 7069? If so, it’s not too late to let Governor Scott know!

And given the many press reports that he’s listening, I urge you to do so. (PoliticoFlorida)

It’s easy to call the Governor’s office — (850) 488-7146 or (850) 717-9337 — and leave a message with your name, your city and zip code, the bill number you’re calling about, and whether you want him to sign or veto it. It would be nice, but not necessary, for you to include a one-sentence reason why. Or email

Let your voice be heard now!

Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at, "like" me on Facebook at follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Recapping Florida’s 2017 Legislative Session - Part 1

The Old Capitol Building
Tallahassee, FL
The 2017 Legislative Session ended Monday, 3 days late, because the House and Senate could not get their only constitutionally-mandated job — passing a balanced budget for the 2017–18 fiscal year — done on time.

It took Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran making significant deals behind closed doors to get it done, for which they have been widely criticized. (Sunshine State News)

Gov. Rick Scott got just a fraction of the tax cuts he wanted and his three biggest priorities (VISIT FLORIDA tourism marketing, Enterprise Florida incentives to lure businesses to the state, and money to speed up rebuilding the leaking dike around Lake Okeechobee) were virtually ignored. (

In this post, I’ll take a high-level look at the budget deal Corcoran and Negron reached with an emphasis on the areas I’m most interested in: education, health care and the environment. In my next post, I’ll look more specifically at how K–12 education was affected.

A high-level look at the budget

The deal struck resulted in a $82.4 billion budget, which is essentially unchanged from the current year. An additional $2.4 billion in additional appropriations is contained in budget conforming bills for items including hospital funding (the low income pool), state employee pay raises, Visit Florida, Enterprise Florida and educational programs. (More below.)


The Legislature approved K–12 funding of $20.4 billion, up just 1.2% ($241 million) over the current year. This equates to per-student funding of $7,220.72, up just 0.3%.

Beyond what was in the main budget bill, a 274-page, $419 million education policy overhaul (HB 7069) was cobbled together and narrowly passed in the session's final days. In a statement on the House budget, Speaker Richard Corcoran touted the package of “innovative programs to end failure factories” and said "I think [it] is going to go down as one of the greatest K-12 bills in the history of the state of Florida." (Miami Herald /

While separate from the budget, I'm discussing HB 7069 in this post because it's such a significant amount of money. It includes many priorities of the school choice movement, and -- if signed by the Governor -- it will affect everything from charters and recess to teacher contracts and virtual schooling.

For example, it funds a $140 million “Schools of Hope” program that offers incentives to privately-managed charter schools to entice them to take over low-performing public schools in poor neighborhoods. This program is opposed by many who because it takes money away from already-struggling districts.

The bill also includes $234 million to expand to more teachers and extend to principals the “Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program” which awards bonuses based on GPA or scores on standardized tests. Many, including the Governor, question the program's assumption that those who did well while in high school on standardized tests make the best teachers or principals.

In another controversial funding area resolved by compromise, two school voucher programs were significantly expanded. The Gardiner Scholarship program benefiting children with disabilities was broadened so that more could qualify, and the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program got more money so families can stay in the program when their children advance to high school, where private education is more expensive. That program, made possible “almost entirely by a single organization led by an influential and wealthy school choice advocate,” gives businesses dollar-for-dollar tax credits for donating money to the scholarship fund. (Miami Herald / Sunshine State News)

Calls for veto

In the hours and days since Monday’s session-end, supporters of public education have spoken out strongly. The state’s largest teachers union was among the first, urging the Governor to veto the K–12 part of the budget as well as HB 7069.

The Florida League of Women Voters said the Legislature “sent a message that our schools, teachers, and students are not valued,” and also called for the veto of HB 7069.

In a fact-filled and strongly-worded editorial titled “Gov. Rick Scott should veto efforts to starve public schools,” the Tampa Bay Times wrote, “Gov. Rick Scott should veto the anemic public schools budget and a mammoth education bill that was negotiated in secret and micromanages school districts to death.”

And in an editorial titled “Long state legislative session came up short,” the Naples Daily News wrote, “Teacher retention in public schools is a critical issue in Collier and Lee. The Legislature delivered a paltry $24 more per student, some $200 less per student than Scott proposed. House leaders instead crowed about helping charter schools.”

Health Care

Legislators struggled to resolve health care funding issues, ultimately agreeing to cut $521 million from hospitals, including a reduced reimbursement rate for serving poor and uninsured patients. (Naples Daily News / Health News Florida)


Funding for the environment is always a contentious issue. Ultimately, Senate President Negron got money for his priority, a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee that will be used to help avoid harmful discharges to coastal waterways. And while the budget includes funding for beach and springs restoration, nothing was provided for the Florida Forever land acquisition program. ( / Tampa Bay Times)

My take

Like many, I am not happy with the budget that was passed. Per student K–12 funding was shortchanged at the expense of a private school voucher program and charter school expansions. Gov. Scott does have the power to veto the entire budget, but that’s unlikely since Speaker Corcoran has said they have the votes to override. I can only hope the Governor will use his ability to line-item veto budget items and/or veto outright HB 7089.

Hospitals that care for the poor and uninsured will have to make do with half a billion dollars less. The will of Floridians who approved the Water and Land Conservation Amendment 1 in 2014 was again ignored.

We need to do better.

This is not the first year I’ve been unhappy with the Florida budget, but wouldn't it be great if it was the last? Next year, Floridians will elect a new Governor and Cabinet, all 120 members of the House, and 20 of the 40 members of the Senate.

Elections matter. We need to be paying attention and start preparing now.

Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Education bills before the Florida Legislature

In Session
March 7 - May 5, 2017
In the four weeks that the 2017 Legislative Session has been underway, I've struggled to find a way to monitor the many proposed bills that would affect public education in Florida. A few, notably SB 1210/HB 989 Instructional Materials for K–12 Public Education, have deservedly gotten a lot of attention, but I wanted to see the bigger picture. Who is making education policy in Florida? In addition to the most covered issues, what else is being considered? What’s the best way for me to be involved, and with my goal of encouraging informed voting, what should I share with readers?

There are no fast or easy answers to those questions, but I had to start doing something. In the Florida Legislature, House and Senate rules provide for standing committees, subcommittees, and special or select committees. The Senate President names the chairs and members of all Senate committees; the Speaker of the House names the chairs and members of all House committees.

After reviewing the list of Senate committees, I made the assumption that most education policy bills would go through the Senate Standing Committee on Education (Education Committee) before reaching the Floor for a final vote. And if that’s true, then monitoring that Committee and the bills that pass favorably through it should give me the overview I'm looking for. At least, that's the plan for now.

Knowing little about it, I did a deep dive into that Committee through the Florida Senate website. In this post, I’ll share what I learned.

The big picture

The Senate Education Committee has 10 members. Seven are Republicans and three are Democrats, which is fairly consistent with the makeup of the Senate as a whole. They are:

Chair Hukill is the only member of the Committee who has been an educator. A former elementary school teacher and now attorney/small business owner, she has held elected office in Central Florida since 1998. Due to treatment for cancer, she is not participating in this legislative session.

Vice Chair Mayfield is a self-described “public servant” who has served in the state Legislature since 2008. She is the only member of the Committee whose Senate bio lists being honored by the politically conservative Americans for Prosperity, Liberty First Network and Foundation for Florida’s Future.

Sen. Lee is vice president of a residential homebuilder and a realtor, Sen. Simpson is president of an environmental restoration and demolition services company, and Sen. Stewart is a former insurance agent. The remaining five Committee members are attorneys.

Getting caught up

A total of 111 Senate bills were referred to the Education Committee for consideration this session. Of these, 110 were “General Bills” (i.e. one of general statewide interest or whose provisions apply to the entire state) and one was a “Joint Resolution” (i.e. a proposed constitutional amendment) to establish a minimum salary for full-time public school teachers.

I reviewed the agendas, meeting materials, and in some cases video recordings of each of the Committee’s eight meetings so far, all of which are available here.

The March 21 meeting included a presentation on the current state requirements for high school graduation, statewide assessments, school grades and personnel evaluations by the Executive Vice Chancellor and an associate, K–12 Public Schools, Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) (slides here). The presentation served to provide background to bills that propose changes to current law.

Similarly, the March 27 meeting included a presentation on the current state of the Florida charter school sector by the Executive Director of the FLDOE Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice (slides here), and a presentation about KIPP public charter schools, by Trisha Coad, National Director, New Site Development, KIPP Foundation (slides here).

In its meetings to-date, the Committee considered 39 bills related to pre-K - 12 education and took the following actions:

  • 15 bills - Passed unanimously; now proceeding through their next assigned committee(s)
  • 2 bills - Passed with minority dissent; now proceeding through their next assigned committee(s)
  • 5 bills - Workshopped/discussed; passed unanimously; now proceeding through their next assigned committee(s)
So far, these 22 bills are the ones I'll be keeping an eye on.

  • 9 bills - Workshopped/discussed or temporarily postponed; not yet scheduled for next hearing
  • 8 bills - Workshopped/discussed; scheduled for next hearing
I'll pay more attention to these 17 bills when and if they are voted out of Committee.

Many bills to which Education was an assigned stop have not yet been (and may never be) scheduled to be heard, including the proposed minimum teacher pay amendment.

For a sense of the bills considered, below are their titles and, for ones of particular interest to me, a brief description; click a bill number for more information.

Passed unanimously; now proceeding through their next assigned committee(s):

  • SB 78 Public School Recess - Requiring each district school board to provide students in certain grades with a minimum number of minutes of free-play recess per week and with a minimum number of consecutive minutes of free-play recess per day
  • SB 104 Computer Coding Instruction - Authorizing high schools to offer students opportunities to take specified computer coding courses
  • CS/SB 148 Students Remaining on School Grounds During School Hours - Requiring schools in certain districts to obtain written parental consent before permitting students to leave school grounds during the lunch period
  • SB 256 Florida Center for the Partnerships for Arts Integrated Teaching
  • SB 360 Middle School Study - Requiring the Department of Education to conduct a comprehensive study of states with nationally recognized high-performing middle schools in reading and mathematics
  • SB 392 High School Graduation Requirements - Revising the requirements for the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards to include financial literacy; revising the required credits for a standard high school diploma to include one-half credit of instruction in personal financial literacy and money management and seven and one-half, rather than eight, credits in electives
  • SB 438 Out-of-school Suspension
  • SB 642 Public Educational Facilities
  • SB 780 Adoption Benefits
  • SB 808 Maximum Class Size - Revising requirements for charter school compliance calculating a school district’s class size categorical allocation reduction at the school average when maximum class size requirements are not met
  • SB 890 Florida Endowment for Vocational Rehabilitation
  • SB 978 High School Graduation Requirements - Authorizing the use of credits earned upon completion of a registered apprenticeship or pre-apprenticeship
  • SB 1252 Education
  • SB 1290 Career and Technical Education - Requiring each school district to develop at least one CAPE pathway in a specified area by a specified school year
  • SB 1458 Blind Services Direct-support Organization

Passed with minority dissent; now proceeding through their next assigned committee(s):

  • SB 376 Charter School Funding - Authorizing school boards to levy specified amounts for charter schools; prohibiting a charter school from being eligible for a funding allocation under certain circumstances
  • SB 436 Religious Expression in Public Schools - Prohibiting a school district from discriminating against students, parents, or school personnel on the basis of religious viewpoints or expression; prohibiting penalty or reward for a student’s religious expression in coursework, artwork, or other specified assignments

Workshopped/discussed; passed unanimously; now proceeding through their next assigned committee(s):

  • SB 604 Education Funding - Revising the amount each school board may levy for certain purposes
  • CS/SB 772 Assistive Technology Devices
  • SB 782 High School Graduation Requirements - Removing a requirement that a student participating in an interscholastic sport pass a competency test on personal fitness
  • SB 1210 Instructional Materials for K–12 Public Education - Requiring each district school board to adopt a process allowing parents or residents of the county to object to the use of specific instructional materials based on specified criteria; revising the requirements for school boards that adopt rules for the implementation of the district’s instructional materials program; revising the standards that an instructional materials reviewer shall use. This bill is being lobbied for by the Florida Citizens Alliance.
  • SB 1222 School Grades - Providing that a school exhibits a feeder pattern for the purpose of designating school grades if at least a majority of its students are scheduled to be assigned to the graded school

Workshopped/discussed or temporarily postponed; not yet scheduled for next hearing:

  • SB 584 Alternative High School Graduation Requirements - Authorizing certain students to be eligible for an alternative pathway to a standard high school diploma; requiring a school district to establish an Alternative Pathway to Graduation Review Committee for certain students; requiring each district school board to ensure certain instruction, to waive certain assessment results, and to administer a hard copy of the grade 10 ELA assessment or the statewide, standardized Algebra I EOC assessment for certain students
  • SB 906 Student Assessments - Requiring that the Commissioner of Education periodically publish on the Department of Education’s website any assessment administered or adopted during the previous school year
  • SB 964 Education Accountability - Requiring an application and charter for a high school charter school to require the administration of a specified assessment for graduation purposes; revising the requirements for a standard high school diploma; revising the grades in which the statewide, standardized Reading assessment must be administered; providing responsibilities of the commissioner to select and approve a nationally recognized high school assessment to administer in lieu of the Florida Standards Assessment
  • SB 1280 Mandatory Retention - Removing the requirement for mandatory retention of a third grade student based on his or her performance on the English Language Arts assessment
  • SB 538 Charter Schools - requiring applicants for charter status to demonstrate that they meet certain needs that the local school district does not, or is unable to, meet
  • SB 692 Student Eligibility for K–12 Virtual Instruction
  • SB 696 Charter Schools - Requiring a sponsor to honor irrevocable instructions by a charter school to deposit certain funds; providing that a charter school that pledges or assigns future payment of its funding is not pledging the credit or taxing power of the state or a school district
  • SB 1556 Education - Prohibiting a district school board from requiring any additional information or verification from a home education program parent under certain circumstances; providing an exception for certain children from the age verification requirements for school attendance; requiring a school and school district to comply with specified provisions before instituting criminal prosecution against certain parents relating to compulsory school attendance
  • SB 1572 Education Savings Account Program

Workshopped/discussed; scheduled for April 3 meeting:

  • SB 796 Charter Schools - Revising charter school contract and funding requirements; authorizing certain entities to apply for designation as a High-Impact Charter Management Organization; requiring the Department of Education to give priority to certain charter schools applying for specified grants
  • SB 868 Educational Options and Services - Revising student eligibility requirements for the Florida Virtual School and virtual instruction programs
  • SB 902 Gardiner Scholarship Program - Revising program eligibility requirements
  • SB 926 K–12 Student Assessments - Requiring the Commissioner of Education to review specified college entrance examinations to determine their alignment with the core curricular content for high school level English Language Arts and mathematics established in state standards; revising provisions relating to achievement levels for certain statewide, standardized assessments; providing requirements for administration of the statewide, standardized English Language Arts and mathematics assessments in specified grades
  • SB 1302 Private School Student Participation in Extracurricular Activities - Revising the eligibility requirements for certain private school students to participate in interscholastic or intrascholastic sports at specified public schools
  • SB 1314 Educational Options - Specifying the Department of Education’s duty to approve or deny an application for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program within a specified time; requiring an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization to allow certain dependent children to apply for a scholarship at any time
  • SB 1362 K–12 Education - Removing a requirement that the Department of Education compare certain charter school student performance data to certain traditional public schools; authorizing certain entities to apply to the State Board of Education for designation as a High-Impact Charter Network; revising the exams each public high school is required to administer to all enrolled 10th grade students to include the preliminary ACT, rather than the ACT Aspire
  • SB 1586 Student Eligibility for Interscholastic Athletic Competition - Revising requirements for the bylaws of the Florida High School Athletic Association governing student eligibility to participate in interscholastic athletic competition

The week ahead

The Agenda for the Monday, April 3, Committee meeting is packed. In addition to the eight bills noted above, the following 9 bills related to pre-K - 12 education are scheduled:

  • SB 468 Voluntary Prekindergarten Education
  • SB 856 - Education - Prohibiting a district school board from awarding an annual contract for instructional personnel under certain circumstances
  • SB 868 Education Options and Services - Revising student eligibility requirements for the Florida Virtual School and virtual instruction programs
  • SB 984 Shared Use of Public School Playground Facilities
  • SB 1330 Concealed Weapons and Firearms on Private School Property - Specifying that concealed weapon and concealed firearm licensees are not prohibited by specified laws from carrying such weapons or firearms on private school property
  • SB 1368 Exceptional Student Instruction - Prohibiting certain school districts from declining to provide or contract for certain students’ educational instruction; providing for funding of such students
  • SB 1552 Florida Best and Brightest Teacher and Principal Scholar Award Program - Creating the Florida Best and Brightest Teacher and Principal Scholar Award Program to be administered by the Department of Education
  • SB 1598 Education - Creating the Schools of Excellence Program; providing additional authority and responsibilities to the principal of a School of Excellence
  • SB 1710 Education - Revising the duties of the Just Read, Florida! Office to include developing and providing access to certain resources for elementary schools; requiring postsecondary students to demonstrate civic literacy

So many bills, so little time. Which ones to follow?

I initially planned to end this post by recommending several bills to follow and actions to take in the remaining weeks of the Legislative Session, scheduled to end on May 5. But with so many important bills pending, on what basis would I narrow the list to just a few?

Instead, I urge you to choose one of the bills to follow. Set up a free account on the Florida Senate website here to receive an email notification when something happens with your bill. Then, when your bill is scheduled to be heard, contact the members of the Committee that will hear it through links on the Committee’s web page. Let them know if you want them to support or oppose the bill, and why. A phone call to a senator’s Tallahassee Office is the quickest and easiest way to be heard. If you call after-hours, leave a brief message on their answering machine.

And let me know what bills you choose and how you think it's going!

Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Friday, March 10, 2017

What our state legislators are up to

In Session
March 7 - May 5, 2017
My last post, titled “Whose priorities ARE they?,” described my attempt to compare the bills filed for Florida's 2017 legislative session by Collier County’s State Senator Kathleen Passidomo and State Representatives Byron Donalds, Bob Rommel and Carlos Trujillo to the legislative priorities and funding requests of the Collier County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) and Collier County School District (CCPS). Those are the two elected bodies I follow, and I wanted to know if the people we elected put forward bills to address their requests.

While our representatives had filed a total of 23 bills through the date of my post, I’d taken on the task too early. They still had a month to go to file bills.

Now that the deadline has passed, I took another look at the bills they introduced. In this post, I’ll share what I learned.

Senator Kathleen Passidomo
Kathleen Passidomo’s bills

Senator Passidomo introduced 34 bills and co-sponsored seven. A list with bill titles and links so you can read the ones you’re interested in is on her Florida Senate web page.  Here’s how I categorized them by topic (cs = “co-sponsor”); click a bill number to go directly to its web page:

Only one of Passidomo's bills addresses the issues of major importance to the BCC: SB 408 Highway Safety, which deals with bicycle and pedestrian safety. And none addresses any of the CCPS priorities.

However, she did co-sponsor SB 78 Public School Recess, requiring each district school board to provide students in certain grades with a minimum number of minutes of free-play recess per week and a minimum number of consecutive minutes of free-play recess per day. Collier School Board member Kelly Lichter has advocated for mandatory recess at Board meetings in the past.

Rep. Byron Donalds
Bryon Donalds’ bills

Representative Donalds filed 19 bills and co-sponsored nine. A list with links is on his Florida House web page. Here’s how I categorized them:

  • Children; families; guardians; public safety - 2173
  • Education, preK–12 - 119 (withdrawn), 303 (cs), 591 (cs), 757, 773 (cs), 989, 2187 (cs)
  • Health and medical care - 429 (cs), 2581, 2585
  • Infrastructure - 2171, 2175, 2383, 3313, 3315, 3515, 3517, 4099
  • Law enforcement; self-defense immunity – 245 (cs)
  • Legal system; regulated industries - 2583
  • Objecting to U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 (Israeli settlements) - 281 (cs)
  • Public records exemptions; public meetings - 351 (cs), 843 (with Rommel)
  • Real estate; construction; development - 483
  • Taxation - 139 (cs), 289, 965

Two of Donalds’ Infrastructure bills would fund specific BCC appropriation requests:

  • HB 3313 would provide $1 million to replace eleven “functionally obsolete bridges” east of State Road 29. According to the Gator Canal Bridge Replacement Appropriations Project Request, the bridges are “heavily utilized for agriculture and other commercial traffic, and provide direct and timely access to local residents for first responders.”
  • HB 3315 would provide $950,000 for the repair or replacement of the Golden Gate City storm water outfall system. According to the Appropriations Project Request, the system is 35 to 45 years old and at the end of its useful life.

His other Infrastructure bills are appropriations requested by other entities in his District: the Hendry County BCC (HB 2171 and HB 4099), Florida SouthWestern State College (HB 2175), UF/IFAS (HB 2383) and the City of LaBelle (HB 3515).

The titles of Donalds’ bills related to preK–12 education which are of particular interest to me are:

  • HB 119 Interscholastic Extracurricular Activities (withdrawn prior to introduction)
  • HB 303 Religious Expression in Public Schools
  • HB 591 Maximum Class Size
  • HB 757 Voluntary Prekindergarten Education
  • HB 773 K–12 Student Assessments
  • HB 989 Instructional Materials for K–12 Public Education

Two CCPS priority areas – providing flexibility regarding state-mandated testing, and maintaining the flexibility in current law for schools of choice (i.e. charter schools) under the Class Size Amendment – appear to be the subjects of HB 773 and HB 591, respectively. But after reading the bills, my impression is that neither really aligns with what the District asked for.

Also of interest is Donalds’ HB 843 Public Meetings and Records/Meetings Between Two Members of Board or Commission, which he jointly introduced with Representative Rommel. See the Naples Daily News editorial “Donalds’ bad bill turns Sunshine into shade,” with which I agree, for more on this bill.

Rep. Bob Rommel
Bob Rommel’s bills

Representative Rommel filed 12 bills and co-sponsored seven. A list with links is here. Here’s how I categorized them:

  • Health and medical care - 537
  • Infrastructure – 3321, 3323, 3325, 3327
  • Law enforcement, self-defense immunity - 245 (cs), 249, 305 (cs), 697 (cs)
  • Legal system, regulated industries, real estate - 583 (cs), 927, 977, 6021
  • Objecting to U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 (Israeli settlements) - 281 (cs)
  • Public records exemptions; public meetings - 243 (cs), 351, 843 (with Donalds), 1079
  • Taxation – 263 (cs) 

Two of Rommel’ Infrastructure bills would fund specific BCC appropriation requests:

  • HB 3325 would provide $500,000 to reconstruct and raise the elevation of Goodland Drive (CR 92A) to reduce the frequency and duration of impassibility which occurs due to flooding. According to the Appropriations Request, this is the only land access to the Goodland community.
  • HB 3327 would provide $750,000 to replace and upgrade the 40+ year-old Bayshore Gateway Triangle CRA Water Delivery System. According to the Appropriations Request, asbestos cement, cast iron, and ductile pipes will be removed and replaced, and added fire hydrants and increased water pressure will assist the Fire District in protecting residents.

Rommel’s two other infrastructure bills (HBs 3321 and 3323) would provide funding for projects requested by the City of Marco Island.

None of Rommel’s other bills address other Collier County or CCPS priorities.

Rep. Carlos Trujillo
Carlos Trujillo’s bills

Representative Trujillo holds key leadership positions in the House in his final term (due to term limits). He is Chairman of the Appropriations Committee and Alternative Chairman of the Joint Legislative Budget Commission. So I’m not surprised that he hasn’t introduced many bills. I am, though, curious about the one bill he DID sponsor: HB 885 Transactions with Foreign Financial Institutions.

This bill requires state-chartered financial institutions that do business with a foreign financial institution owned by a country under U.S. sanctions to, within 5 business days, identify and report the source of every transaction that passes through it to the Florida Office of Financial Regulation, and to certify that the source does not involve any confiscated property “as defined in the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996.” That law, also known as the Helms-Burton Act, strengthens and continues the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

Whose priority is THAT?

Next steps

I’d like to find out if bills have been introduced by other elected officials that address the Collier County and CCPS priorities. I’d also like to look into the special interest groups that have contributed to our legislators' campaigns to try to learn whose priorities their bills might be advancing. And I plan to look at what’s been happening in the House Committees and Senate Committees that will be considering bills related to preK–12 education. They began meeting months before Session began, and it will be interesting to see what presentations they’ve heard and what actions they’ve taken.

Meanwhile, I hope you will read some of the bills introduced by Collier County’s representatives and share your thoughts with them:

  • Senator Kathleen Passidomo - click here or call (850) 487–5028 and/or (239) 417–6205
  • Representative Byron Donalds - click here or call (850) 717–5080 and/or (239) 417–6270
  • Representative Bob Rommel - click here or call (850) 717–5106 and/or (239) 417–6200
  • Representative Carlos Trujillo - click here or call (850) 717–5105 and/or (305) 470–5070

Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Whose priorities ARE they?

In my last post, I looked at the bills filed by Collier County’s representatives in the Florida House and Senate for the upcoming session of the Legislature. I assumed one of the reasons they ran for office was to pass laws that would benefit their constituents, and that the bills they introduced or co-sponsored would be a good indication of who they were most interested in helping.

What I learned in that exercise was interesting, but I knew it was still early (the deadline to introduce bills is March 7), and I didn’t yet have a feel for the big picture. So this week, I dug a bit deeper, and in this post, I’ll share what I found.

Senator Kathleen Passidomo, representing all of Collier County, has now introduced 19 bills and co-sponsored four. They fall into a few broad areas (click Senate or House bill numbers for details):

Representative Byron Donalds, representing District 80, has introduced six bills and co-sponsored four so far. They fall into these broad areas:
  • Children, families, guardians, public safety - 2173
  • Charter schools - 119
  • Gun rights, self-defense immunity - 245
  • Health care - 429
  • Higher education - 351, 2173, 2175
  • Infrastructure - 2171
  • Legal system, real estate transactions - 289, 483
  • Local government - 139
  • Public records exemptions - 351

Representative Bob Rommel, representing District 106, has introduced three bills and co-sponsored three bills so far. They fall into these broad areas:
  • Gun rights, self-defense immunity - 245
  • Health care - 249, 537
  • Higher education - 351
  • Legal system, real estate transactions - 537
  • Objecting to U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 (Israeli settlements) - 281
  • Public records exemptions - 243, 351

Representative Carlos Trujillo, representing District 105, has still not introduced or co-sponsored any bills.

After thinking about the bills Collier County’s representatives introduced, I realized that none of them is on MY priority list, and a few I outright disagree with. So whose priorities ARE they?

Well, each year before the start of Legislative Session, county Legislative Delegations across the state hold public hearings at which community groups and individuals can make requests of their representatives. I attended the Collier County Delegation meeting on November 17. Senator Passidomo and Representatives Donalds and Rommel were there; Representative Trujillo did not attend. The agenda and list of community groups and individuals that made requests are here.

So I thought I’d look at what was requested by the Board of Collier County Commissioners and the Collier County School District, to see if our representatives were addressing any of their concerns. And I did see some overlap (HB = House Bill; SB = Senate Bill):

  • Donalds’ HB 2173 makes the Hodges University Identity Fraud Institute’s request for funding of $175,000.
  • Donalds’ HB 2175 makes Florida SouthWestern State College’s request for $1 million to fund its Physical Plant West Chiller Replacement.
  • Passidomo’s SB 588 and Rommel’s similar HB 249 make the Collier County Public Safety Chiefs Association’s request that first responders and substance abuse treatment facilities capture and share information about drug overdoses so that problem areas can be identified and prevention activities established.
  • Passidomo’s SB 408 aligns with Collier County’s request for action to enhance bicycle and pedestrian safety in Southwest Florida.

However, I was disappointed that none of our representatives has proposed legislation to address the specific requests of our Collier County School District or any of the other requests of the Board of County Commissioners. I have emailed Senator Passidomo and Representatives Donalds and Rommel specifically asking them what bills they have introduced or co-sponsored to do so, and if I hear back from them, I will let you know.

Below are the priorities of those two entities.

Board of County Commissioners

Then-outgoing commissioners Georgia Hiller and Tim Nance presented Collier County government’s 2017 Legislative Priorities at the November 17 meeting. As summarized on the County website:

Issues of Major Importance
  • EMS Station at Mile Marker 63
  • Southwest Florida Promise Zone
  • Rural Areas of Opportunity (RAO) designation of Immokalee
  • Collier County Restore Comprehensive Watershed Improvement Project
  • Workers Compensation Insurance Reform
  • Continuation of the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) Program
  • Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety

Funding Requests (State Appropriations) - $4.7 million
  • Goodland Dr. Rehabilitation ($2.0 million)
  • Replacement or Rehabilitation of 11 Bridges in Eastern Collier ($500,000)
  • Golden Gate City Outfall System Replacement Program (Phase I) ($950,000)
  • Bayshore Gateway Triangle CRA Waterline Upgrades and Fire Suppression Improvements ($750,000)
  • Pedestrian Bridge Connecting Gordon River Greenway Park with Freedom Park ($500,000

Click here for details about each need and requested legislative action. In addition, the County's Priorities include:

Issues to Monitor

Issues to Support

Collier County School District

Superintendent Kamela Patton and then-School Board Chair Julie Sprague presented the 2017 legislative priorities adopted by the School Board at its October 11, 2016, meeting. They are:

Local accountability and assessment flexibility that includes an alternative, state-approved, locally developed student and educator evaluation system that measures state standards or proficiency and is correlated to Florida’s accountability system. Read more.

Substantially increase the Base Student Allocation (BSA) to at least the average level of funding nationally to cover inflation, workload adjustments and provide salary increases for teachers and other district employees. Through 2014, Florida ranked 41st in the country in per pupil spending at $8,755 compared to the national average of $11,009.

Restore funding for courses beyond a six-period day, including virtual education, dual enrollment and college tuition/administrative charges for dual enrollment, so that students can meet requirements for advanced study and industry certified programs without financially penalizing school districts.

Reduce the number of elementary schools identified as "low performing" requiring an extra hour of intensive reading instruction from 300 to 100 and provide districts flexibility in how the extra hour (180/year) is scheduled and provided to best meet student needs at the local level.

Ensure appropriate and reasonable per-student station cost limits for new school construction that account for the variance of construction costs in different local areas across the state, especially school districts located in coastal regions with higher normal costs of construction.

Restore protection for children to attend the school closest to their home by eliminating section 1002.31(2)(f) in the Florida statute regarding “Controlled Open Enrollment; Public School Parental Choice.” Read more.

As you monitor the news in the coming months, keep the above priorities of our local elected officials in mind, and ask yourself: Are their requests being addressed by our elected representatives?

A complete list of bills introduced by our representatives with links to the bills themselves can be found on their Florida Senate or House web pages:

  • Senator Kathleen Passidomo (all of Collier County) here
  • Representative Byron Donalds (District 80) here
  • Representative Bob Rommel (District 106) here
  • Representative Carlos Trujillo (District 105) here

Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Settled in in Tallahassee

Florida’s 2017 Legislative Session doesn’t officially begin until March 7, but members of the State Senate and House are already settled into their offices in Tallahassee, holding committee meetings and introducing bills to accomplish their goals. As of today, almost 500 bills have been filed (daily update here), compared to more than 1,800 introduced in all of last year's Session. With a filing deadline of the first day of Session, many more are to come.

I wondered what bills had been filed by Collier County’s State Senator Kathleen Passidomo and State Representatives Byron Donalds, Bob Rommel or Carlos Trujillo, so I did a bit of research on the Florida Senate and House websites.

In this post, I’ll share what I learned.

Senator Kathleen Passidomo
Senator Kathleen Passidomo

First term Senator Passidomo represents Senate District 28, which consists of Collier, Hendry and part of Lee counties. Prior to her election to the Senate, she represented Collier County’s House District 106 for six years. (Find your District here.)

For the 2017 Legislative Session, Passidomo serves as Chair of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee and Vice Chair of the Senate Health Policy Committee. She is also a member of the Commerce and Tourism Committee; Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services; Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development; Joint Legislative Auditing Committee; and Joint Select Committee on Collective Bargaining.

Passidomo has introduced 15 bills so far this year; two are already moving through the committee approval process.

SB 0176 - Sales and Use Tax Exemption for Feminine Hygiene Products

Referred to as the “tampon tax” bill, SB 0176 would create a sales tax exemption on the sale of feminine hygiene products. While the fiscal impact of the bill has not yet been determined, a 1987 Sales Tax Exemption Study Commission report estimated that taxing feminine hygiene products would generate $3.9 million in 1988–1989. This bill would directly benefit consumers.

State law currently exempts from sales tax more than 200 items, including medical products and supplies considered necessary to human health. A Senate staff analysis of the bill argues that feminine hygiene products are similar necessities.

“We’re paying a sales tax on something that is an absolute necessity,” Passidomo said on a 1/20/17 Capital Report podcast. “And yet because of a public policy of trying to foster business growth and development, we’re reducing sales tax on a lot of things that are important to business.”

Thirteen states already have a similar exemption, in some cases part of a broader move to end what’s known as the “pink tax,” or gender-based pricing.

This bill was approved unanimously by the first of the three committees it was assigned to. If or when it will be heard by the two appropriations committees that must also approve it remains to be seen. A similar House bill is HB 63.

SB 0206 - Electronic Wills

Passidomo’s SB 0206 is also moving quickly. It would make wills prepared and executed electronically legal if they meet the requirements specified in the bill. It has been scheduled for its first of three committee hearings on 1/24. As one who has personally been inconvenienced by the fact that this bill is not yet law, I look forward to its passage, as, I suspect, do many trust and estate attorneys, paralegals, their clients and others in the field.

A complete list of bills introduced by Passidomo with links to the bills themselves can be found on her Florida Senate web page here.

Rep. Byron Donalds
Representative Byron Donalds

First term Representative Donalds represents House District 80, consisting of Hendry and part of Collier counties. (Find your District here.) This seat was previously held by Matt Hudson, who was prevented by term limits from running again.

Donalds was assigned to serve on the Agriculture & Property Rights SubcommitteeEducation Committee; Health Quality SubcommitteePreK–12 Appropriations Subcommittee; and PreK–12 Quality Subcommittee for the 2017 Legislative Session. As a reminder, Donalds was one of the founders of Collier County’s Mason Classical Academy Charter School and is married to Collier County School Board member Erika Donalds.

Donalds introduced HB 119 Interscholastic Extracurricular Activities on December 20. It was assigned to two committees: the PreK–12 Innovation Subcommittee, and the Education Committee, on which Donalds also serves.

The bill “authorizes a charter school student to participate in interscholastic extracurricular activities at a private school under certain circumstances.”

Charter school students are already allowed to participate in interscholastic extracurricular activities at the public school to which they would be otherwise assigned, if certain conditions are met. Donalds’ bill would allow charter school students to participate in private school activities under the same conditions as for participation in public schools.

Although all charter schools in Florida are, by law, public schools, Donalds isn’t also seeking that opportunity for students in traditional public schools. His bill would just benefit students in charter schools.

Why? How will public school athletes, coaches, parents, community supporters, and their private school counterparts and recruiters feel about a bill that gives special treatment to students of charter schools?

The bill will first be considered in the PreK–12 Innovation Subcommittee, which has a presentation on public school choice options scheduled for January 25.

I suspect this bill may have some opposition, so stay tuned…

The one other bill Donalds has introduced to date, HB 483 Estoppel Certificates, relates to a document used in due diligence in real estate and mortgage activities. Filed on January 24, it has yet to be assigned to committees.

Rep. Bob Rommel
Representative Bob Rommel

First term Representative Rommel represents House District 106, previously held by Kathleen Passidomo. (Find your District here.)

Rommel was assigned to serve on the Criminal Justice Subcommittee; Government Accountability Committee; Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee; Health Innovation Subcommittee; and Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee for the 2017 Legislative Session.

Rommel has introduced two bills so far this year, both quite recently:

Neither has yet been assigned to a committee. You can follow the status of bills sponsored by Rommel on his Florida House web page here.

Rep. Carlos Trujillo
Representative Carlos Trujillo

Representative Trujillo, in his fourth and final House term, represents District 105, consisting of parts of Collier, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.  (Find your District here.)

As a senior member of the House, he holds Committee leadership positions as Chair of the Appropriations Committee and Alternating Chairman of the Joint Legislative Budget Commission. He has sponsored no 2017 bills at this time.

Final Thoughts

Presumably, people run for office to get something specific done. The bills our elected representatives introduce tell us quite a bit about their priorities – even more than does how they vote on bills introduced by others. Who would benefit from the each of the bills Senator Passidomo and Representatives Donalds and Rommel introduced? Do you support or oppose their efforts?

Let your voice be heard, not just at the ballot box every two years, but every chance possible. Make note of the below contact information and use if regularly.

Senator Kathleen Passidomo (represents all Collier County)
District Office: 239–417–6205
Tallahassee Office: 850–487–5028

Representative Bob Rommel (District 106)
District Office: 239–417–6200
Tallahassee Office: 850–717–5106

Representative Byron Donalds (District 80)
District Office: 239–417–6270
Tallahassee Office: 850–717–5080

Representative Carlos Trujillo (District 105)
District Office: 239–434–5094
Tallahassee Office: 850–717–5105

For information on How an Idea Becomes a Law in Florida and the Florida Committee Process, visit Online Sunshine, the official website of the Florida Legislature, here.

Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.