The House took the necessary action on various bills to put the Legislature in the posture to begin the budget conference, Tentatively scheduled to begin early during week seven, the conference will not only reconcile the House and Senate budget proposals, it will have to bring to closure such outstanding issues as lowering auto registration fees and allowing for the creation of license plates sponsored by corporations. Although no time frame has been set for the end of the process, the final conference report must be finished, printed and delivered to the various members no later than Tuesday of the last week of session. The Florida Constitution requires that a 72 hour waiting period must pass before the budget can be voted on. This is to allow the members, and the general public, time to see what is in the report. Delivery on Tuesday of week nine would allow for a vote on Friday, the final day of the regular session. Of course, the conference report can be delivered and voted on sooner in the session.
The much publicized Senate Bill 6 by Senator John Thrasher of Jacksonville, which passed the Florida Senate on March 24, makes fundamental changes to the way in which teachers are compensated. It requires school districts to adopt a salary schedule that is performance based. A teacher and school-based administrators will be paid based on the outcomes of their performance reviews. The bill also awards those teachers who work in areas that are in critical need of teachers and who score well on their performance evaluation. Representative John Legg of New Port Richey defended the bill in both committee this week as well as on the floor. With a vote taken after 2 o’clock in the morning of April 9, the House passed the measure with a 64-55 vote. The bill was immediately delivered to the governor for his consideration.
Governor Charlie Crist exercised his veto power this week and struck down Representative Seth McKeel of Lakeland’s Senate Bill 1207 (Senate Bill 880 by J.D. Alexander also of Lakeland). The governor’s action on April 7 kills a measure that would have resurrected so-called “leadership funds.” Additionally it would have made major reforms to election financing laws in Florida. The governor’s reason behind vetoing the bill was to prevent the outdated leadership fund practices of the past to be allowed to flourish once again, especially at a time when questionable activity has taken place in the highest levels of the political system.
Senate Bill 464 by Senator Mike Fasano of New Port Richey expands from 17 days per year to 240 hours per year the leave of absence authorized members of the military reserves and National Guard, who are public employees, to attend military training. The bill passed the Florida Senate on April 8 with an unanimous vote. Its companion in the House, sponsored by Representative Ronald Renuart of Ponte Vedra Beach is on the House calendar awaiting a final vote.
As week seven looms on the horizon, the session will continue to heat up. The budget conference may dominate much of the time, but other good bills will continue working their way through the committee process as the clock ticks. Ending on Day 50, the legislative committees in the Senate stop meeting (the beginning of week 8). Those bills not yet heard in all committees of reference will face an uncertain future. Legislators will scramble as they make a final big push to get their bills through the committee process and to the floor of their respective chambers.
Greg Giordano is the Chief Legislative Assistant to State Senator Mike Fasano. To read last week's update, go here.