New Local and State legislation
By David Volz / January - April, 2011
A number of major changes are likely to occur in the Florida legislature that will affect a large number of residents. Governor Rick Scott has promised to run the state of Florida like a business; he may achieve some of his goals.
Senate Bill 736 is a landmark piece of legislation that would radically change how Florida public schoolteachers from kindergarten to twelfth grade are paid and evaluated. The bill was introduced by Senator Steven Wise. The Florida House K-20 Competitiveness Sub-Committee, chaired by Representative Erik Fresen, released a proposed committee bill that is similar to the Senate version.
The proposed legislation would eliminate tenure for teachers hired after 2014. It would require that fifty per cent of teacher pay be based on how well students perform on standardized tests. Governor Scott has spoken out against tenure at many public events, saying that it is bad for students. His informal education advisor, Michelle Rhee, has said on many occasions that bad teachers should be removed from classrooms immediately.
The House and Senate differ on how advanced degrees will be considered when supplemental pay is awarded. The House version says the degree must be in the area of a teacher's certification and teaching assignment. The Senate bill does not require the teacher to be teaching the subject.
The Senate bill prohibits awarding annual contracts if the teacher has three "needs improvement" evaluations in a five-year period; the House version does not. Both bills allow just cause dismissal for public school teachers, if they have two consecutive unsatisfactory performance evaluations or two unsatisfactory performance evaluations in a three-year period. The House proposed committee bill is silent on parental notification when a child is assigned to a teacher or school administrator rated unsatisfactory or needs improvement. The Senate bill requires notification.
Florida teachers unions are expected to resist the passage of these bills. John Ristow, spokesman for Broward Teachers' Union President Pat Santeramo, said that union members are being encouraged to protest these two bills.
Governor Scott is likely to support this legislation, if it passes. He has spoken against tenure. But he is in favor of merit pay for public school teachers.
Pension reform is another major issue under consideration in the Florida Legislature. The governor wants to require that all 655,000 government employees place at least five per cent of their salary into their pension funds. Currently, they are not required to pay anything into their pensions.
Senator Jeremy Ring has introduced two bills that would dramatically reform pensions for government personnel. Senate Bill 1128 is for city workers and Senate Bill 1130 is for state workers. Both would end the defined benefits to pensions and require that employees contribute a yet-to-be-determined amount of money into their plans. The bills would end the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), through which government employees can have money put into an escrow account during the last five years of their careers. They collect this money in a lump sum upon retirement.
Unemployment compensation may be changing as well. In proposed legislation, House Bill 7005 would reduce the amount of time people can collect benefits from 26 weeks to 20 weeks. The bill would deny unemployment benefits to people who have lost their positions due to misconduct and would require them to accept jobs that pay up to 80 per cent of the income earned in their previous positions.
Florida Senator Joe Negron introduced a bill that would move most of the state's 2.9 million Medicaid recipients into for-profit, managed care plans similar to HMOs. Negron is chairman of the Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee and he introduced the bill from his committee. The managed care plans would undergo a competitive bidding process to be overseen by the Agency for Healthcare Administration. The plans would have to spend ninety per cent of Medicaid funds on healthcare. Governor Scott has advocated this approach during speeches to the public. He has said it could save the state as much as $1 billion.
The Broward County Commission amended an ordinance that defines and governs dangerous dogs. The newly revised ordinance identifies a dog as dangerous after the dog has killed or severely injured a domestic animal more than once. Under the revised ordinance, a dog that kills once is defined as an aggressive dog and is subject to regulation. The amended ordinance also provides restitution to the owners of dogs that have been attacked and requires dogs defined as dangerous to undergo an examination by an animal behavioral specialist for assessment.
Red light cameras are coming to Coral Springs. City Manager Erdal Donmez said that they should be in place by early April at locations to be determined. He said the city is studying 32 approaches or 16 intersections that might benefit from having red light cameras. The results of this study will determine where and how many red light cameras will be placed. Members of the Coral Springs City Commission have indicated support for this plan as a way to improve safety and reduce accidents.
The Coral Springs City Commission recently passed an ordinance to extend the existing moratorium on the opening of new pain clinics in the city. During meetings, the commissioners have expressed concern about pain clinics. The commission and city staff want to see how effective a law passed by the Florida Legislature last year will be against illegal pain clinics.
According to City Attorney John Hearn, the Florida Legislature is likely to make a final determination on the rules of enforcement regarding pain clinics in the upcoming session. Vice Mayor Claudette Bruck has said repeatedly that she is concerned about the number of people who abuse prescription drugs. Coral Springs Police Chief Duncan Foster said that the city police force is keeping an eye on three legal pain clinics in Coral Springs.
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