A landmark bill that will reshape education passed the Florida Senate on Friday, but it underwent significant changes this week.
A major amendment filed Thursday night was hashed out in negotiations with House members, said sponsor Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples. Those negotiations were not public.
Here’s what the amendment included in the revised bill:
▪ Added a new sales tax funding source for the Gardiner Scholarship, a voucher for students to attend private schools.
▪ Removed proposed accountability measures to prevent unethical profits from charter school construction.
▪ Removed a pitch to make a financial literacy course a high school graduation requirement.
▪ Increased the amount of money a person can donate to the new Hope Scholarship vouchers for bullied students, from $20 to $105, matching the House’s version.
Passidomo spoke at length about how the Senate had resisted the attempts of the House to fast-track the bill by attaching it to the budget, and said the Senate had chosen the transparent path.
“Everything in this bill everyone has had an opportunity to look at,” she said. “[Senate President Joe Negron] wanted to make sure that the bill went through Senate committees to allow time for review, edits, testimony and discussion about issues important to all of us.”
The bill allows tenants of commercial property to direct the sales tax of their rent away from the state’s general fund and into the account for the Gardiner Scholarship, up to $57.5 million. The Gardiner Scholarship is a publicly funded voucher for students with mental or physical disabilities to be able to attend private schools.
Democrats unsuccessfully tried to remove a highly controversial piece of HB 7055 that requires teachers’ unions to have 50 percent of all people eligible to be in the union be dues-paying members. It does not apply to unions of other professions, like law enforcement and firefighters. Teachers’ unions are a core constituency for the Democratic Party.
Teachers’ unions have decried the rule as union-busting and unfair, especially in the wake of the Parkland shooting during which three teachers were killed protecting students.
In a tense moment on the floor Friday, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, stood defiant of his party as he proposed an amendment to relax the union threshold to 40 percent, calling the 50 percent margin “mean-spirited” and “punitive.” Twice Negron, R-Stuart, asked him to finish speaking on his amendment but Lee continued.
“I know how easy it is to come up here and go along and get along,” he said. “I also didn’t come to Tallahassee to be told what to do. … There isn’t a budget amendment or a bill I care about more than doing the right thing.”
That amendment failed in a 19-19 tie, with three Republicans — Sen. Dana Young of Tampa, Sen. Rene Garcia of Hialeah and Sen. Greg Steube of Sarasota — voting with Lee and the Democrats.
HB 7055 will now go back to the House for final approval before it is sent to the governor.
At the same time the Senate spent hours in debate on this bill, the House passed HB 1, a separate bill with the same bullying voucher program in 7055. Several pieces of the package bill have been similarly peeled off in the House, an indication that it could be prepping for the measures to still go into effect in case the bill doesn’t pass into law.
The House also passed a major tax package on Friday that included a sales tax funding source of up to $154 million for school vouchers.
Contact Emily L. Mahoney at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @mahoneysthename.