Florida Politics

House Speaker: There’s time to address school recess, but no promises

Speaker Richard Corcoran told reporters Thursday that there’s plenty of time in the final two weeks of the 2017 session for the Florida House to vote on a bill that would require more time for recess in public elementary schools, but he would not commit to holding a floor vote as parents demand.

When asked if the House would take up a parent-supported bill (SB 78), which passed the Senate unanimously two weeks ago, Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, said during a press conference: “What I’d say on that is: We have two weeks left. There’s a lot of activity on the recess bill that’s still happening, and anything is possible.”

The House version of the recess bill — which was significantly watered down and is no longer supported by parents, health and physical education experts or the lawmaker sponsoring it — is stalled in a committee that’s not scheduled to meet again. There is no visible action by House members that indicates that status would change.

Senators, meanwhile, are trying another route to force the House to consider the proposal they passed, which would require elementary schools to offer 20 minutes of recess each day for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, separate from physical education classes.

Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, added that recess language to a broader omnibus bill (SB 926) that formed in a Senate committee on Wednesday, which will likely eventually be negotiated with the House.

Parents, however, remain puzzled and frustrated as to why the House doesn’t just vote on the Senate-approved recess bill when it has such broad public support and the support of a majority of lawmakers. (A similar bill passed the House nearly unanimously last year.)

MORE: “House leaders won’t say if they’ll act on school recess. Parents grow impatient.”

“I would say that probably a lot of those parents haven’t been familiar with the legislative process — that a lot of what we do is done in the last two weeks, so there’s no delay,” Corcoran said.

When asked whether he would let the session end without addressing the recess bill, Corcoran made no promises.

“I think the legislative session could end without a vote on a ton bills, so yes,” he said.

Corcoran last year was one of the two “no” votes on the recess bill. But he has said — and reaffirmed as recently as this month — he would support a bill with a daily mandate this year because a provision from last year’s bill isn’t included.

Meanwhile, parents across Florida — with the help of the Florida PTA and the Alliance for Public Schools — have aggressively stepped up their advocacy this week to urge Corcoran and Rules Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, to bring SB 78 to the floor.

As of Thursday afternoon, email campaigns initiated by the two groups had resulted in at least 1,345 emails being sent to Corcoran’s office since Monday, according to Angie Gallo, the Florida PTA’s legislation chair.

She said that that number is expected to rise because the groups have also alerted county councils to their email campaign and they’ve urged recess groups to also request the House to support the Senate omnibus bill with the recess language.

Kristen M. Clark: 850-222-3095, kclark@miamiherald.com, @ByKristenMClark

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