Florida Politics

Senator: Gov. Scott should veto schools bill, call another special session

Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs
Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs AP

Lawmakers are supposed to wrap up on Friday a contentious special session that brought them back to Tallahassee for three days to resolve budget disputes over K-12 funding and jobs and tourism spending.

But regardless if that’s successful, one key Republican senator says the Legislature’s work shouldn’t be over and that one more return trip to the Capitol this month would be in order.

Senate Pre-K-12 education budget chairman David Simmons told the Herald/Times he wants Gov. Rick Scott to veto a controversial K-12 schools bill (HB 7069) — which Simmons has deemed “fundamentally and fatally flawed” — and call lawmakers back for a second special session to redo it.

“That’s the solution that I and, I think, others would love to have,” said Simmons, of Altamonte Springs. “He doesn’t have to just say, ‘I veto,’ and therefore nothing will be accomplished. He can do what he did here.”

Simmons said a second special session to revisit the myriad policies and $419 million in spending in HB 7069 would let lawmakers “fix the deficiencies and then permit us to get the benefits that exist in that bill.”

Scott miami tourism
Florida Gov. Rick Scott Joe Raedle Getty Images

“But we’ll do it the right way — in the open, in full, full view of the people of the state of Florida,” Simmons said, referencing the secret negotiations among the Legislature’s top leadership that yielded the bill in the final days of the regular session.

House Republicans — under the direction of Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, and with some Senate input — cobbled the bill together behind closed doors and unveiled it less than three days before lawmakers had to vote up-or-down on it with no chance to change it.

It passed the Senate only by one vote, with Simmons among the opposition. Since then, some senators have expressed buyer’s remorse over letting it pass.

RELATED FROM POLITIFACT: “Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran misleads about education legislation negotiations”

Simmons on Thursday had planned to try to defund HB 7069 as a way to force a discussion on fixing it.

He said “the major flaw” of it are new accountability measures on “D” and “F” traditional public schools, which he said would force them to close — and their teachers to be fired — so that private charter operators would have to take over. (House Republicans say that’s not what the bill does.)

However, Simmons withdrew his amendments trying to move the HB 7069 money into the general K-12 budget, telling the Herald/Times he knew when to “pick my battlefields.”

“I believe that you do first things first and that means: Get an increase in the [K-12 spending], go ahead and increase [the economic development dollars] and the Visit Florida funding, which are important to me and have been important to me,” he said.

“While I am a firm believer in what I have said and what I believe in concerning education and the inadequacies of not only the process but the substance of a portion of HB 7069, I’ll pick my battlefields and I’ll get what we can get now and know that we will move to the next stage,” he added.

RELATED: “Senate backs off defunding controversial schools bill, not wanting conflict with House”

Simmons said he now wants stakeholders, constituents, educators and legislators to call upon Scott to veto HB 7069 and bring lawmakers back — a decision that would cost taxpayers $70,000 a day. But it’s unclear whether that’s something other lawmakers or Scott would support.

Scott has refrained from sharing a public opinion on the legislation, other than chiding lawmakers for a lack of transparency in crafting it.

He does not yet officially have the bill on his desk to sign or veto. Despite House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, saying several times during the past week it would be sent over that same day or “imminently,” the House still hasn’t done so.

Some lawmakers think that’s political strategy; “it is a ministerial process to send it over to the governor,” Simmons noted. They expect Scott to sign the bill if the Legislature on Friday agrees to add funding for the governor’s top priorities: jobs and tourism spending.

House Pre-K-12 education budget chairman Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, said Thursday he would be in favor of changing HB 7069 in the 2018 session “if there are legitimate fixes that we can agree on doing.”

“If we need to come back and clarify some of that further, I’m willing to come back in the fall and make sure the intent of the bill is what is put forth,” he said.

But addressing it during this current special session was never going to be on the table, as Corcoran, Diaz and other House Republicans deemed discussing it was a “waste of time” because it wasn’t within the limited agenda of issues the Legislature was sent back to Tallahassee this week to address.

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