Florida Politics

‘School choice’ becomes Florida law; Scott also signs 19 other bills

Dance students joyfully exit the school bus upon arrival at Miami City Ballet, October 1, 2015. Starting in the 2017-18 school year, parents will be able to send students to any public school that has space. Miami City Ballet participates in a scholarship program for disadvantaged kids who arrive by bus after school, attend ballet school for free, get a snack and do their homework.
Dance students joyfully exit the school bus upon arrival at Miami City Ballet, October 1, 2015. Starting in the 2017-18 school year, parents will be able to send students to any public school that has space. Miami City Ballet participates in a scholarship program for disadvantaged kids who arrive by bus after school, attend ballet school for free, get a snack and do their homework. cjuste@miamiherald.com

Florida’s public school students, starting in 2017-18, will be able to attend any school in the state that has space available, under a massive education bill that Gov. Rick Scott signed into law Thursday.

Starting July 1, the measure also will let high school athletes have immediate eligibility when transferring schools, and it will subject charter schools to more accountability and a new formula for receiving capital dollars.

Scott also signed 19 other bills, including the session’s main transportation package and new laws affecting healthcare policy and the Citizens Property Insurance Committee.

He also issued his second veto of the session, disapproving of HB 139 — which would have provided incentives for dentists who practice in under-served areas or who treat under-served patients. Scott said it did not place “appropriate safeguards on taxpayer investments” and it “is duplicative of existing programs.”

Scott, a Republican, has just three bills left to act on of the 272 that lawmakers passed during the 2016 session. Two require his action by Saturday and the final one — a controversial bill reforming alimony and child custody arrangements — is due for action by Tuesday.

Among Thursday’s actions, Scott signed four healthcare bills that are part of the free-market changes pushed by the Legislature — and especially House Republicans — this year.

Under the new laws, advanced registered nurse practitioners and physician assistants can prescribe controlled substances. And psychiatric nurses will have additional prescribing authority, as well — a change Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, says will help address psychiatrist shortages in many parts of the state.

The governor signed a healthcare transparency bill (HB 1175) that creates a statewide database of hospital costs. It doesn’t go as far as legislation he proposed that would have added penalties for hospitals that “price gouge” customers.

And he approved the first steps toward allowing telemedicine (HB 787) in Florida — using technology to provide healthcare from afar, and even from other states.

He signed another healthcare bill, as well, which is not part of lawmakers’ free-market push. Supported by insurers and consumer advocacy groups, HB 221 ends the practice of “balance billing” by which patients are billed directly for out-of-network healthcare services. That legislation became the vehicle for a last-minute change by President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, requiring insurers to cover additional treatment options for children with Down syndrome.

Meanwhile, supporters of “school choice” policies heralded Scott’s approval of HB 7029, a 160-page education bill that lawmakers negotiated into the final hours of session.

“By expanding Florida’s school choice options, parents and students will be able to find an education solution that best fits their needs,” House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said in a statement.

The Republican-led Legislature passed the bill mostly on a party-line vote. It’s a combination of about a dozen different bills with various implications on Florida’s education policy.

The most contentious aspect affects how the state’s 650 charter schools can get funding for construction and maintenance projects.

State dollars will now be weighted to favor charter schools that serve mostly impoverished students and those with disabilities. The state allocated $75 million for charter school capital projects in 2016-17 — the same as what the state’s 3,600 traditional schools will receive, in addition to their local sources of capital funding.

A casualty of legislative negotiations was an effort by the Senate to crack down on businesses using state capital dollars to profit from charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed.

Advocates of traditional public schools wanted that included and they have said they also would’ve liked for the new accountability measures on charter schools to go even further.

But the law does add some new standards for charters. They’ll be required to provide monthly or quarterly financial statements — so potential money troubles can be flagged early — and any charter school with two consecutive “F” grades will be “automatically terminated.”

The open enrollment provisions will affect all public schools, allowing students to attend any school in the state that hasn’t reached capacity. The law gives preference to students living in the district, students moving because their parents are active-duty military personnel or students moving because of foster care placement or court-ordered custody arrangements.

State and district officials will now begin the steps to implement the policy. That’ll be an easier endeavor in some counties than in others; some parts of the state — such as Tampa Bay — already allow students to attend schools across county district lines.

Scott also signed a wide-ranging transportation bill (HB 7061) that requires the state DOT to install roadside barriers where state roads are next to lakes and ponds.

The bill also transfers the Pinellas Bayway to the state and requires state economists to study and report on the economic benefits of Florida’s five-year road construction work program. And it creates a new transportation oversight panel within the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority.

Regarding Citizens Property Insurance, homeowners will get more information in the future when deciding if they should voluntarily leave that state-run insurer for a private company. Under HB 931, homeowners will get new details on all potential offers to switch to private carriers and Citizens itself will be responsible for mailing them, instead of leaving it to private companies, because customers have often mistaken what they receive as junk mail.

In the past, homeowners have complained that offers have come from private companies unfamiliar to them, and they threw the mail piece away. In addition, if there were multiple offers from private companies, Citizens only allowed one company of its choosing to present an offer. Now, Citizens will have to list all offers, giving customers some more options.

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

Bills signed

Gov. Rick Scott signed these 21 bills into law Thursday:

▪ HB 153, Healthy Food Financing Initiative: Directs the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to establish the Healthy Food Financing Initiative program.

▪ HB 221, Health Care Services: Protects patients from paying unexpected bills for out-of-network services and provides additional treatment options for individuals with Down syndrome.

▪ HB 287, Principal Autonomy Pilot Program Initiative: Creates the Principal Autonomy Pilot Program Initiative to provide additional professional development training for school principals.

▪ HB 423, Access to Health Care Services: Aallows Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants to prescribe certain controlled substances.

▪ HB 447, Local Government Environmental Financing: Refers to the Florida Keys Stewardship Act and provides funding for water resource projects and land acquisition in the Florida Keys.

▪ HB 491, Water and Wastewater: Revises the current framework for governing water and wastewater utilities.

▪ HB 585, Instruction for Homebound and Hospitalized Students: Streamlines the process for school districts to provide educational instruction to homebound and hospitalized students.

▪ HB 821, Reimbursement of Assessments: Prohibits representatives who assist veterans in applying for benefits from charging the veteran an administrative fee.

▪ HB 931, Operations of the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation: Revises various provisions relating to the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation.

▪ HB 941, Department of Health: Amends various practice acts related to health professions and occupations.

▪ HB 977, Behavioral Health Workforce: Allows psychiatric Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners to prescribe certain controlled substances and expands eligibility for providers in a substance abuse program.

▪ HB 981, Administrative Procedures: Clarifies the timeframe for agencies to evaluate the economic impact of administrative rules.

▪ HB 1075, State Areas: Revises acquisition, management and surplus processes for state-owned lands and other state areas.

▪ HB 1175, Transparency in Health Care: Requires hospitals to post their prices and average payments online.

▪ HB 1305, Emergency Allergy Treatment in Schools: Provides schools with cost-saving options for acquiring epinephrine auto-injectors.

▪ HB 7019, Education Access and Affordability: Promotes college affordability by providing tuition and fee transparency, textbook cost predictability, oversight of graduate school tuition, and accountability of Florida’s higher education system.

▪ HB 7029, Education: Expands educational options for students and parents in prekindergarten, K-12, and higher education.

▪ HB 7053, Early Childhood Development: Revises health and safety requirements for school readiness program providers.

▪ HB 7061, Transportation: Makes changes to the Department of Transportation and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, including implementing “Chloe’s Law” which provides additional roadside safety measures.

▪ HB 7087, Health Care: Creates the Telehealth Advisory Council within the Agency for Health Care Administration.