The Florida Legislature is taking a break this week in observance of the Passover and Easter holidays. But, Senate President Don Gaetz plans to remain in Tallahassee and work through the holiday week. In WUWF’s weekly update, Gaetz (R-Niceville) outlines the Senate’s approval of two education bills, extension of the historic ethics reform legislation that was passed last year, and the status of gaming legislation.
On the education front, the Florida Senate approved Senate Bill 1642, which creates a clarified A-F and 100-point school grading system. As a former school board member and superintendent of schools, Gaetz says the system had become too complicated and ineffective as an incentive for schools to do better. SB 1642 eliminates so-called safety nets or triggers and creates a simplified point system for school grades based on student performance. “Under this bill, district and school grades - which will be released every year in the summer at the same time - will be simplified and transparent. That way parents can understand how their schools are doing and taxpayers can understand how their county school system is doing,” says Gaetz.
Senate Bill 864 also passed the full Senate. Co-sponsored in the Florida House by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach), Don Gaetz’ son, the measure would allow local school districts to make decisions about instructional materials and text books. It also establishes a way for citizens and subject-area experts in the community to be part of a text book review process.
On the issue of gaming reform, Senate President Gaetz says he supports legislation that requires veterinarians to report injuries to animals involved in the dog-racing industry. Senate Bill 742, sponsored by Sen. Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood), passed the Senate Gaming Committee, and Gaetz says he supports it. However, the measure has not gained traction in the House.
In his role as President of the Florida Senate, Gaetz says his duties require him to remain in the state capitol over the holiday break to work on upcoming budget negotiations.
When lawmakers return for week eight of the legislation session, Gaetz there are a number of controversial bills that will be considered and he’s looking for voter feedback.
First, Senate Bill 1400 would provide subsidized in-state tuition for undocumented students in Florida. “It’s a bill that’s raised a great deal of concern and a lot of controversy around the state. We’re hearing from people in all parts of Florida, both opposed and in favor of the bill,” says Gaetz adding that he’s skeptical and intends to vote no on the bill. However, Gaetz says he’d like to hear from residents of northwest Florida before he votes.
Another measure to be considered is House Bill 7167 that would expand the state’s tax credit scholarship program, which allows private school students to receive tax-payer funded vouchers if the students come from low income families. HB 7167 would allow more students from high-income families to participate. Gaetz says one sticking point in the Senate is accountability, “We need to have some kind of way of knowing if these students are progressing or regressing, let their parents, teachers and the public know how well this program is doing or not doing.”
Finally, Senate President Gaetz says he’d like feedback on an additional tax cuts. Already, there’s been an agreement to cut taxes by about $400 million via a reduction in vehicle registration fees. Legislative leaders already have committed to another $100 million and would like to know what people think would be most helpful. Suggestions include proposals to cut taxes on commercial leases and continuation of tax-free holidays on back-to-school and hurricane supplies.