Florida Governor Rick Scott delivers his annual State of the State address Tuesday, March 4, signaling the start of the 2014 Legislative Session. His speech will start at 10 a.m. Central Time. Again this year, Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford have joined together on a priority agenda. “These are issues that rise above politics and we think they can get done. They must get done. We will get them done,” says Gaetz, a Republican from Niceville.
Topping their list is a plan to expand economic opportunity through education. Gaetz says their goal is to “double-down” on previous legislation linking classroom education to real job requirements so that students can earn industry certifications. Proposed measures would increase the funding to make it possible for students to satisfy graduation requirement, while also earning industry certifications in the 240 fields offered as fast as they can.
Other proposed education measures include raising the cap for Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program; and holding the line on college tuition, with no increase for 2015.
Also proposed is performance-based funding for higher education. Such a funding model would not bode well for the University of West Florida which, along with New College of Florida and Florida Atlantic University, failed to meet the proposed minimum standards. President Judy Bense will discuss the impact on UWF at a town hall 11 a.m. Tuesday (Mar 4).
Meantime, another priority of the joint House and Senate Work Plan is the goal of ‘establishing Florida as the top “Welcome Home” state for the military, veterans and their families.’
This includes a new GI Bill in Florida, which will expand educational opportunities and benefits for active duty military and veterans in the state. Such legislation would provide free tuition to National Guardsmen through online instruction. Also, there will be additional support to buffer military bases in the state, and plans call for older veterans to have access to a veteran’s nursing home in the state.
Work Plan priority number three calls for protecting the state’s vulnerable residents; with additional nursing home reform for the elderly, as well as child welfare reform.
“I was shocked to learn that 598 serial sexually violent predators have slipped through the cracks of the Florida criminal justice and civil commitments systems and have re-offended, gone back out and committed other heinous acts,” Gaetz says.
Proposed legislation calls for a mandatory minimum of 50 years in prison. Senate President Gaetz; Senator Greg Evers of Baker, sponsor of Senate Bill 528; and other bill sponsors, will gather Tuesday -- Day 1 of the session -- to take up the sexual offender legislation.
Among the proposed safeguards are extended monitoring after release, funding expansion of the Guardian Ad Litem Program, increased funding for Child Advocacy Centers, and better regulations addressing human trafficking.
Additionally, the House and Senate are on a page with Gov. Rick Scott when it comes to Work Plan priority number four. They’ve joined in calling for tax cuts of $500 million, primarily in the form of lower vehicle registration fees.
And, the final priority in the legislature’s five-point Work Plan is continued reform of the state’s ethics laws and retirement system to improve government accountability and efficiency.
Senate President Gaetz believes members of the House and Senate will come together to pass their priority legislation, and he says they’re generally in-line with the Governor except in the level of funding for higher education. Gaetz and Weatherford support an increase for colleges and universities, but with that funding tied to performance and graduation rates.
Again, that issue will be the topic of a town hall by UWF President Judy Bense beginning at 11 a.m. Tuesday, March 4, following Gov. Scott’s annual State of the State Address and opening of the 2014 Legislation session. Other bills of note would address the flood insurance crisis in Florida, allow the use of medical marijuana in certain cases, provide application for concealed weapons permits, and raise the speed limit on rural interstate highways to 75 mph.