The 2019 Florida Legislative Session has come to an end after a full 60 day session and one additional day to pass the budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. As we reflect on all that happened during this session, the Florida PTA Legislation Committee is proud of the results after all of the hard work that was put in to ensure all our children were well represented. This year, the Legislation Committee had boots on the ground every day of Committee Weeks and Legislative Session, ensuring not a day went by where Florida PTA wasn’t advocating for all of Florida's children. Below is a wrap-up of some of the key bills Florida PTA focused on in Tallahassee this year.
SB 7030 – Implementation of the Recommendations of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission – This bill, commonly referred to as the School Safety bill, increased access to mental health resources as well as mental health professionals for our children in school. Great funding for this access was also provided in this bill. It also requires the Florida Safe Schools Assessment Tool to be the primary security assessment tool used by school districts. However, this bill also allows for the expansion of the Guardian Program to include the arming of teachers who volunteer to take on this responsibility. While this expansion is voluntary and school districts need to vote to opt in, Florida PTA was vocal on our position that trained law enforcement officers be the ONLY people armed on our school campuses. Florida PTA continues to actively advocate at local school board meetings to ensure school districts do NOT opt into this expansion of the Guardian Program.
SB 7070 – K-12 Education – This bill revised the qualifications by which students can receive scholarships to go to private schools as well as created a new Family Empowerment Scholarship Program which takes additional tax dollars to send children to private schools. While Florida PTA encourages families to make the best educational decisions for their children, this should not be done with our tax dollars. Florida PTA was again vocal on our position that all schools who are receiving tax dollars should have certified teachers, teach rigorous standards, and be held to the same high accountability measures public schools are expected to achieve.
HB 7123 – Taxation – This bill became a priority of Florida PTA when an amendment was filed that would have required local school districts to share referendum money for schools with all charter schools, whether or not the language on the ballot clearly stated traditional public schools. While the initial amendment made this retroactive, which would have affected counties such as Palm Beach and Miami-Dade, the language was changed to only affect referendums going forward. Now all school referendum monies must be shared with charter schools.
HB 107 – Wireless Communications While Driving – This bill, commonly referred to as the No Texting and Driving bill finally passed this year after years of advocacy as part of the FL DNT TXT N DRV coalition. HB 107 makes texting while driving a primary offense, meaning that you can be pulled over for texting while driving. In addition, it makes road work zones, school crossings, and school zones hands free zones. Information on the race and ethnicity of each person who receives a ticket issued will be collected and reported to ensure there is no racial profiling.
HB 7125 – Public Safety – This became the criminal justice reform package which included key changes to areas of juvenile justice such as the increase of the felony theft amount to $750, the first increase since 1986. In addition, it eliminated some of the direct file language for certain offenses reducing the number of charges that require a juvenile to be charged as an adult.
HB 7071 – Workforce Education – This bill created new pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs for students as well as secondary and postsecondary workforce education providing more options for our students.
SB 190 - Higher Education – This bill provided greater flexibility to students receiving Bright Futures Scholarships including providing additional time by which scholarship funds can be used, expands Bright Futures to include a new program, and provide students with explanation of secondary options.
HB 1027 – Office of Early Learning – This bill establishes the Office of Early Learning to develop training for early learning providers to ensure higher standards and quality of the services being provided.
SB 66 – Drinking Water in Public Schools – This bill would have required filters be added to water fountains at schools. While it was heard and passed in one committee, it didn’t make it any further and will come back next year.
HB 361 – Mental Health Services – Commonly referred to as the Baker Act bill, this legislation would require schools to conduct a good faith effort to notify a parent/guardian of a child who is being Baker Acted prior to them being transported away from the school. This bill will also be back next year.
SB 624 – Youth in Solitary Confinement – This bill would have prohibited youth to be held in solitary confinement by the Department of Corrections. While this bill made it through 2 committees, it died in Appropriations. This bill will also be back next year.