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What's in store for Florida's 2013 legislative session

Legislators prepare to duke it out over more of the same: abortion, workers' rights, education, voting issues and campaign finance reform

Photo: , License: N/A

Photo: , License: N/A


Moreover, says Wright, at almost every turn, legislators are dropping in exemptions for nontraditional teachers, specifically from the teacher-performance and tenure laws set to go into effect in 2014. In this new, Bush-led scenario, the money follows the student, thus eliminating the middleman of the school district or the public school teacher. That sort of shifting accountability led Republican Orange County Public Schools chairman Bill Sublette to state in public that he would prefer that the state just "end the charade" of involving charter schools in public school business, thus forcing an unfair competition between the two.

Even if Senate Democrats – who last year managed to block the bill from passage on the last day of the legislative session – are publicly decrying their inability to muster that much force this year, Wright remains strategically optimistic. For one, Gov. Scott, who would have to sign the bill into law, didn't actually meet with Bush last month. Also, given that Democrats have increased their number in the legislative body to 14, they have some leverage. Wright specifically refers to House Speaker Weatherford's proposal (HB 7011, sponsored by state Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford) to shift state employees' pension plans – including those of incoming teachers – into 401(k) accounts. That move hit a hitch last month when independent studies revealed that the savings might not outweigh the costs. Likewise, the governor's key ambition to cut manufacturing taxes in order to create more jobs in Florida will require a two-thirds vote from the Senate, which could give Democrats the upper hand. Regardless, says Wright, public opinion is on the side of the teachers.

"Those who are in office now are beginning to see that parents have had enough," he says. "They don't like a lot of this stuff."

CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM

On Jan. 30, House leadership and House Rules Chairman Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill, announced their plan (HB 569) to overhaul what had become an increasingly troublesome – and seemingly corrupt – campaign finance system. The reform was a cornerstone of incoming Speaker Weatherford's crusade for greater transparency, and at least on the surface, an objective step forward for Florida politics. Under the proposal, the state's 700 Committees of Continuous Existence (slush funds used to divert unlimited campaign cash) would be eliminated in exchange for an increase in maximum campaign contributions from individuals for state races from $500 to $10,000. In effect, Weatherford asserted, the bill would simply adjust the goalposts to match the influx of cash brought into politics in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling. Individuals would be able to keep up with corporations, and everything would be transparent instead of bundled and kept in the shadows.

"We think everyone has to kind of get over the five stages of grief for those who hate the amount of resources that go into politics," Weatherford told reporters, according to the Tampa Bay Times. "I don't like it either. But we have numerous rulings from the Supreme Court and we can't change that. So given those confines, there are decisions we have to make about how we allow money to be spent in politics."

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