House passes massive $419M schools bill; Senate yet to vote

The Florida House on Monday endorsed a $419 million, 278-page K-12 public schools bill less than 66 hours after they received it — ignoring the demands from many parents, teachers and school administrators, who wanted the Legislature to reject it.

HB 7069 passed the Republican-led House by a 73-36 vote, along party-lines with all but one Democrat — Miami Rep. Roy Hardemon — opposed.

The sweeping bill — one of many in the 2017-18 budget package — still needs to pass the Senate Monday evening in order for it to be sent to Republican Gov. Rick Scott for his approval.

MORE: “Parents, school leaders urge ‘no’ vote on mammoth education bill”

Monday is the final day of the 2017 legislative session after lawmakers extended the session until 11:59 p.m. to vote on a budget, their single constitutional obligation.

As the House debated HB 7069 for less than an hour, Democrats said the few, narrow positives they saw in the wide-ranging education bill — such as daily school recess for most elementary school students — didn’t outweigh the larger policy reforms that most concerned them, such as the $140 million “Schools of Hope” program or requiring school districts to share with charter schools their local tax revenue earmarked for capital projects.

The new “Hope” program — a top priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes — is largely an incentive for privately managed charter schools to compete against perpetually failing traditional public schools in mostly low-income areas, while offering some resources to those existing neighborhood schools so they can improve.

Democrats provided input to improve the House policy, but many remained opposed after seeing the end result. The rewrite of HB 7069 — which ballooned after Corcoran demanded it include various education policy unrelated to spending — was released Friday evening after days of private budget talks between House and Senate leaders.

Miami Democratic Rep. Kionne McGhee called the legislation as a whole “corporate welfare” and “one of the worst bills I’ve seen in my time in [the] legislature.”

The bill has myriad proposals gleaned from at least 55 House and Senate bills filed this session, as well as language never before discussed or considered publicly or — in one case — that was already defeated by a Senate committee.

“There are some hard parts that I can’t digest,” said Broward County Rep. Shevrin Jones, a West Park Democrat who is the top Democrat on the House Education Committee.

“This bill could be a disaster for traditional public schools and I just can’t vote for it,” Rep. Richard Stark, D-Weston, agreed.

The Senate is where HB 7069 could potentially face trouble. The chamber’s 15-member Democratic caucus took a formal position Monday morning to vote against HB 7069; it would take only four Republicans to join them for the bill to fail.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, began the day’s floor session by addressing senators’ unease about HB 7069. He asked the chamber to support the bill and let Scott decide whether to veto — almost foreshadowing that such a veto was probable.

Florida Legislature(2)

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater

Mark Wallheiser AP

“If we pass a bill today … when the light of day is more fully shown on it, the governor has the right and the responsibility to look at that bill and make individual decisions about what he allows to become law,” Latvala said. “In this case, in my opinion — my personal choice is going to be to let him do that … We’ll pass it down and let him do his job.”

A two-thirds’ vote in both chambers — 80 votes in the House and 27 votes in the Senate — would be necessary to override a veto, and Monday’s vote indicates it probably wouldn’t have that support in the House.

In a glaring mistake that he took in stride, Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. accidentally voted against HB 7069. As pre-K-12 education budget chairman, Diaz helped spearhead the bill and was in charge of fielding questions about it on the House floor. Diaz changed his vote five minutes after the vote, but that doesn’t change the official tally.

Latvala said the 2017-18 budget — including its numerous policy bills, of which HB 7069 is just one — was a package that had to be approved in its “entirety,’ or lawmakers risk sending themselves in to special session this summer.

“Voting one down and pulling it out could sink the whole ship,” Latvala said.

He said, though, if a conforming bill were defeated while the rest of the budget passed, the money appropriated in that single bill would, by default, go into the state’s reserve fund.

MORE: “Senate Appropriations chairman on massive budget bill: ‘We won’t do this again under my watch’ ”

Latvala on the Senate floor addressed the controversy surrounding HB 7069, particularly that such a massive bill came with no warning, with little time for Floridians and lawmakers to analyze it and with no chance to amend it.

Latvala took responsibility for allowing HB 7069 to get out of hand, saying: “I could have cut that off anytime; I could have cut that off at the beginning by going to [President Joe Negron, R-Stuart] and saying it just wasn’t what we needed to do. I didn’t do that.”

“If there’s fault to be had with one of these bills that has gotten a little bit out of control, just understand that we won’t do this again under my watch on this [Appropriations] committee — I promise you,” he said.

This story will be updated.

How they voted

Here is how Florida House members from South Florida voted Thursday on a bill (HB 7069) that would enact $419 million in various policies and programs affecting K-12 public schools.

YES

Bryan Avila, R-Miami; Michael Bileca, R-Miami; Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami; Roy Hardemon, D-Miami; George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale; Jeanette Nuñez, R-Miami; Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes; Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo; and Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami.

NO

Robert Asencio, D-Miami; Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah; Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale; Nicholas Duran, D-Miami; Joe Geller, D-Aventura; Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek; Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach; Shevrin Jones, D-West Park; Kionne McGhee, D-Miami; Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs; Sharon Pritchett, D-Miami Gardens; David Richardson, D-Miami Beach; Barrington Russell, D-Lauderdale Lakes; Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami; Richard Stark, D-Weston; Barbara Watson, D-Miami Gardens; and Patricia Williams, D-Lauderdale Lakes.

NOT VOTING

Daisy Baez, D-Coral Gables; and Katie Edwards, D-Plantation.