The State Legislature 2012 Session is under way. The Legislature heard speeches from the Speaker of the House, the Senate President, and the Governor. The Governor reiterated his commitment to increasing education funding by $1 billion dollars.
House Speaker Dean Cannon used his speech at the opening of the 2012 legislative session on Tuesday to warn that the state university system is "racing toward mediocrity" and to announce that this session will be the time to start at least laying the groundwork for changes. Speaker Cannon, who has named few other priorities beyond the budget and redistricting for the session, is one of several top lawmakers to call for scrutiny of Florida's higher education system while suggesting biggest legislative changes may come in later years. Speaker Cannon said lawmakers have contributed to some of the bigger, more complicated issues that may be on the menu for coming years "by parochially advancing the interests of our local university or college at the expense of the system as a whole…We have a higher education system with no clear mission, universities pursuing overlapping agendas despite limited public resources, and our community colleges rapidly transforming themselves into four-year degree institutions."
One of the first efforts in education reform is a bill filed (SB 1366) in December by Sen. Don Gaetz which would require the state Board of Education, Department of Economic Opportunity and Board of Governors to form a "unified plan" to develop students' science and math skills and build a high-wage workforce. The measure would also require DEO to compile reports on job placement and salaries earned by graduates of various degree programs — information that was also sought by Gov. Rick Scott in a recent data request. Sen. Gaetz said the measure could set the stage for efforts in sessions to come, when he will be Senate President.
The House Higher Education Committee held a hearing on Friday morning with the Presidents of the University of Florida and Florida State University leading off a series of discussions with each of the Universities seeking their input on ways to reform the system. (President Bradshaw will make his presentation next Wednesday.) Both Presidents agree on the need for the legislature to set goals first and then develop metrics and benchmarks to measure progress and foster accountability within the system. They also advocated Bright Futures pay for summer school, and not pay again for General Education courses already completed at HS level. Both major research Universities support increased tuition for STEM courses if coupled with accountability of spending. Both reject state micro-managing degree programs offered. Both support improving national ratings as key to increased quality of students, grants, venture capital, and economic development within the state.
House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee
Wednesday morning, the House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee received reports from their members’ site visits. FGCU’s site visit was included and Rep. Passidomo and Rep. Oliva both gave reports on what they learned at FGCU.
Rep. Passidomo’s comments included; our well planned comprehensive campus master plan, energy efficiency, our public/private partnership solar field and solar research, which included solar power storage. During the committee Rep. Alan Williams commented he wished other universities followed our lead. Rep. Passidomo highlighted FGCU’s return on investment and specifically our percent of graduates finding employment along with our deficit in FTE funding.
Rep. Oliva’s presentation began with his impression of our strong sense of community and interactive culture on campus. He equated it to what businesses, like his, strive to create. He liked that the campus didn’t feel like an institution. Rep. Oliva also urged the committee to address our FTE funding deficit.
Chairman O’Toole acknowledged both comments about our funding and said it is something she will be looking into.
House Higher Education Committee
Formal presentations intended to expand member knowledge about the SUS and how it compares nationally as well as comparing Florida Universities to one another.
House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam presented 11 energy policy proposals to the House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee, urging legislators to use modesty in getting major energy legislation passed this year after failed attempts the previous three years. Among his proposals were eliminating direction in state law for setting a renewable energy requirement and allowing utilities to charge more than "avoided" cost for renewable energy projects.
The House redistricting subcommittees approved the maps that they would send to the full committee next week. The votes cut the number of options to three each for the state House and for Congress. The Senate plan mirrors the proposal developed by the upper chamber, under an agreement that the two chambers will use each other's maps as starting points.
The Senate redistricting panel approved the plans on both the state Senate and Congressional plans and is scheduled for a floor vote next week. Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami, was among those who supported the plan after raising concerns that a set of alternative maps proposed by Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston, would diminish minority access. Rich withdrew her maps but said she plans to resubmit in time to have them taken up during floor sessions next week, after making a few tweaks. The state Democratic Party helped produce the plans, in part, Rich said, because the minority party did not have its own staff. Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Destin, said he hoped lawmakers would pass the maps quickly enough that the state Supreme Court could complete its 30-day legal review in time for lawmakers to revisit the maps, should they have to, without holding a special session. Meanwhile, the Senate Ethics and Elections Subcommittee voted to introduce a proposed committee bill that would give lawmakers and the courts a little more time to resolve any legal issues that arise, by moving the state's primary from Aug. 14 to Aug. 21. Committee Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portillia, R-Miami, said the main goal of the measure is to push back the qualifying deadline for state elections, allowing an extra week to prepare for the election.
FGCU’s Inaugural Class of State Legislature Interns has begun their educational experience with their member offices this week. Adriane Fike and Evelyn Calderon, both Political Science majors, were selected to work with members of the State legislature during session to learn, first hand, how our state government operates during the intense 60 day legislative session. Evelyn is interning for Rep. Matt Hudson, Naples, who is Chairman of the important Health Care Appropriations Committee. Adriane is interning for Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, Fort Myers, who is the Deputy Majority Leader in the Senate. Both have been adapting well to the demanding schedule and are enjoying the opportunity of being in the middle of the action in Tallahassee and seeing what they learned in the classroom be applied in our State Legislature.