The Florida House voted on party lines to approve its $69.2 billion spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year on Thursday. The 79-38 vote sets the stage for negotiations with the Senate, which is on track to approve its budget in the next two weeks.
The Senate has indicated it may trim more general revenue than the House in health and human services to partially offset rising Medicaid expenditures. It may also spend slightly more on K-12 schools. The House higher education budget increases base tuition for state universities, while the Senate does not increase base tuition but still leaves the option for state universities to increase differential tuition an additional 15%. The Senate budget includes a one-time $400,000,000 cut to general revenue to force universities to utilize their carry forward balances. We do not know, yet, how that $400 million cut will be distributed amongst the state universities.
The Senate may release its budget and conforming bills as soon as today, and is scheduled take up its budget in committee on Wednesday. Senate Budget Chairman JD Alexander said the chamber would likely approve its budget on the floor the week after the committee vote.
Senate Higher Education Conforming Issues
Clarifies that annual submission of the FAFSA is required but provides for an alternative form if parents decide they do not wish to submit the FAFSA.
Authorizes an additional supplement for upper division STEM fields that will be specified in the General Appropriations Act.
Changes the allowable time for enrollment from 3 years to 2 years with exceptions for those who enlist in the military directly out of high school.
Limits Gold Seal awards to job-related career programs.
Requires Boards of Trustees of colleges and universities to conduct a public audit overview during a board meeting if the audit contains significant findings.
Requires the Auditor General to notify the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee of any audit review which indicates that a state university or state college has failed to take corrective action in response to a recommendation which was included in the two preceding audit reports. The committee may take appropriate action, as required, including further written documentation from the governing body, committee appearance and testimony, and financial penalties.
Establishes the Florida Degree Consortium:
Merges the Distance Learning Consortium and FACTS.org in the new Consortium.
Create the Degree Completion Pilot Program in the new consortium to facilitate online degrees for adults with prior college or university credit.
Requires the Florida Fund for Minority Teachers, Inc.:
Authorizes the University of Florida to exceed the 5% bonding limitation on the Activities and Service (A&S) fee to fund the renovation and expansion of the student union (Chair Lynn has indicated this will only be done for UF's student union project).
Authorizes the BOG to approve transfer of unused budget authority from E&G Student and Other Fees Trust Fund.
Provides for an excess hour surcharge over 110 percent for students enrolling for the first time in 2012-2013, instead of 115 percent.
The same day the state Senate gave final approval to its legislative and congressional redistricting plans, the Florida Democratic Party filed a lawsuit. A group of residents backed by the party are challenging the state's congressional plan in a Leon County circuit court, arguing the proposed map and seven individual districts violate new constitutional requirements approved by voters in 2010. A second lawsuit will be filed on behalf of Fair Districts, NAACP, LOWV, and Common Cause also challenging the maps as soon as the Governor signs them into law. The new provisions require districts to be compact, contiguous, and respectful of geographic and political boundaries while not favoring incumbents or political parties. Federal law requires protection of minority districts
There are dozens of incumbent members whose districts were drawn together or they were drawn out of their districts in the House redistricting plan. An example of this is Finance and Tax Chairman Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, was drawn into a district with Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando.
Critics of the Senate plan, including Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich, have pointed out that the upper chamber does not see the same disruptions, but Senate Redistricting Committee Chairman Don Gaetz defended the plan, noting that the House has three times as many districts, making dislocation of members more likely. The congressional maps passed 32-5, while the state legislative plan passed 31-7 in the Senate.
Aside from any lawsuits, the maps will also have to pass muster with the state Supreme Court and the federal government before they become final.
Florida Polytechnic University
The Senate Higher Education committee released details of their conforming bills including one that creates a new and completely independent Florida Polytechnic University. The bill still requires Florida Polytechnic University to meet the milestones in the Board of Governor’s motion by December 31, 2016 but with no specified penalties for failure to meet those requirements. The bill also requires the University of South Florida to allow current USF Polytechnic students to complete their degree at USF. The University of Florida will serve in an advisory/consulting capacity to the new university.
SB 1556 that gives state universities the same discretion as the state college in regards to increasing the CITF fee was heard in the Senate Higher Education committee on Thursday. Due to several committees scheduled at the same time, only 4 of the 7 committee members were present. After the bill was presented by Sen. Flores’ aide it appeared that the bill did not have the support of 3 of the 4 members present and was temporarily passed (meaning they will delay the bill until the next hearing). CITF fees are used for the construction of student support buildings such as student unions and student recreation facilities that PECO funds are barred from supporting. Since the committee was unable to complete their scheduled agenda, which included confirmation of appointments, the committee is likely to meet again. Therefore, the bill may have an opportunity to be heard.
Student BOG Representation
The bill was heard in the House Education committee on Tuesday. Two amendments were offered and you can see those below. Testimony was received by UCF Student Government President in opposition of the bill, FSA Chairman in opposition of the bill, and FSU Dir of Governmental Affairs in support of the bill and said the changes to the FSA constitution, that allowed non-dues paying members to vote and be elected to BOG seat, did not go far enough and were not binding as they can be changed at any time. Rep. Matt Gaetz said his prime concern with the current structure is that FSA has the ability to charge dues.
Opens up BOG seat to any student (previously student body presidents only) and requires an application process through the Governor’s office which is standard for all executive appointments - PASSED
Does not allow the Governor to appoint a BOG representative from the same university during his term in office – FAILED (This amendment will be reintroduced on the House floor by Rep. Bullard)
The bill passed the committee, as amended, overwhelmingly. Next stop for the House version is the House floor.
The Senate companion was heard in the Senate Higher Education Committee on Thursday. Several student body presidents traveled to Tallahassee to be present or speak before the committee. Student Body President Lauren Schuetz attended the hearing and expressed her oppositionto the bill. The bill had one amendment that alters the language in the constitution from the chairman of FSA to a student body president elected amongst themselves. However, this amendment was withdrawn and the bill passed the committee as having the student BOG seat be a gubernatorial appointment that is limited to student body presidents.
There are still several steps before this change is made to the constitution. The biggest one being that it must be approved by all Florida voters, on the next November ballot, by a 60% margin.