The Florida legislative session ended this past Saturday. It should have ended on Friday, but 60 days was not enough for this group to complete their work. For a body that claims to care about not wasting taxpayer’s money, they sure waste quite a bit of it almost every year because they cannot complete their work in the time allotted. Let’s take a look at what the legislature did and didn’t get done this year.
One good thing they did was put forth some serious money towards fixing the water problems that were plaguing both the east and west coasts of Florida last year. Nearly $700 million will go towards improving water quality and Everglades restoration. I really hope this is enough to stop the toxic algae that flowed from Lake Okeechobee towards both coasts. If tourists stop coming to our state because the beaches stink and are not safe to swim in, our state budget will suffer in unimaginable ways.
All of our tax money they are spending on environmental improvement very well might go down a drain or right into a fracking well. The legislature failed to pass a hydraulic fracturing ban again this year. Their ineptitude on this issue is beyond comprehension. The excuse this year was that the bill that was put forth did not ban all types of fracking and that is why some legislators were against it. How hard could it be to write a bill that states all types of fracking will not be issued a permit in Florida? The people of Florida do not want hydraulic fracturing in this state. We all realize water quality is at the core of everything that makes Florida the special state that it is, but year after year the legislature fails to get this done. It makes me mad enough to want to start a petition drive to get a fracking ban directly on the ballot.
One of the ugliest things the Florida legislature did this year was make it harder for citizens, who are tired of watching the legislature flounder in their incompetence, take matters directly to the electorate. At the last minute, as an amendment to an unrelated measure, they made it harder and more onerous for citizens’ initiatives to get on the ballot. This malarkey would probably not pass the scrutiny of the normal legislative process. That is why it was passed in the manner that it was. The fact that this could be thrown in and passed at the last minute, and that we have to wait yet another year for a ban on fracking is an example of everything that is wrong with Florida politics today.
The legislature did take baby steps towards improving Florida’s abysmal ranking in teacher pay and per-student funding, but they could not even find the courage to appropriate the amount that Governor DeSantis asked to go towards public education. In an example of the games that are played at the expense of the majority of Florida’s students, the legislators will claim that there was an increase of $242 per student in funding. In reality, it is only a $75 increase in the base student allocation that districts receive. The majority of the claimed increase comes from shifting funding for bonuses under the “Best and Brightest” program from the state to the districts.
While the increase in funding for public education is a good thing, the legislature did irreparable harm to traditional public schools by passing a huge increase to funding for vouchers for students to attend private and religious schools. Those schools are not required to admit students with learning or behavior problems. Those schools are not graded or even required to give the same tests that public schools are required to give. The icing on this crap cake is the $250,000 appropriated to the state Department of Education for litigation expenses. A voucher program, similar to the one just passed, was already ruled unconstitutional by the courts before. The legislators are hoping for a different outcome in the courts this time when the lawsuits that are sure to come are filed.
Eric lives in Suwannee County and is a public school educator. He is an independent contractor. You can reach him at email@example.com.