2020 Legislative session review:

The 2020 legislative session ended March 19th with the passage of the $93.2 billion 2020-2021 appropriations budget. A discussion of bills related to child protection and education follows:

Bills were passed to provide $500 million for teacher salary increases, a 3% across-the-board raise for state employees and 10% increases for Child Protection Investigators (CPI) in the Department of Children and Families (DCF).

The teacher salary increase was scaled back from the Governor’s $600 million request with $400 million designated to raise starting salaries to $47,500 and the remaining $100 million to deal with resulting inequities for teachers with a few years of service. Teachers Unions lobbied for adding the unpopular teacher bonus program to the salary increase pool. Instead, the legislature eliminated the bonus program, thereby reducing K-12 funding by that $285 million.

The 3% raise, to be effective October 1, 2020, for 113,000 state employees is overdue recognition of the effect of inflation on the purchasing power of salaries which do not see regular increases. It should be remembered that there are four or five times as many personnel directly providing public services (employed by school districts and private contractors) throughout the 31 state departments and agencies who are not state employees.

The 10% increase for CPI’s is much needed recognition for part of DCF front-line personnel. Additional funding is also needed for DCF caseworkers employed by private contractors. The 2020-21 proposed DCF budget recognized the need for a comprehensive quality assurance (QA) effort and requested $14 million of funding for an organizational restructuring and establishment of a headquarters QA department whose staff is to be embedded in regional operations. Senate bill 1326 supported that proposal and was drafted to place the underlying evidence-based best practices into statute. As reported in a March 13 Tampa Bay Times editorial, an inequity in funding exists across the state’s 20 Judicial/DCF districts with funding per child ranging from $8,193 to $17,418. The bill passed to be effective July 1, 2020 “subject to an appropriation”. It appears that $5.3 million of the $14 million requested is included in funding bill HB 5001. The funding inequity does not appear to have been addressed. It is expected that the bill’s sponsor, Senator Wilton Simpson, who is the incoming Senate President, will introduce a bill to provide the necessary funding in the next legislative session.

Florida’s constitution was written to allow citizens to propose amendments to it. Such amendments, known as Citizen Initiated Constitutional Amendments, whose wording must pass scrutiny by the Florida Supreme Court, must also collect over 700,000 petition signatures over a cross-section of the state to be placed on the ballot. The measure must receive at least 60% of the vote to pass. This process is the only way citizens have to legislate their will when the Legislature refuses to act. During this session, the legislature passed a bill to further limit citizen initiatives. The Governor signed the bill into law on April 8. Opposition groups will seek its repeal.

Once again, the legislature failed to address the issue of remote sales tax collection, thereby missing the opportunity to collect as much a $1 billion in sales tax on purchases of goods from out of state and out of country sellers. Most states have changed their sales and use tax laws to require payment by the seller rather than the buyer. SB 126 was unanimously reported out of the Finance Committee but died as its companion bill was not considered in the House. Every day which passes is a day of lost revenue.