Calling it an “incredible session,” Gov. Rick Scott joined with Florida lawmakers to bring the 2018 regular legislative session to a close Sunday afternoon.
Scott and legislative leaders pointed to passage of education reform packages for public school and higher education, requiring nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have generators to power air conditioning units during power outage, placing a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would make it more difficult for the Legislature to raise taxes and fees, and a $169 million tax cut package that includes sales tax holidays on back-to-school clothing and hurricane supplies.
“But. probably the most important thing we did this year is we listened to the families of Parkland,” Scott said. “In a very short period of time we came together and passed historic legislation to make our schools safer.”
The final three weeks of the session were dominated by efforts to pass a school safety bill in an effort to prevent another mass school shooting like the one that happened in Parkland on Valentine’s Day killing 17 students and teachers. Work on the bill delayed negotiations on the state budget, forcing lawmakers to extend the session by two days in order to meet the 72-hour “cooling off” period required by the Florida Constitution between the time a budget agreement is reached and when it can be voted on.
Scott signed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act into law Friday. Shortly after the signing, the National Rifle Association filed a federal lawsuit challenging the law, which raises the minimum age for buying all firearms from 18 to 21. The NRA says that provision violates the constitutional rights of law abiding citizens by taking away the right to buy a gun to anyone under 21.
“I’m going to fight for this bill. I believe it does the right thing,” Scott said Sunday. “I believe we have to recognize that we want to protect everybody’s rights, but we also want to protect our kids and grandkids school.”
The law also imposes a three-day waiting period on all gun purchases and bans the sale of “bump stocks,” devices that allow a semi-automatic weapon to be converted to an automatic firearm.
It also provides $400 million to harden school facilities, hire more school resource officers and provide additional mental health services in schools. The accused gunman in the Parkland shooting had a history of mental health issues that managed to fall through the cracks of the system.
“This bill provides our state with a tremendous opportunity for early intervention in schools and local communities” said Melanie Brown Woofter, interim president/CEO of the Florida Council for Community Mental Health. “We applaud Senate, House leadership and the Governor for recognizing the importance of mental health and for their resolve to fund services for school age children and their families. “
Also Sunday, Scott signed the House and Senate education bills into law. The measures were priorities of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart.
Scott signed both the House omnibus education legislation, HB 7055, a sweeping K-12 policy bill. Among other things, it would allow parents of students who are bullied in schools to obtain a voucher that can be used to send their child to a private school.
“Violence, intimidation, and abuse should never be a part of a child’s educational experience,” said Corcoran. “Before today students, teachers, and parents had few options to address such life-changing situations. With the creation of the Hope scholarship – a first of its kind – victims will now be empowered to speak up and proactively change their futures.”
The measure has come under attack from the Florida Education Association, the state’s teachers’ union because of provisions that would decertify the FEA if the union membership falls below 50 percent of the total number of teachers.
Scott also signed SB 4 , a higher education package. Among other things the Senate legislation would expand the Bright Futures scholarship program that will provide more financial aid to more than 90,000 students attending state universities and colleges.
“The policy and funding components of this legislation will help more students graduate on-time, while elevating the national reputation of Florida’s excellent state universities,” Negron said.
By late Sunday afternoon, the Legislature had passed an $89 billion spending plan for the next fiscal year. It will be the last budget for ‘Scott, Negron and Corcoran who will leave office at the end of the year due to term limits.
Now that the session is over, Scott is expected to announce he’ll enter the race for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Bill Nelson.
Corcoran is expected to announce he’ll seek the Republican nomination for governor.
“I’m going to take the next few weeks, figure things out,” Corcoran said. “I’m going to enjoy the moment,” Corcoran said referring to the completion of the session.