With the 2019 Legislative Session in the books, we wanted to give you a bipartisan look at what came to pass – and, perhaps, what issues may be tackled in the year to come.
What many don’t realize about our paths to the Legislature is that the two of us worked together for five years in the educational advocacy. And, before we were legislators, we were friends. The polarization that you see on television is not the polarization we see in the Florida House. Each day, we fight the battle of ideas and, when we adjourn, we break bread as a group of citizens committing to doing what we believe is best for our communities and our constituents.
While much was accomplished in these 60 days, here is just a brief glimpse at some of the key issues:
Education and School Safety
Florida saw a $243 increase in the per-student spending for Florida’s public schools, with more than a quarter of a billion dollars allocated for teacher bonuses. We saw the expansion of school choice programs like the Family Empowerment Scholarship, focused on serving low-income students, as well as a significant focus on Career and Technical Education.
As it relates to school safety, significant changes were made in school funding as well. Each school board and charter school governing board will now be required to adopt an active assailant plan by Oct. 1 and conduct annual training. A standardized threat assessment process, used to evaluate the risk posed by a student, must be developed by Aug. 1, with the Department of Education now able to withhold salaries from school board members and superintendents if they do not comply with state reporting requirements. School mental health plans will be required to include a suicide prevention component and increases school-based mental health funding to $100 million, an increase of $30 million.
Thousands of children in Florida will have greater access to health care now with funding steered to the Florida Healthy Kids Corp., a public-private organization that reduces the cost of health insurance plans to children up to 18 in low- and middle-income families. During the budget process, an agreement was struck to relax the Medicaid rules under the Working People with Disabilities Program to allow adults with disabilities to earn more money and not lose their Medicaid benefits. Legislation was passed that would significantly expand the scope of telehealth services in the state, as well as legislation to create prescription drug importation programs that could let state agencies and private pharmacies import less expensive drugs from reputable and regulated suppliers in Canada and elsewhere.
The Legislature allocated a record $650 million to Everglades Restoration and water quality projects.
One of the most debated issues this session dealt with traffic issues in Miami. Led by Rep. Bryan Avila and Sen. Manny Diaz, legislation was passed that would restructure the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, with the long-term focus of lowering tolls and enhancing our transportation experience.
Texting and Driving
After several years of being brought before the Legislature, this was the session that finally outlawed the dangerous practice of texting while driving. For those of us who spend much of our week on the busy roadways of Miami, this should come as a great relief, as the number of accidents caused by distracted driving continues to rise. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jackie Toledo (R-Tampa) and Rep. Emily Slosberg (D-Fort Lauderdale), was signed by the Governor earlier this month and will surely save lives.
In addition to the continuation of both hurricane preparedness and back-to-school tax holidays, the Legislatures tax package will serve as a more than $100 million tax cut for Florida’s working families.
In the next few months, we will be available (in our respective districts) – and we ask that you come to sit and talk with us. Tell us what issues concern you – and what you’d like to see prioritized during the 2020 Legislative Session.
There is so much common ground that each of us can find if we’re willing to work together. Both of us know this – and we look forward to much more in the year to come.
Vance Alopis can be reached at email@example.com
Nick Duran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org