In a report to Historic City News from Governor Crist, the Governor commended the Florida Legislature for agreeing to maximize funding for K-12 education by approving guidelines for a new 15-year Seminole compact.
Governor Crist has until August 31, 2009, to negotiate an agreement based on the guidelines developed by the Legislature.
Other accomplishments achieved during the 2009 legislative session include the following:
Employment and Training – Improving access to career education and employment services, $455.1 million is appropriated to provide Florida’s workforce with a pathway to increased productivity, career advancement and economic prosperity. The funding includes $104.6 million in Fiscal Year 2009-10, provided by the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, to benefit the immediate reemployment needs of Floridians. Governor Crist has repeatedly highlighted Florida’s job matching Web site www.EmployFlorida.com for Floridians seeking employment or to grow their careers.
Ready to Work – Funding for the Ready to Work program has been increased to $7 million, helping ensure job-seekers of all ages obtain the skills needed to excel in the workplace. Through the Ready to Work program, employers such as Shands Jacksonville and Lockheed Martin have reduced turnover among new employees, reduced training costs and given long-time employees the opportunity to learn more and earn more.
Unemployment Compensation – To aid the processing and distribution of unemployment compensation benefits, $125.1 million in funds will facilitate the processing and payment of an estimated $7.2 billion in unemployment compensation benefit payments in Fiscal Year 2009-10. The legislature also enacted Senate Bill 810 which will enable citizens experiencing long-term unemployment to receive up to an additional 20 weeks of unemployment compensation benefits. Each dollar in unemployment compensation benefits paid by the state results in an estimated $1.64 in positive economic benefits to residents and businesses, which helps to sustain jobs and restore consumer confidence. In total, federal recovery dollars will provide increased unemployment compensation benefits for an extended period of time, pumping $1.8 billion into Florida’s economy during the 2008-09 budget year.
Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development
· Quick Action Closing Fund – Provides $13.5 million in incentives to recruit and retain industries providing high wage jobs. This program provides additional resources to help the state attract new and expand existing high-impact businesses. In Fiscal Year 2008-09, economic development projects led to the creation/retention of 17,316 jobs at an average annual wage of $56,334.
Film – $10.8 million is provided to attract, maintain, and grow the state’s film and entertainment industry. First funded in Fiscal Year 2004-05, the state’s total five year investment of $44.8 million in the film and entertainment incentive has resulted in 117 productions that have spent more than $301 million on qualified Florida wages, businesses and services that met the strict parameters of the program. The 38,290 jobs created by these productions put $183.2 million in wages into the pockets of Floridians. Revenues to Florida businesses exceeded $118 million and 83,852 hotel room stays were generated.
VISIT FLORIDA – $25 million for VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s official tourism marketing organization. VISIT FLORIDA works in partnership with the tourism industry to promote the state as a premier tourist destination. VISIT FLORIDA is the state’s official source for travel planning for the state, marketing to consumers, both in the United States and abroad, works with the world’s major travel journalists, represents the state at domestic and international travel trade shows and promotes the state to travel agents and tour operators all over the world. VISIT FLORIDA has many programs to help the state’s numerous tourism businesses and destinations market themselves more effectively and affordably.
Higher Education Reform
Senate Bill 762 – Sponsored by Senator Ken Pruitt and Representative Will Weatherford
In November 2008, Governor Crist proposed a set of university system reforms aimed at strengthening Florida’s 11 state universities while also maintaining access and affordability for students and their families. Senate Bill 762 creates the reforms and allows the universities’ boards of trustees to charge a differential tuition fee of up to 15 percent until it reaches the national average, based on the needs of the university.
To ensure the affordability of higher education, at least 30 percent of the differential tuition must be used for need-based student financial aid, or universities can waive the differential for financially needy students. The boards of trustees must use the balance of the differential tuition for improvements in undergraduate education such as attracting and retaining top-notch faculty and researchers. The proposal also provides stability to the state university system by clarifying university governance at the local and state level, giving university boards of trustees authority over day-to-day operations and personnel while giving the Board of Governors power over long-range planning.
Increased Public School Funding
Governor Crist has worked to maximize funding for Florida’s public schools in tight economic times. Accordingly, the Legislature’s appropriations for public school students reflect a $1.2 billion increase of $28.21 per student for an average of $6,873.07 per student for the 2.6 million K-12 students expected to enroll during the 2009-10 school year.
Education Accountability and Charter School Choice
House Bill 991 – Sponsored by Representative Tom Grady and Senator Stephen Wise
Governor Crist remains committed to charter schools as a critical component to a successful public education system. While a State Senator in 1996, Charlie Crist co-sponsored the original charter school legislation and has promoted public school accountability as Governor, Commissioner of Education, and state senator. The Governor actively supported House Bill 991 because it enables the Florida Department of Education to provide individualized assistance to any school in which all students or specific groups of students are not performing at grade level. The Florida Department of Education may provide tailored academic, curriculum, and personnel support to help these schools improve their students’ academic achievement.
Rewarding Florida’s Excellent Teachers
Governor Crist thanked the Florida Legislature for continued funding for bonuses to Florida teachers who attain certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
Governor Crist remains committed to keeping Floridians safe. The criminal justice system is fully funded at $2.3 billion to accommodate the approximately 100,000 inmates in the system. Accomplishments achieved during the 2009 legislative session include the following:
House Bill 7141 – Sponsored by House Criminal & Civil Justice Policy Council and Senate Military Affairs & Domestic Security Committee
Florida’s 85,000 seaport workers will be relieved of the burden and expense of purchasing multiple badges when working on one or more of Florida’s 12 active public seaports. The legislation maintains Florida’s model-for-the-nation security standards, protecting against both criminal and terrorist acts while maintaining the seaports’ significant contribution as a mainstay of Florida’s economy.
Zero Tolerance Revisions
Senate Bill 1540 – Sponsored by Senator Stephen Wise and Representative Jennifer Carroll
This legislation grants local education officials the flexibility to address minor acts of misconduct occurring in Florida’s public schools without mandatory expulsion or referral to law enforcement and subsequent involvement in the criminal justice system. Education officials will be able to exercise discretion in determining the best approach to specific school incidents that do not pose a serious threat to the safety of students and faculty.
Correctional Officer Radios
Through $5 million in federal stimulus funding, the Department of Corrections will update radio equipment at Florida’s correctional institutions from low band to 800MHz. This investment will add to the safety and well being of the correctional officers who risk their lives each day.
Dori Slosberg and Katie Marchetti Safety Belt Law
Senate Bill 344 –Sponsored by Senator Nan Rich and Representative Rich Glorioso
Signed earlier this week by Governor Crist, violation of the Dori Slosberg and Katie Marchetti Safety Belt Law is a primary enforceable action and will result in a citation. Additionally, the legislation will enable the state to draw down a one-time federal grant of $35.5 million for highway improvements.
House Bill 167 – Sponsored by Representative Joseph Abruzzo and Senator Carey Baker
Governor Crist applauded the Legislature’s efforts to increase energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gases. In addition to receiving $156.4 million in stimulus funding to increase renewable energy and energy efficiencies in Florida, the Legislature established an Energy Star appliance rebate program that enables Florida to receive an additional $18 million in stimulus funds.
Florida’s natural resources and wildlife will continue being preserved through important restoration efforts funded by a $50 million appropriation to conserve water and secure the future of the Everglades.
The Legislature supported the Governor’s request by funding $50 million to continue the restoration of the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. The funding assures that the projects needed for Everglades restoration can continue to restore a more natural water flow and improve water quality. This appropriation supports the coalition of federal, state and local leaders, along with agricultural and environmental stakeholders who are committed to restoring the natural beauty of the “River of Grass” through the 39-year Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and the state’s efforts to restore the Northern Everglades.
Senate Bill 2430 – Sponsored by Senator Al Lawson and Representative Carlos Lopez-Cantera
Access to Florida’s natural treasures is a vital part of what makes our state such a wonderful place to live and visit. Florida is at the forefront of the nation’s land protection efforts and continues to serve as a model for the rest of our country. Senate Bill 2430 will provide priority distributions of documentary stamp tax revenue for the benefit of Florida Forever bonds, Everglades Restoration bonds and Preservation 2000 bonds, authorized prior to July 1, 2009. The Florida Forever program will now continue to move forward with the ability to issue bonds for up to $250 million as currently authorized.
Coral Reef Protection Act
House Bill 1423 – Sponsored by Representative Baxter Troutman and Senator Lee Constantine
This legislation increases the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s ability to protect Florida’s rich seagrass and coral reef resources. Additionally, the bill enhances Florida’s boating safety and boating education programs, addresses the management of abandoned vessels, and revises the handling of confiscated fish and wildlife, providing an opportunity for the productive sale or donation of those resources. Several fee changes will also help support the conservation and preservation of fish and wildlife, as well as enhance youth hunting and fishing opportunities.
PROPERTY TAX RELIEF
Governor Crist, continuing his efforts to reduce the tax burden on Florida homeowners and business property owners, proposed property tax reforms that builds upon previous legislation that resulted in the largest property tax cut in state history. The Florida Legislature approved the following property tax relief:
5-Percent Cap – Sponsored by Senator Evelyn Lynn and Representative Carl Domino, Senate Bill 532 proposes a Constitutional amendment that enhances the tax savings provided by the landmark Constitutional amendment approved by voters in January 2008. If approved, the Constitutional amendment would reduce the growth cap on non-homestead properties from 10 percent to 5 percent.
First-Time Homebuyer Exemption – Also included in the Constitutional amendment proposed by Senate Bill 532, homeowners who previously have not owned a home in Florida would receive a 25-percent exemption, up to $100,000, if the amendment is approved by voters.
Fairness in Tax Assessments – Sponsored by Representative Carlos Lopez-Cantera and Senator Mike Fasano, House Bill 521 implements fairness for property owners who challenge the property appraiser’s assessment of their property value. This legislation will remove the presumption that the property appraiser is correct and requires the party bringing suit to provide evidence for their assessment.
HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES Elder Initiatives – Protecting Florida’s vulnerable seniors is one of the important goals of this administration. The state budget continues the major programs to assist this population, including $8.3 million to provide meals to seniors age 60 and older; and help with the placement and the attainment of jobs for low income seniors.
Children Initiatives – The Legislature increased funding many of the Governor’s initiatives to continue the momentum to improve the health and welfare of Florida’s children, including the following:
· $11.5 million to provide early intervention to address the needs of approximately 4,629 infants and toddlers.
· $27.3 million to continue subsidies for the 3,674 children adopted in Fiscal Year 2007-08 and an estimated 3,225 new adoptions in Fiscal Year 2009-10.
· $3 million to continue providing independent living services to children transitioning out of the foster care system.
· Foster Care – Community-based care for foster care and related services continues to be a priority of the Governor. The Legislature provided $7.7 million to the community based care lead agencies, to continue providing services to children in the foster care system for the estimated 22,000 children currently in foster care.
Persons with Disabilities – The administration and the leadership of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities continue to make progress on eliminating the inherited deficit, once over $100 million. The deficit has been dramatically reduced due to new laws and policies. This year, $19.1 million was provided to cover the remainder of a projected deficit. The Legislature continued funding for the Governor’s Commission on Disabilities.