All of us want our government to be functional. We want it to work, but what exactly does that mean practically? Well, functionality can be defined as “the quality of being suited to serve a purpose well.”
In this day and age where civility and cooperation between our political parties nationally seems to be decreasing, it’s refreshing to know that in Florida things are being accomplished to improve our state and the lives of its citizens through the discourse and debate our founders envisioned occurring in a truly functional government.
Without thorough vetting, research and constructive debate good policy cannot be promulgated, and while there may not always be mutual agreement in the Florida capital there is always mutual respect and often empathy that leads to productivity. The 2019 session of the Florida Legislature has been very productive and particularly positive for District 34 and the people of Citrus and Hernando Counties.
The primary duty of the legislature is to pass a balanced budget and while Florida is the third largest populated state in the nation our balanced $91 billion budget is forty percent less than New York State’s which has ten percent fewer people and over three times our debt. We should be very proud that our state prioritizes spending taxpayer’s money, your money, wisely!
The tax package that the governor has signed into law includes a three-day back-to-school tax holiday and a seven-day disaster preparedness tax holiday. It also includes a reduction in the business rent tax from 5.7 to 5.5% among other provisions. In total, Florida taxpayers will save around $121 million. Out of the over 3,100 bills that were presented during this year’s session only 196 passed both chambers and were sent to the governor for his signature or veto.
I’d like to highlight some that we had sponsored directly or were primarily involved in passing in the areas of education, health care, agriculture/business and the environment.
n $75 per student increase to the Base Student Allocation (BSA), the largest increase since 2015-2016.
n $242.60 per student increase to the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP), the largest increase since 2013-2014 and the second largest increase since 2007-2008.
n $50.5 million increase investment in our Best and Brightest teachers and principals’ awards program for a total of $284.5 million.
n Teachers will be given three years to pass the General Knowledge Test, rather than just one year, consistent with the three-year period that teachers have to obtain their certification.
n $10 million for the newly created Florida Pathways to Career Opportunities Grant Program enabling high schools, career centers and colleges to partner with business and industry and offer high-quality pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship opportunities to students.
n $10 million to fund teacher professional development in computer science and reward those teachers for earning credentials to teach high quality computer science courses.
n Students will have the option to count computer science courses as either a required math or science credit in high school. Requirements in math and science are also amended for those students earning industrial certifications. Career and technical education (vocational education) is prioritized along with college to better prepare our youth for their future.
n Multiple options to ensure that postsecondary students don’t leave college without a degree and/or credential including industrial certifications.
n Increased funding incentives for districts and college industry certification programs by $6.5 million and $14 million.
n We doubled the number of CAPE Digital Tool Certificates that may be included on the Industry Certification Funding List from 15 to 30, thereby increasing the number of certificates available to students and providing additional opportunities for school districts to earn weighted FTE for elementary and middle school students who earn a certificate.
n Provides $30 million in student success funding for Florida’s 28 state colleges: $10 million for the Work Florida Incentive Fund to align career education pathways with workforce demands and $20 million for the 2 + 2 Student Success Incentive Fund to continue improving Associate of Arts degree completion and transferring to baccalaureate degree programs.
n Requirement for annual audits of Florida’s career and technical education programs and apprenticeship programs, including directives to ensure that those programs are aligned with in-demand workforce opportunities.
n Family Empowerment Scholarship Program, which will offer a lifeline to 18,000 students, including the nearly 13,000 students on the wait list Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program.
n $147.9 million will be funded in the Gardiner Scholarship Program.
n $40 million, for Schools of Hope, following the confirmation of IDEA Public Schools and KIPP confirming their intent to open 25 schools in Tampa Bay area and Miami-Dade.
n $180 million invested in Safe Schools for school resource officers and enhanced school safety measures, $50 million for school hardening grants and continued financial investment in the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program including $500,000 in recurring funds and $67 million in nonrecurring funds to the DOE to allocate to sheriffs’ offices that establish a guardian program.
n $75 million in mental health funding for districts and schools to establish care for students and $5 million to continue evidence-based youth mental health awareness and assistance training to help school personnel to identify and understand the signs of mental health and substance abuse problems.
n Updated Florida Shots to utilize all digital process of providing vaccination records between health care providers and designated school staff. The created registry will also allow individuals to opt-out if they so desire.
n A health insurer issuing a major medical individual or group policy may not require a step-therapy protocol under the policy for a covered prescription drug requested by an insured if the insured has previously been approved to receive the prescription drug through the completion of a step-therapy protocol previously through another plan.
Agriculture/Business and the Environment
n Establish the State Hemp Program that conforms to the 2018 Federal Farm Bill by allowing Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) to submit a plan to the federal government on the cultivation of Hemp in Florida. This will benefit Florida farmers and create new jobs and commerce throughout the state. The current Hemp Pilot Project program that we passed 2 years ago also expands to any Florida college or university that has agriculture, pharmacy or engineering program. Industrial Hemp has thousands of uses including CBD oil, textiles, construction materials, and water restoration.
n Everglades Restoration and Protection of Florida’s Water Resources is funded with $686 million.
n Springs Funding through the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will receive $100 million in total which provides for springs restoration, protection, and preservation around the state. Citrus Co may benefit greatly from these funds. Some monies may be used for septic to sewer conversions which are critical to improving and protecting our water quality.
n $4.2 million to provides funds in the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) for red tide research.
n Florida Forever Program funded at $34.5 million for land conservation and acquisition projects. This was less than the $100 million funded last year because of the need to provide for areas damaged by hurricane Michael in the panhandle.
Local sponsored projects that were funded through separate non-recurring appropriation bills and are currently pending the Governor’s approval include:
n Kings Bay Restoration Project - $2,500,000.
n CR 491 Road Widening - $13,300,000.
n Citrus County School District - Project SHINE - $900,000 for mental health counselors in schools.
n Lifestream Baker Act central receiving facility -$600,000.
n Crystal River Hunter Springs Linear Park - $450,000.
n Hernando Schools Vocational Program - $1,000,000.
n Hernando County School District, School Hardening - $1,000,000.
n Hernando Co. Airport Reclamation Facility Expansion - $3,000,000.
n Runway 27 Extension - Hernando County - $1,000,000.
n Brooksville Replacement of Fire Trucks and Equipment - $325,000.
n Pace Center for Girls in Citrus and Hernando Counties each received $1,400,000.
There was also funding for an additional permanent County Court Judge for Citrus County which should help tremendously with our growing court docket. Even though there was much to report, these are only a small portion of all the work that was done during the 2019 Session. The Chronicle recently reported on signed legislation for the study to extend the Suncoast Parkway to Georgia and the texting and driving legislation with we also co-sponsored. More detailed information and other initiatives can be found at www.myfloridahouse.gov.
Senator Wilton Simpson and I are honored to serve both Citrus and Hernando Counties and are also very proud of what we were able to accomplish this year for our district and our state. I know I can also speak for him in saying we are both extremely grateful for the countless people of our community who assist and support our efforts. We could not have a better partner in the Senate than Wilton Simpson.
There will never be a utopia this side of Heaven and there will always be issues on which we as people will disagree. However, when we work together and place the welfare of others above ourselves we can accomplish much, and make our state and our nation better in the process. You see the key to a truly functional government is one where “we the people” are involved, engaged, prioritized by elected leadership, and well served. Thank you for allowing us to work … for you!
Dr. Ralph Massullo is the Florida’s District 34 state representative, which serves Citrus County.