FSU graduate students aim to spear fees (Kerr Ballenger quoted)
Budget language on engineering school study protects FAMU
Senate, House on collision course over pension reform
The Florida Senate set itself on a collision course with the House by voting 36-0 to approve a bill that would change a law governing local police and fire pensions but ignoring a more sweeping plan that cleared the House last week. The Senate approach (CS/SB 246) would relax a 1999 law that requires cities to offer only new benefits with their portion of state insurance premium tax dollars and instead allow them to use the tax to bolster their police and fire pensions. Analysts have said that the requirement to provide new benefits has contributed to many of the local funds becoming financially troubled. “This is one of the great crises facing Florida,” said Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, who has worked four years on trying to forge a consensus on local pensions, which he did this year with the support of police and fire unions. The House, however, merged a similar change in the local pension law with an overhaul of the massive Florida Retirement System in a bill (HB 7181) it passed last week. The rewrite of the state pension system has little support in the Senate, and the House tactic is clearly aimed at trying to muscle senators into accepting it if they want to repair local pensions. The state retirement system’s overhaul is a priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, but is bitterly opposed by unions representing state and county employees.
House, Senate reach deal on budget
House and Senate budget chairmen shook hands on major provisions of a $75-billion budget containing no general pay raises for state employees, but won’t increase their insurance premiums in the coming fiscal year. The deal also contains $10 million for improvements and construction at the jointly operated Florida A&M-Florida State University College of engineering -- along with $500,000 for a feasibility study of ending the 32-year partnership. The Senate caved on its proposal to divide the schools immediately, agreeing instead to a $150,000 study under auspices of the Board of Governors, and the House raised the ante to a half-million dollars. “The House has done some additional inquires and believes that, given the complexities of those issues and the historical relationship that exists between the two colleges, it was a more complex task that requires more resources,” said Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, the Senate appropriations chairman. The Florida Constitution requires a three-day lapse for members to go through the final budget compromise, before voting on it. That means the package had to be delivered to members of the House and Senate today, so they could vote on it and end the 60-day legislative session on time. Both chambers have several big issues remaining. The Senate is expected to have a showdown over granting in-state tuition for children of undocumented immigrants, who were brought to the country as infants, while the House has a major debate ahead on legalization of a “non-euphoric” strain of marijuana oil known as “Charlotte’s Web,” which has shown promise in treating seizures for children with intractable epileptic seizures. The Senate passed the marijuana bill on Monday, sending it to the House in a 36-3 vote. It would authorize doctors to prescribe a special non-smokable strain of marijuana that is low in THC, the element that gets users high, and high in CBD, the ingredient that has shown effect in treating seizures. While not giving state employees any across-the-board raises, the budget compromise contains a 5 percent pay hike for state police officers, as well as bonuses for top-performing employees in all agencies. The employee-borne share of insurance premiums will remain unchanged. Another big issue affecting employees, still unresolved, is a change in the Florida Retirement System. The House last week approved a bill closing the FRS to newly hired Senior Management and elected officer employees, after , along with a plan to revise local government use of insurance taxes to fund local police and fire pensions. The Senate has its own plan, which sponsors plan to substitute for the House bill. The Senate passed the local-government pension reforms and will separately consider the FRS changes, which affect state, county, school board, university, community college and thousands of other employees. There is considerable opposition in the Senate to overhauling the FRS — a top goal of House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.
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