House Republicans have wrapped up the second week of committee meetings in Tallahassee as they prepare for the 2020 legislative session. Over the course of the week, House committees heard briefings and participated in important discussions on items ranging from market-based health policy and marijuana to insurance and banking, education, commerce, justice, and more. The next committee week is scheduled for October 21-25, and the 2020 legislative session will begin Tuesday, January 14.
House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee Reviews Basics of Florida Teacher Compensation
After Governor DeSantis’ $603 million proposal to increase teacher salaries – in addition to the more than $2 billion in budget requests from Florida’s executive branch agencies – House Republicans are now exploring whether funding it is possible.
This was the theme of discussion during the House PreK-12 Appropriations committee meeting, where a “teacher compensation 101” presentation took place.
Rep. Chris Latvala, subcommittee chair, explained how teacher compensation in Florida works, highlighting that current law states that district school boards are responsible for establishing salary schedules and teacher compensation. While the Florida Education Finance Program is the primary source of funding the operating costs of Florida school districts (which includes teacher salaries), there are also federal and local sources.
Today, more than 6 in 10 Florida teachers are earning between $32,000 and $49,999, and 3 in 10 are earning between $50,000 and $74,000. Florida is currently ranked among the top three states in overall education and among the top four in K-12 achievement.
House Republicans are committed to being good stewards of Floridians’ tax dollars when discussing any proposed funding methods for teacher compensation.
House Subcommittee Hears Implementation Update on Surprise Medical Balance Billing Ban
Thanks to legislation passed in 2016, Florida is a national leader in efforts to eliminate unexpected medical bills for emergency treatment. This was a key takeaway from the House Health Market Reform Subcommittee meeting.
In 2016, House Republicans championed a law to end the practice of surprise balance billing of Floridians for emergency care. It passed, applying to those insured through a preferred provider organization (PPO) or exclusive provider organization (EPO). Prior law already addressed this issue for health maintenance organizations (HMOs). The subcommittee also discussed the problem of air ambulance balance billing, in which families receive surprise bills for helicopter transport to a hospital by an out-of-network provider.
Balance billing is the practice of a health care provider charging a patient for the difference between what the health insurance policy reimburses and what the provider charges. In an emergency, patients often have no option but to use an out-of-network health care provider – that is, a practitioner or facility that does not have a contract with the patient’s insurer. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll, 78% of Americans support legislation to end surprise medical bills. See Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll, available at: https://khn.org/news/legislation-to-end-surprise-medical-bills-has-high-public-support-in-both-parties/.
House Republicans are committed to addressing unfair and non-transparent medical billing practices to protect Florida patients.
Harvard Expert Presentation Highlights Dangers of Recreational Marijuana
Increased normalization of marijuana has real public health and safety, economic, and societal consequences, which will require thoughtful, aggressive policy responses. This was the key takeaway from presentations to House committees by Harvard Medical School Professor Bertha Madras, Ph. D., and former Colorado Director of Marijuana Coordination Andrew Freedman.
Claims that marijuana is a benign drug are inaccurate in light of the dramatically increased levels of THC in today’s marijuana, Dr. Madras said. THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, currently is 3-25 times higher than in marijuana of the 1960s to the 1990s. THC compromises brain function, which could have adverse impacts in the workplace, schools, on the roads, and more. Dr. Madras also briefed the committee on extensive research showing THC causes and intensifies mental disorders, triggers mental disorders earlier in people predisposed to them, and damages fetal development, with significant consequences for our social service and mental health systems in the future. Freedman noted that between 2002 and 2017, the number of heavy cannabis users (use cannabis 25-30 times per month) increased 37%. He predicted retailers will target heavy users and youth, to increase sales when prices decline, exacerbating the public health impact.
Freedman also cautioned the members to have a realistic expectation of the tax revenue from recreational marijuana, which in other states has not been the windfall promised by advocates. For example, Colorado collected $266 million in marijuana tax revenues in 2018, which is less than 1% of the state budget.
House Republicans are committed to understanding the social and economic effects of legalized marijuana as they consider current and future policy options.
House Subcommittee Hears Department of Children and Families 2019-2021 Strategic Plan
To serve Florida’s families better, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) created a new strategic plan for 2019-2021.
Presenting this week to the House Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee, DCF Secretary Chad Poppell shared his goal to reduce the number of Florida families in crisis by 2021 by 20% and the proposed approaches to do so.
These include improving accountability by involving DCF more directly in evaluating and ensuring the quality of all DCF-funded contracted services; addressing families’ needs earlier by offering services before families reach the point of crisis; and increasing efficiency through ideas from front-line employees to streamline work.
DCF provides substance abuse and mental health services, family and community services, and economic self-sufficiency services, with about 6 million Floridians (28% of the state’s population) being served in FY 2018-19. Nearly 40,000 vulnerable Floridians are served by all three of these programs. House Republicans support DCF’s goal to more effectively serve Florida’s children and families.
House Ways & Means Committee Hears Ideas to Help Floridians Recover from Natural Disasters
Members of the Ways & Means Committee heard about ideas for financial relief for Floridians affected by Hurricane Michael and other natural disasters during the Florida Department of Revenue’s property tax legislative concepts presentation.
Among the ideas was a two-year extension of the current requirement to begin rebuilding within three years certain homes damaged by Hurricane Michael to retain protective tax assessment caps. This would allow Florida homeowners in areas affected by Hurricane Michael more time to recover, save money to rebuild, and find the right resources to get the job done without losing important homestead tax benefits.
Also suggested was an extension, from two years to four years, of the period after which tax certificate holders can apply for tax deeds on properties damaged by Hurricane Michael. This gives property owners an additional two years to avoid a tax deed sale by paying off overdue taxes.
Another idea offered was a new two-year property tax installment payment plan for homestead property taxpayers whose homes are severely damaged by any natural disaster that led to a declared state of emergency.
House Republicans will continue to work toward solutions that help Florida homeowners prepare for and recover from unexpected and devastating natural disasters.
House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee Receives an Overview on the System of School Improvement
On Wednesday, the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee heard a presentation by the Florida Department of Education on the system of School Improvement and the positive impacts HB 7069 has had on low performing schools. Members also received insight on the role the Value-Added Model (VAM) plays in Florida’s School Improvement process.
The goal of the School Improvement process is to reduce the number of D and F schools across the state. HB 7069, passed in 2017, streamlined and condensed the public school turnaround process, and has had a monumental impact on Florida's school system; under the bill, the number of schools in need of School Improvement has decreased by 70%.
The subcommittee also discussed the positive impacts of Florida’s VAM model, a formula used to measure and classify teacher influence on student learning growth over time. Teachers may be classified as Highly Effective, Effective, Needs Improvement, or Unsatisfactory. Reports show that 85% of teachers with Effective VAM scores either remained Effective or improved to Highly Effective the following year. The department places limitations on the number of teachers with subpar classifications, which significantly increases the students’ and the school’s chance of success. VAM is an objective tool Florida uses to ensure that students have access to the most effective teachers.
House Republicans remain steadfast in working to increase the quality of education for Florida’s students.