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Senate to vote on parent trigger, outcome still a toss-up

Florida Democrats have sharp words for the Republican Party’s education policy initiatives this year. That includes tuition hikes and university budget cuts, along with the creation of a 12th state university and what they see as not enough money for traditional public schools. But Lynn Hatter reports their outcry may be a little too late.

With Republican super-majorities in both legislative chambers, Democrats have little say in the way policy choices are made, and budgets are carried out. But that isn’t stopping them from airing their  grievances, as they did Wednesday in a press conference outside the Capitol.

“Someone said to me, and I use this example, It’s like a robber whose taken $10 from you. Comes back and returns $7, and wants you to thank him for it.”

 Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith goes down the list of what he says is an egregious affront to public education and joining him are several House Democrats, like Representative Darren Soto. Soto says the state’s higher education budget proposal pits universities against each other.

“We see USF being split off and used as a bargaining chip. We see my university, UCF taking huge cuts. And all the while for the strategy of focusing on the University of Florida and Florida State. And what is it we’re doing? We’re increasing tuition. That is the reform.”

In the final hours of the 2012 legislative session, Republicans are poised to approve all the things the Democrats don’t want. Like a $300 million dollar cut to the state’s public universities. A 12th state university created under what can only be described as a series of parliamentary and technical maneuvers, and a billion dollar increase to the K-12 system that STILL doesn’t fully reimburse all the cuts public schools took the year before.

However, one big issue still looms large before the legislature, and Democrats are looking to the Senate and a rogue set of lawmakers to help them score at least one major victory: The defeat of the so-called parent-trigger bill, at least, that’s what Democrat State Representative Janet Cruz says she’s hearing through the Capitol rumor mill.

“I’m thinking that they’re going to defeat it and I hope that they do. That’s what I’m hearing through the grapevine, that we don’t have to worry because it’s probably going to be defeated in the Senate. That’s what I’m counting on.”

The House has already approved the measure but troubles in the Senate have kept it from coming forward. Late last week Senate Democrats managed to get enough Republicans to pull a  procedural move to stop the fast-tracking of  the bill to the chamber floor. Monday they block it from being heard  on the Senate floor. Tuesday, a group of opponents led by Senate Minority leader Nan Rich of Sunrise held a press conference to oppose the measure…

“We had 19 Senators that objected to removing the bill from committee. That’s 12 Democrats and 7 Republicans. That’s a pretty strong bi-partisan coalition. Reporter: That’s one short of what you need. Rich: We’re going to find that person.”

Wednesday night another bi-partisan coalition made up of Rich, Democrat Chis Smith and Republican Evelyn Lynn tried, but narrowly failed to block the bill a fourth-time. At the end of the Senate’s Special Order Committee, Senator Lynn and Rules Chairman John Thrasher clashed over a move that required the committee to vote on all the bills as one, instead of breaking out the parent trigger for a separate vote.

Thrasher: “You’ve heard the bills on the special order calendar…"

Lynn: “I have a question.”

Thrasher: “…Just heard for March 8 and I’d like the secretary to call the roll…”

Lynn: “Is my vote for/against going to show on the record?”

Thrasher:  “Sen. Lynn you’re going to vote or yes or no on the Special order Calendar for March 8. Call the role….”

The parent trigger has the backing of former Governor Jeb Bush, Governor Rick Scott and the California based Parent Revolution group. In the run-up to what is the deciding vote on the matter, supporters have been parading statements of support made by prominent national Democrats, and even  African-Americans, in an attempt to drum up more support.

The Senate’s vote is expected to be close.

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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