Parent Trigger set for Friday Senate showdown

Mar 8, 2012

A plan to let parents have a say in the fate of failing schools has stalled yet again in the Florida Senate. The measure has been met with opposition from a bi-partisan coalition of Senators who say it goes too far. Lynn Hatter reports the delay now pushes a vote on the bill to Friday—the last day of the 2012 regular session.

Senate Bill 1718 has 23 amendments pending on it. Most of them were added between Wednesday night and Thursday morning. That’s only one sign of the negotiating going on behind the scenes.

Last week a preliminary vote on whether to fast-track the bill to the Senate floor failed on a 20-19 vote. That was one of the first indicators the proposal was in trouble. Senator Jack Latvala even called it on the chamber floor at the time.

 “It takes a 2/3rd vote to withdraw a bill—this is the parent-trigger bill that there are a lot of concerns about…”

One more vote would have been enough to kill the bill. And by Wednesday, opponents said they had secured that extra vote. Democratic Representative Janet Cruz said that’s what she’d been hearing through the Capital 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.”

After several procedural delays the bill, a vote on the proposal was finally set for Thursday. However, that vote was blocked once again on the Senate floor, as highlighted by Senate President Mike Haridopolos .

 “There are three bills that the minority leader has identified as bills that she would like to see go to third reading tomorrow. Those are Senate Bill 378, Senate Bill 1312, Senate Bill 1316, Senate Bill 1360 and Senate Bill 1718.”

Senate Bill 1718 is the parent trigger—and under a deal made between Haridopolos and Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich, the proposal won’t be able to get a vote until Friday. In the middle of the fray is Senator Jack Latvala, who has been working to craft a compromise on the bill. That compromise includes restrictions on who can sign the parent petitions—which would be used to force changes at a failing school. It also includes a ban on any kind of payment or gift in exchange for those signatures, and a block on for-profit charter schools. The petition gathering issue is something Lakeland Republican Paula Dockery, one of the “no” votes in the Senate, has said she has problems with in the parent trigger bill.

 “They’re not regulated by the Secretary of State or Division of Elections. And I think there’s a lot of room in this bill for some real shenanigans to take place in terms of whose signing those petitions, how those petitions are received and what’s being given in trade for those petitions. So I am very concerned.”  

Opponents to the bill like fellow Republican Evelyn Lynn say they their “no votes” stand.

 “All I know is, a bad bill is a bad bill, even if you make it a little smaller. And I am listening to thousands of parents who are calling me every day now.”

Latvala’s compromise could get hit from both sides—from opponents who refuse to compromise, and from the bill’s supporters, who would rather see it die than to be watered down. The delay sets the stage for a final showdown on the last day of the legislative session. The vote on the measure is expected to be close.