School pay: Teachers and other school personnel could get a raise earlier than next year under a budget agreement reached between the House and Senate. But the deal still would require Palm Beach County and many other school districts to develop a teacher evaluation system required before the pay hikes can be distributed.
The county and teachers’ union representatives have been working on an evaluation system, talks that could accelerate with the latest budget deal.
Under the Legislature’s initial plan, teachers graded “effective” would be eligible for a $2,500 pay raise, beginning in June 2014. Those rated “highly effective” would be eligible for $3,500. But now House and Senate budget negotiators have agreed to allow districts to hand out the raises before that date — as long as they were based on teacher evaluations.
Speaking rights: Legislation (SB 50) requiring that people be given the right to speak at a public meeting passed the House 113-2 and was sent to Gov. Rick Scott. While most meetings must be open to the public, courts have found that under current law there is no guarantee that the public must be allowed to speak. The bill, which had passed the Senate earlier, changes that.
The legislation would exempt emergency meetings from requiring public input.
Workers comp drugs: The House gave final approval to a compromise plan aimed at ending a long-running battle about the costs of drugs dispensed by doctors to workers compensation insurance patients. House members voted 115-0 to approve the bill, which is headed to Scott.
Business groups contended that physicians’ dispensing of what are known as “repackaged” drugs increased workers compensation insurance costs. Physicians, however, argued that such in-office dispensing helps ensure that patients get and take needed medications. The compromise allows doctors to charge 112.5 percent of drugs’ average wholesale prices and $8 dispensing fees, higher than what pharmacies can charge.
Foster care: A bill that would allow Florida youngsters to remain in foster care until age 21 has cleared the state Legislature. The measure (SB 1036) passed the House on a 116-1 vote. It was approved now goes to Scott.
Water pollution: Florida lawmakers wrapped up legislation authorizing the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to start enforcing rules to reduce water pollution. The bill (SB 1808) passed the House on a 103-13 vote and now goes to Scott.
State and federal environmental authorities agreed recently on how much fertilizer and other pollutants should be allowed in Florida waters. The idea is to let Florida eventually enforce water pollution rules without federal intervention. Environmental groups say the rules aren’t strict enough.
Malpractice: Florida lawmakers finished work on legislation making changes to medical malpractice rules, with its critics complaining to the end that the results will hurt victims making malpractice claims. The measure (SB 1792) cleared the House on a 77-38 vote and now heads to Scott.
The legislation requires that expert witnesses who are called against a defendant doctor practice the exact same kind of medicine and not just be in similar fields.
House slowdown: The two-day Florida House slowdown over the Republican leadership’s resistance to Medicaid expansion ended Wednesday evening, when the House leadership took up a manufacturing tax cut that the governor wanted, which gave them a technical means to move on without delay.
Democrats were angry over the leadership’s rejection of a Senate plan to draw federal Medicaid dollars to provide health insurance to more than 1 million Floridians. As a result, on Tuesday, Democratic Leader Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale initiated a rarely used procedural move — demanding readings of the full text of each bill to underscore the party’s frustration. On Wednesday a new tactic emerged, when Democrats began using floor debate on virtually every bill to highlight the health care expansion. The effort ended at 7 p.m., when the tax bill came up.
Texting: The House overwhelmingly passed its version of a statewide ban on texting-while-driving but a late change close to the end of the legislative session cast some uncertainty over its fate. The measure passed the House on a 110-6 vote and now heads back to the Senate, which passed the bill unanimously last month.
The Senate will now consider an amendment by the House that would allow police to use drivers’ mobile phone records to back charges against them only when texting causes a crash resulting in death or personal injury.
Auto fees: A Florida senator has tried to revive a proposal to roll back automobile fees in Florida by tacking it onto an omnibus insurance bill. Sen. Anitere Flores offered an amendment to the bill (HB 635). The Miami Republican’s amendment rolls back the fees all at once. It pays for them by killing a decades-old tax break to insurance companies.
A House panel had voted to phase in the reductions and preserve the tax break.
Sen. Audrey Gibson objected by saying the amendment didn’t relate directly to the bill being discussed. The bill was then temporarily postponed. The legislative session ends Friday.
Slow motorists: Motorists raging over slow moving vehicles in the “fast lane” may soon have some law enforcement backing. The Senate advanced a measure that requires vehicles traveling 10 mph below the posted speed limit to be in the right hand lane if possible when there are two or more lanes in the same direction.
The proposal is packed into a transportation bill (HB 7125) that will require further approval from the House.
Post staff and wire services.