Florida Senate deals blow to teachers unions

The Florida Senate on Friday narrowly defeated an effort to eliminate part of a major education bill that could force teachers’ unions to disband if they don’t meet new membership standards.

In a 21-17 vote, the Senate rejected a proposed amendment by Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, that would have removed the controversial provision from the bill (HB 7055). The provision could cause teachers’ unions to lose their state certification if their membership falls below 50 percent of the employees they represent in the collective-bargaining process. If decertified, a union would have to reorganize and seek another majority vote from the members they are seeking to represent.

»RELATED: The latest in Florida political news

Thurston said the provision was singling out teachers among all unions and that there is already a decertification process in state law that would allow teachers to disband a union if they were unhappy with the representation.

“It’s not right that we say teachers are the only ones we are going to punish,” Thurston said.

Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, defended the provision saying it would create a process where teachers could decide whether to continue with unions, which represent all teachers in negotiating with local school boards over issues like salaries and classroom conditions.

“Workers should decide what’s best for workers,” Passidomo said, saying the new process would “ensure that teachers do have the representation of their choice.”

The amendment failed on a largely party-line vote after the 15-member Senate Democratic caucus united to support Thurston’s amendment. Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, and Sen. George Gainer, R-Panama City, were the only Republicans who voted with the Democrats for the proposal.

“At a time when everybody is talking about arming teachers, they want to muzzle them as well,” Kevin Watson, a lobbyist for the Florida Education Association, the largest teachers’ union, told the Democratic caucus at a luncheon before the vote.

After Thurston’s amendment failed, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, offered an amendment that would have reduced the union membership requirement to 40 percent.

Although it was not a substantial change, Lee, a former Senate president, said his amendment would “send a message” to House leaders. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, is a major proponent of the education bill, which would create three new voucher programs, including one that would allow bullied students to attend private schools.

“This is just punitive. This is just mean-spirited what we’re doing,” Lee said about the union decertification provision.

While noting he has been an ally of Corcoran and that the education bill was “linchpin” in negotiations with the House, Lee said he “didn’t come to Tallahassee to be told what to do.”

“I’m sorry that I’m throwing water on a transaction here or something,” Lee said. “But I really feel strongly that we have overstepped here.”

Lee’s amendment failed in a 19-19 vote, although three other Republicans — Young, Sen. Greg Steube of Sarasota and Rene Garcia of Hialeah — joined Lee and the Democrats in supporting the proposal.

The education bill, which is scheduled for a Senate floor vote on Monday, includes creation of the “hope scholarship” program, which would provide public funding to students who are bullied or suffer other abuses, allowing them to transfer to private schools.

The scholarships would be funded by Florida motorists, who would voluntarily agree to contribute up to $105 to the program when buying or registering vehicles. The donation would act as a credit against the sales tax they would normally pay in vehicle transactions.

Another new program, which Senate Democrats said had never been considered in a committee, would allow credits on sales taxes paid on commercial leases to fund Gardiner scholarships, which are used by disabled students, and the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which provides aid to low-income students.

A third new program would create scholarship accounts to allow low-performing readers in third through fifth grades to obtain services, like tutors.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Politics

Russia investigation: Special counsel Mueller subpoenas Trump Organization
Russia investigation: Special counsel Mueller subpoenas Trump Organization

  Special counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump Organization for documents as part of his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its possible ties to President Donald Trump and his associates, according to multiple reports. The subpoena is the first directly connected to one of Trump’s businesses...
Trump News Today: President to visit next weekend
Trump News Today: President to visit next weekend

President Trump is likely to visit Mar-a-Lago on Friday, March 23, through Sunday, March 25  according to an advisory issued by the Federal Aviation Administration. The "VIP Movement Notification" was issued this morning. There will be temporary flight restrictions in the West Palm Beach area during his stay.  The exact time of...
Secretary of state, CIA director nominees face probable backlash in Senate
Secretary of state, CIA director nominees face probable backlash in Senate

The confirmation of President Donald Trump's picks for secretary of state and CIA director is likely to be hampered but not stymied by a mostly partisan backlash to their records in the administration and the decision that led to their nominations - the termination of Rex Tillerson for being one of the few Cabinet members, Democrats argued Tuesday...
We looked at almost 100 leaders who tried Xi Jinping-style power grabs. Here’s how they turned out.
We looked at almost 100 leaders who tried Xi Jinping-style power grabs. Here’s how they turned out.

Xi Jinping plays the long game.  The 64-year-old Chinese president is only half finished with what should have been a 10-year term, but he's already tossed term limits aside, and with them the rules and norms that have governed China's leadership since 1982.  The National People's Congress made it official last weekend, passing a set of constitutional...
Facebook, Twitter, Google CEOs face calls to testify to Congress
Facebook, Twitter, Google CEOs face calls to testify to Congress

Social media giants that have acknowledged Russians exploited their platforms ahead of the 2016 election face renewed bipartisan demands to explain to Congress what they're doing to counter abuse of their networks ahead of this year's congressional midterms.  Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee...
More Stories