Florida's Senators took the Senate's version of the 2013-14 state budget up for a vote this week.
The budget, which received unanimous bi-partisan support, saves $2.9 billion in reserves, protects Florida citizens from the uncertainties caused by Washington's "sequestration" and prioritizes investments in education and economic development.
In the coming days and weeks, our Senate Republicans look forward to working with the House of Representatives to craft a single, sustainable budget to present to the governor.
I'm very pleased that the Senate was able to pass a balanced budget that doesn't raise taxes or fees, invests an additional $1.2 billion into our schools and still sets aside $2.9 billion in reserves to make sure that we are planning for the future.
The Senate budget, as well as the implementing and conforming bills, were immediately certified to the Florida House, setting the legislation up for the budget conference, during which the House and Senate will merge their respective budget proposals to form Florida's General Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2013-14.
Funeral Protest Bill becomes law
This Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law House Bill 15 (Senate Bill 118), which I was the sponsor of in the Senate. The law makes disruptions of a military funeral or burial a first-degree misdemeanor, banning protests within 500 feet of the property line during or within an hour of the ceremony.
The law recognizes the meaningful balance between First Amendment rights and a family's right to grieve in private by only addressing the time, place and manner of the protests, not the content of the protest.
I would like to thank Reps. Pat Rooney (R-West Palm Beach) and Dane Eagle (R-Cape Coral) for working with me to pass this piece of legislation.
Another bill that I have sponsored, SB 454, passed unanimously on the Senate floor this week as well. This bill would allow our state colleges to enter into agreements with local law enforcement to help keep our students safe.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Dane Eagle in the House of Representatives, now moves to the House floor.
Priority Education bills pass Fla. Senate
As session swiftly progresses, Republican Legislators continue to be committed to lashing Florida's education system to the realities and opportunities in this economy.
This week, Sens. John Legg (R-Lutz) and Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) saw their education bills pass off the Senate floor and progress to the Florida House of Representatives.
Senate Bill 1076, the Career and Professional Education Act, expands industry certifications at the K-20 education levels and promotes post-secondary education by creating opportunities for $10,000 bachelor's degrees, online diplomas, and preeminent universities.
Senate Bill 878, the Education Accountability Bill, makes improvements to access and security of the data warehouse at the Department of Education as well as ensuring that the school grading system is accurately applied.
Pension transparency moves to House
Thursday, the Florida Senate passed Senate Bill 534 by Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg), which adds needed transparency to publicly funded defined benefit pension plans.
Currently, many local pension plans report on the health of their retirement plans using different accounting methods and assumptions. In some cases, exaggerated and unrealistic estimates of investment returns can lead administrators and beneficiaries to believe their plans are better funded than they truly are.
Senate Bill 534 requires these plans to report their status using common standards and assumptions. This allows for across-the-board comparisons and better equips plan administrators with the tools needed to evaluate and adjust funding levels, ensuring pension benefits can be delivered to the retirees who earned them.
In addition to requiring these reports to be posted on government websites in a standardized, user-friendly and easily interpretable format, the bill explicitly provides that the state is not liable for any obligation relating to financial shortfalls in any local government retirement plan.
Contact Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto at 1926 Victoria Ave., Second Floor, Fort Myers, FL 33901, or (239) 338-2570.