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Thursday, November 30, 2023

Disapproved by DeSantis: The failed bills of the 2023 session

41 bills did not pass Florida’s legislative session

About 41 bills failed to pass the 2023 Florida legislative session and local marginalized communities are now facing the consequences.

Among the bills, four of them were either vetoed by Gov. Ron DeSantis or died in congress. The bills include implementing a teacher base salary of $65,000, encouraging public agencies to use electric cars and renewable energy, solidifying the right to same- sex marriage and ensuring healthcare providers are using the correct titles. 

“Save Our Teachers Act”

The Save Our Teachers Act, a bill that would’ve made public school teacher base salaries $65,000 could have improved finances for future teachers.

The act, or House Bill 271, wanted to implement and increase the minimum base salary for full-time classroom teachers. The bill, filed Jan. 9, died in the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee May 5. 

Union representatives and teachers have mixed feelings about the bill, Alachua County Education Association president Carmen Ward said. On one hand, raising the minimum base salary could help with the current teacher shortage, but on the other hand, veteran teachers reap no benefits of increased base salary. 

As ACEA president — an elected position — Ward obtains legal defenses, negotiates contract language and fights for better salaries, she said. Ward’s been in the education field for 33 years, and only left the classroom in the 2017-2018 school year to represent the union full time. 

As a “policy nerd,” as she calls herself, Ward knows how to dissect legislative language, she said. Reading between the lines is important, she added.

The legislation would increase the minimum base salary for full-time classroom teachers to at least $65,000, or to the maximum amount achievable based on the allocation, according to the bill.

The bill states that school districts can start teachers at $65,000 or “maximum amount achievable” but the state government doesn’t give school districts proper funding, Ward claims. 

There’s many different kinds of laws that restrict pay for teachers, Ward said. 

In addition to relatively low salaries, teachers often pay for their own school supplies or work unpaid overtime, Ward said. Although, there is allocated money in teacher contracts for supplies, but it’s a “ridiculously low amount of money,” she added.

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“I figured it out one year because I was a middle school teacher,” Ward said. “I had about 150 students, and I had $150 of supply money.”

If the bill had passed, veteran teachers who have been in the field for more than 20 years would’ve been hit the hardest. The bill did not state if veteran teachers would also get a salary increase. 

New teachers would hypothetically earn $65,000 a year, and anyone under that amount would get a raise to match it. If the bill passed, veteran teachers would see no changes. 

Carmen King made $19,000 when she started teaching in 1989. By 2021, her salary hadn’t improved by much.

King, 59, worked as a special education teacher and visited students in their home if they were unable to physically attend school, due to disability or illness. 

During COVID-19, she assisted in the creation of county-wide curriculum to help aid the transition from classroom learning to online learning, she said. She retired before students returned to the classrooms because her husband, Chris, and herself are immunocompromised. 

King was worried about the lack of financial security for veteran teachers, who bring priceless experience. 

“They weren't going to compensate the veteran teachers, and basically as a 30-year-plus teacher, people coming straight into the field were going to be making almost as much as I was at 32 years with a master's degree,” she said. 

King was another teacher that consistently bought her own supplies, she said, but she also gave her lunch to students and bought them jackets or deodorant if they needed it. “I brought extra lunch for myself. Chris always made me like two sandwiches because I ended up usually giving my food away to the kids,” King said. 

King knows teachers that bartend, wait tables, teach Santa Fe night courses and sell art on the side to make a little extra cash, she said. King’s parents, who were both teachers, had side gigs — her dad, a security guard and her mom, a hairdresser. 

Kids are back to school Aug. 10, and as of two weeks ago, there are 100 positions left to fill in the Alachua County school district, Carmen Ward said. 

Senate Bill 230: Health care Practitioner Titles and Designations

SB 230, filed Feb. 9 and vetoed by Gov. Ron DeSantis June 2, was a truth-in-advertising bill that would’ve promoted patient safety by guaranteeing healthcare providers use the correct titles and designations synonymous with their schooling, training and certifications. 

Tushar Desaraju, a 20-year-old UF nutritional sciences and pre-dental junior, believes the qualifications of medical professionals should be common sense and isn't necessary to implement into law. 

“The reason that med school and doctors are in school for so long to do their med school and then their residency and whatnot is so they have enough practice, and they have the credibility and they're able to actually perform these procedures on other humans,” he said. 

The bill was vetoed, much to the liking of the Florida Optometric Association. The organization released a statement that it was glad Desantis vetoed the bill, and the FOA “fought and prevailed in a challenging battle.”

The bill would have prohibited an optometrist from calling themselves a physician, and made it a felony to do so, according to the FOA. However, the bill merely prohibits healthcare providers from advertising themselves as physicians unless they are permitted to do so, according to the Florida Society of Ophthalmology

The society also said that Florida’s Optometric Practice Act never authorized optometrists to advertise as physicians and SB 230 didn’t change that. 

Senate Bill 284: An act relating to energy

Adrian Santiago, a 22-year-old UF graduate and masters of urban regional planning student, sees DeSantis’ veto Senate Bill 284 as a ploy in the governor’s anti-woke campaign, he said.

“It's a very weird and disturbing hill to die on for the Republican Party, or anybody else who doesn't want to take a renewable energy future seriously,” Santiago said.

Santiago thinks DeSantis does not want to be seen supporting any clean initiatives, he said.

Santiago was sad to see other energy bills fail during the legislative session. SB 970 failed, which means the Florida government won’t express an intention to invest in renewable energy, he said. A different energy bill failed in the house, adding to Santiago’s disappointment.

“Florida all the way around is just kind of fumbling the climate change crisis at the moment,” he said. 

UF interdisciplinary environmental studies professor Bron Taylor has been studying climate change since the 1990s. If every university in the country were to implement electric cars or use more renewable energy, the impact would be significant, he said. 

“The idea that it's somehow economically counterproductive to do this kind of thing — that's just crazy. Electric vehicles take less maintenance, you pay a little bit more upfront for a similar sized thing, you’d be paying less maintenance long term,” Taylor said. 

Scientists try to underscore their work in order to avoid causing panic, Taylor said, but in the past decade scientists have been trying to sound the alarm because it’s “indisputable that there's a climate crisis.” 

“You have the equivalent of the best scientific minds in the world standing on top of a table and shouting out alarm,” he said. “Scientists warnings to humanity that had been issued, not just once but several times, with signatories all around the world from the best scientific minds that exist.”

Taylor noted a long history of Republican Party denial about climate science, and that much of the denial comes from greed. 

“It's astounding that even as the evidence of catastrophic climate change becomes all the more obvious, we still see no significant movement on the part of the GOP to acknowledge, recognize and support the movements that might ameliorate this and slow this horrible process,” he said. 

There’s no jobs on a dead planet, Taylor said. 

“Mother Earth is speaking really loudly and eventually people are going to hear that voice whether they like it or not,” Taylor said. 

Senate Bill 80: An act relating to marriage between persons of the same sex

SB 80 died in judiciary May 5, but it’s intent was to protect the right to gay marriage in Florida. In Florida law, same sex marriage is illegal, and the definition of marriage remains as, “the legal union between one man and one woman.”

Same sex marriage is currently a federal right under Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges, but recent privacy rights have been rolled back, Gainesville City Commissioner Casey Wilits said. 

“The issue is that the senators or representatives who proposed Senate Bill 80, they wanted to remove the ban from state law so that it would no longer be there,” Wilitis said. 

The law, although still on the books, is unenforceable because the federal government issued the rights to same sex marriage back in 2015. Same sex couples in Florida cannot be legally denied the right to marriage. 

“Passing this would have been a clear sign to all Floridians that  Florida respects a right to privacy, and the freedom to love and marry who you love, and to gain all those acknowledgements and benefits and protections of marriage,” Wilitis said.

The LGBTQ community is under attack, and this failure stems from a Congress designed to fail any kind of progressive legislation, Alachua County City Commissioner Mary Alford said. 

“To be able to have a person and commit to that person and have a legal connection, contract,  with that person and all the rights and responsibilities and commitments that go with that are so incredibly important. And by attacking that they are attacking the very heart — the very heart — of the LGBTQ world,” Alford said.

Emily Calvin, a 36-year-old Gainesville resident, worries about the future of her family. Her husband, Aleksandr Calvin, 34, is a transgender man but hasn’t physically transitioned yet, technically making them a same-sex couple. Aleksandr is not their child’s biological parent and the couple wonders if Aleksandr should file for adoption, they said. 

“There's this new law about subjecting children to gender reassignment, or anything about trans people, Emily Calvin said. There's always fear mongering about giving DCF the power to take your kids away, take kids away from trans parents, but of course, you have that concern. So, we have plans for what to do if DCF comes knocking on our door,” Emily Calvin said. 

Emily Calvin was born when Roe v. Wade existed and assumed she’d always have that, but it was overturned in June 2022. Same sex marriage could be taken just as easily, she said. 

“Nothing’s safe,” she said. “It’s further proof that our rights are not not set in stone and they're not safe.”

Contact Ella at Follow her on Twitter @elladeethompson.

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Ella Thompson

Ella Thompson is a third-year journalism major who's on general assignment for The Alligator's metro desk. In her free time, she likes to read, cook and think of feature stories for The Alligator.

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