Feeney says 1-day session possible
By ALISA ULFERTS, Times Staff Writer
TALLAHASSEE -- If all goes well, House Speaker Tom Feeney predicted Monday, lawmakers could be headed back to their districts today by dark.
But if senators reject an earlier agreement to revise the state's education laws, then the Legislature's special session, which begins this morning, could take longer, Feeney said.
"It could take days or weeks if we go back to the drawing board," said Feeney, R-Oviedo. The House is likely to push for other education changes if that happens, he added.
"Certainly if we are going to go back to the drawing board, then we would look for some meaningful reform," such as expansion of charter schools or vouchers, Feeney said.
Senate President John McKay, R-Bradenton, was unavailable Monday to respond.
Gov. Jeb Bush ordered lawmakers back to the Capitol last month to finish rewriting the state's school code after the bill died on the last day of regular session. McKay had refused to extend the Senate's session to take it up after senators complained that the House waited until the last minute to give them the 1,800-page bill. The revisions would bring the state's education laws in line with its new kindergarten-through-graduate-school system and re-enact the higher education laws that expire in January.
Already senators have shown they don't plan to simply go along with the agreement they tentatively forged with the House in the final hours of the regular session March 22.
The bill the Senate filed late Monday afternoon has five changes, including two certain to be objectionable to the Republicans running the House: the deletion of an Alzheimer's research center and language that renames part of a museum and a road after McKay.
The Florida Alzheimer's Center and Research Institute at the University of South Florida is a pet project of Rep. Johnnie Byrd, the Plant City Republican who will be House speaker next year if he is re-elected in November. The House's version of the school code revisions would create the center and give it $40-million to start.
Feeney said the center is worth its price, and he wants it in the bill.
"Most of the 1,800 pages has been culled pretty thoroughly, and the appropriations people are comfortable with it," Feeney said.
The House will have to decide whether to rename the proposed entrance pavilion at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota as the "John McKay Center for the Arts" and two east-west roads on either side of the esplanade leading to the museum the "John McKay Boulevard of the Cultural Arts."
McKay was instrumental in transferring jurisdiction of the Sarasota showplace to his alma mater, Florida State University.
Other changes the Senate proposed in the education bill, McKay spokeswoman Karen Chandler said, include deleting a reference to religious freedom, changing language in the bill to protect education bills that lawmakers passed in regular session and changing language dealing with the John McKay scholarship program. That program allows students with disabilities to attend private school using a voucher from the state.
-- Times staff writer Lucy Morgan contributed to this report.
The proposed education code revision would:
Reorganize and update Florida's education laws.
Draw up a students' and parents' bill of rights.
Eliminate social promotion.
Create the Council for Education Policy, Research and Improvement.
Allow school board members to set their own pay.
Create the Florida Alzheimer's Center and Research Institute at USF (House version only).
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From the Times state desk
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