School code bill finally okayedBy ALISA ULFERTS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 1, 2002
TALLAHASSEE -- The Senate easily passed a massive bill Tuesday updating state education laws, less than a month after failing to pass the measure during a special session.
Last month, senators balked at provisions in the bill that spelled out religious freedom in public schools. A compromise that removed the provision from the bill ensured its passage, 27-7.
A new provision requires the state to give teachers and school administrators a federal pamphlet outlining religious freedom on campus.
Senators also cut part of the bill allowing school districts to create an exemption to the state policy forbidding firearms on campus. It would have let districts allow students to keep guns locked in cars.
Last month, Jewish senators feared the religious freedom language in the original bill would expand religious activities at schools and lead to harassment of religious minorities. Some Republicans feared that the law would allow the preaching of Satanism on campus.
"This is the last time we are going to have this extremely divisive fight. At least for two years," said Sen. Steven Geller, D-Hallandale Beach.
Seven Democrats cast the only negative votes, saying it took too much control from local school districts while creating a potential "food fight" among universities for funding every year.
Sen. Les Miller, D-Tampa, predicted a future Legislature would have to rewrite the code in 10 years because it does too little for prekindergarten and other aspects of public school.
"I will be at home, or wherever I will be, to whisper, "I told you so,' " Miller said.
House Speaker Tom Feeney said through a spokeswoman he doesn't expect House members to object to the changes, which were part of a deal negotiated by Gov. Jeb Bush before he called lawmakers back for the special session.
Also Tuesday, Bush signed a law declaring the last full week in September as Celebrate Freedom Week in public schools. The law also requires social studies classes that week to include the importance of the Declaration of Independence in the nation's history.
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