UFF-FAU

United Faculty of Florida-Florida Atlantic University Chapter

  • Apr
    2

    April 2, 2010. SB 2022 passes Senate vote, Will re-establish employee contribution to FRS for first time since 1974, FEA remains vigilant and calls/emails have caused legislators to rethink their actions

    Retirement Bills — Summary of 2010 Legislative Activity

    HB 5701 by Rep. Rivera, R-112, Miami, a bill eliminating the Health Insurance Subsidy passed the House of Representatives.  In a House Floor vote this afternoon, HB 5701 first failed on a vote of 57 yeas and 59 nays.  But the House Leadership immediately pushed through a motion to reconsider this vote under which HB 5701 failed to pass.  After winning the Motion to Reconsider, the House voted again on HB 5701 and with this vote passed HB 5701 on a vote of 63 yeas and 56 nays.  (HIS) for FRS retirees

    Legislators who changed their vote from “no” to “yes” on the second vote on HB 5701 are Homan (R-60, Tampa), Kelly (R-24, Ocala), Kreegel (R-72, Punta Gorda), McBurney (R-16, Jacksonville), and Trudy Williams (R-75, Ft. Myers).  Legislators who did not vote at all on the 1st vote on HB 5701, but voted “yes” on the second vote are Adams (R-33, Oviedo), Eisnaugle (R-40, Orlando), and Kelly (R-24, Ocala).

    The bill is being sent immediately to the Senate for Senate consideration and a Senate floor vote.  This bill would have eliminated a benefit that all retirees under the FRS receive; consisting of a $5 per month subsidy for every year they worked. The subsidy is capped to 30 years, which equals up to $150 per month subsidy toward their monthly insurance coverage.

    Contact your Senators and urge them to vote “no” on HB 5701.  To find your Senators, go towww.flsenate.gov and look for “Find Your Legislators” at the bottom of the menu on the left side of the web site.

    HB 1319 by Rep. Grady, R-76, Naples, remains stalled in the House Committee on Governmental Affairs Policy.  The bill has never received a hearing in the Committee and the Committee has now concluded its hearings for the 2010 Legislative Session.  However, there are still significant threats to pensions.  The possibility remains that 1319 (or pieces of it) might be amended onto another piece of legislation.  Keep those phone calls and emails going into Legislators offices urging them to oppose HB 1319 and any attempts to amend it onto other legislation.

    HB 1543 by Rep. Zapata, R-119, Miami, has been withdrawn from further consideration during this 2010 Legislative Session.

    SB 2022 by Senator J.D. Alexander, R-17, Lake Wales, passed a Senate floor vote on Wednesday, March 31, 2010, despite public testimony against the bill from FEA, AFSCME, the Police Benevolent Association, and the Firefighters when Senator Alexander held hearings on the bill on March 25, 2010.  SB 2022 re-establishes an employee contribution – which has not existed since July 1, 1974.  Although this bill does not propose reductions to FRS retirement benefits, it does propose that beginning July 1, 2010, public employees participating in the FRS plan AND the optional retirement plan begin making employee contributions to the respective plan  Employees participating in FRS retirement will be hit with a contribution rate of 0.25 % of their gross annual compensation (payroll deduction).  If passed into law, the contribution rates would be set by law in the annual rate bill.  This bill will probably be sent to the House for consideration and a House floor vote.  Contact your Legislators and urge them to vote “no”.

    SB 1902 by Senator Mike Bennett, R-21, Bradenton, is scheduled for hearing in the Senate Committee on Community Affairs on April 7, 2010.  This bill addresses issues applicable to the Special Risk class of participants in FRS (i.e., police, firefighters, and emergency responders).  However, the bill also includes provisions that could be construed as applicable to other FRS participant classes.  These provisions limit the benefits payable to a member of a retirement system or plan who has not attained ten years of service by July 1, 2010, to not exceed 70 percent of his or her highest annual base pay, excluding overtime and other additional compensation. This section limits the benefits to 90 percent in situations where the member’s employer does not participate in the federal Social Security Act.

    FEA remains vigilant in opposing FRS changes

    We are operating in a very fluid situation on the retirement bills proposed during the 2010 Legislative Session.  Although the 30 retirement bills introduced in this 2010 Legislative Session has whittled down to 2 or 3 active ones, we must remain vigilant in our opposition to changes in FRS retirement benefits.   The extraordinary response from FEA members voicing their opposition to any reduction in FRS retirement benefits has slowed or stalled all but two or three of these bills.  However, the legislative process operates in a way that makes it possible for any part, or all, of a stalled bill to be amended onto some other piece of legislation.  This is why we must continue to voice our opposition, despite the lack of specifics regarding which bill number may be moved to committee or floor vote or amended onto other legislation. We must not allow FEA members to become discouraged or confused by Legislators who respond by saying these bills are dead, or that we have our facts wrong.  There remain legislators who hope to slide through changes and reductions in retirement benefits by playing word games with those opposing these changes and by disguising these changes under cover of non-retirement legislation that is still active.

    FEA Statement of Position on All Retirement Bill

    FEA remains OPPOSED to any changes to the Florida Retirement System that would result in reduced benefits or out-of-pocket costs for public employees and retirees.  FEA remains opposed to any changes to, or the elimination of, the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP).  FEA is opposed to any attempt to reduce or eliminate the Health Insurance Subsidy (HIS).  FEA is opposed to out-of-pocket costs – an employee’s contribution – for a participating membership in the defined benefit plan.  And, FEA is opposed to retreating from a true Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA)

    While the FRS system experienced a short term loss in the recent market down turn, we know that the system is invested for the long term and is a financially sound, expertly run retirement system.  The Legislature is focusing on the Florida Retirement System (FRS) and all employee benefits to raise revenues to address the state’s budget shortfall.  These bills have been filed to slow or eliminate the long-term costs of employee benefit programs to the state.

    You help is still needed by keeping the pressure on your legislators about these issues and by calling or writing to let them know that they must defend and protect the public employee participants in the Florida Retirement System.

    Contact legislative leaders today

    Senate Contact

    ·       Senate President Jeff Atwater

    §       Capitol Office 850-487-5229

    §       District Office 561-625-5101

    §       Email jeff.atwater@flsenate.gov

    House Contact

    ·       House Speaker Larry Cretul

    §       Capitol Office 850-488-1450

    §       District Office 352-873-6564

    §       Email larry.cretul@myfloridahouse.gov

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  • Mar
    27

    March 27, 2010. SB 6 passes Senate while House counterpart HB 7189 begins ascent, Assault on Florida Retirement System stems from legislators’ burning desire to balance budget without raising taxes.

    (Received March 26, 2010).

    Quote of the week:

    “Every success in our public schools is credited to some program with a tortured acronym crafted in the halls of Tallahassee…while every failure is laid at the feet of our hard working teachers,” Senator Charlie Justice (D-St. Petersburg) in Floor debate before casting his vote against SB 6.

    Week four of the 2010 legislative session

    This is how Week Four started out:  “In a galaxy far, far away, a psychopathic emperor and his most trusted servant – a former Jedi Knight known as Darth Vader – are ruling a universe with fear. They have built a horrifying weapon known as the Death Star, a giant battle station capable of annihilating a world in less than a second. When the Death Star’s master plans are captured by the fledgling Rebel Alliance, Vader starts a pursuit of the ship carrying them… the Rebels must quickly find a way to eliminate the Death Star before it is too late!”

    Ok, the Star Wars comparison might be a bit over the top… Jeb Bush (the brains behind SB 6) is not a psychopathic emperor and Sen. John Thrasher (RPOF Chair and sponsor of SB 6) is not Darth Vader— and SB 6 and HB 7189 are not the plans for a Death Star.  But we could have sworn FEA President Andy Ford and attorney Ron Meyer were a little like Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi wielding light sabers against a never-ending battalion of Storm Troopers… and FEA and the locals are looking a lot like the Rebel Alliance these days!

    Next week will be a short week for the Legislature due to observance of religious holidays.  The Senate and the House will be in session on Wednesday and Thursday to pass the budget bills.  We’ll let you know how that goes in next week’s Frontline.

    In this issue:

    SB 6 passes Senate – starts House journey as HB 7189

    SJR 2 Class Size passes Senate

    Retirement bills starting to move

    Member lobbyists visiting Tallahassee

    SB 6 passes Senate – starts House journey as HB 7189

    The venomous SB 6 sponsored by the chair of the Republican Party of Florida, Sen. John Thrasher (R-Jacksonville) went to the floor of the Senate this week for a full Senate vote.  The bill passed by a vote of 21 to 17.

    Voting against the bill were Senators:

    Aronberg (D-Greenacres), Bullard (D-Miami), Dean (R-Inverness), Dockery (R-Lakeland), Deutch (D-Delray Beach), Gelber (D-Miami Beach), Hill (D-Jacksonville), Jones (R-Seminole), Joyner (D-Tampa), Justice (D-St. Petersburg), Lawson (D-Tallahassee), Ring (D-Margate), Smith (D-Oakland Park), Siplin (D-Orlando), Sobel (D-Hollywood), Villalobos (R-Miami), Wilson (D-Miami) (Sen. Nan Rich was absent this week).

    The House version – now filed as HB 7189 — was heard in the House Education PreK-12 committee on Thursday – passing by a vote of 9 to 6.  Republican Rep. Mike Weinstein (Jacksonville) was the lone Republican casting his vote against the bill with the Democrats.   The next stop for this bill has yet to be determined – it could go straight to a full vote of the House or it could be referred to a committee or two, or it could sit in limbo as a negotiating tool for the House to get something in return from the Senate.

    SB 6 and HB 7189:

    ·       Eliminates due process and places all new teachers on annual contracts – these contracts may be non-renewed for any reason or no reason without recourse.

    ·       Permits non-renewal of a teaching certificate if a teacher cannot demonstrate student learning gains in 4 of the preceding 5 years.

    ·       Links learning gains —measured by a means yet to be determined and end of course exams that don’t yet exist— to teacher pay and recertification. Performance appraisals will be required to be based upon 50% student learning gains.

    ·       Prohibits recognition of years of service or advanced degrees in determining teacher salaries.

    ·       Ensures that the National Board Certified Teacher program will end in Florida by requiring individuals to be NBCT certified by July 1, 2010 and stipulates that bonuses will be paid if funding is available and if they are continuously employed in a public school.

    ·       Ends college grant and loan forgiveness programs for critical need areas.

    ·       Will lop off 5% of districts’ state funding to be held for performance pay, but first the funds will be used to develop the tests and processes to determine learning gains.  It amounts to about $900 – 950 million.  In essence, all teachers are paying for the cost of test development and performance awards which may become due under SB 6.

    ·       Shifts more and more control away from local school districts to the state, removes local decision-making by elected school boards or through collective bargaining on matters which relate to wages, hours, terms and conditions of employment.

    ·       Carves out any school district receiving $75 million or more in private grants so they are exempt from complying with the provisions of the bill until July 1, 201.6

    In previous alerts and Frontlines, we did not adequately thank those who testified against SB 6/HB7189 – they all did a fantastic job! Our thanks to:

    ·       Ron Meyer for his impassioned testimony against the many ill-conceived premises of SB 6

    ·       Rich Templin from the Florida AFL-CIO speaking as a parent against the bill

    ·       Candace Gautney –  a 5th grade Science teacher from Ruediger Elementary School in Tallahassee

    ·       Melissa Olson – a 5th grade Writing teacher from Ruediger Elementary School

    ·       Jennifer Barnhill who teachers in Tallahassee at the PACE Alternative Center, Special Education/Emotionally Handicapped

    ·       Jason Flom from Cornerstone Learning Community

    ·       UTD President Karen Aronowitz and her many members who were part of UTD’s Target Tallahassee group

    ·       The many teachers and parents who turned in speaker cards to the committee from all around the state, but we were not able to get all their names

    There is no way to adequately describe what they said and the intellectual and emotional impact their words had on that committee and those who sat in the audience!

    SJR 2 Class Size passes Senate

    The Senate passed SJR 2 – the 2010 legislative scheme to renege on class size reduction.  The House version HJR 7039 could be placed on the House session calendar at any time.   A 3/5 vote of the full body (all 40 members), or 24 votes was required for passage of SJR 2 to place the proposal on the November 2010 ballot. The final vote was 26 to 12; one Democrat voted for the Amendment – Senator Ring (D-Margate) with the Republicans… and one Republican – Sen. Alex Villalobos (R-Miami) voted against the bill with the Democrats.  Note: two Democrats were absent – Rich and Bullard.

    Voting against SJR 2 were Senators:

    Aronberg (D-Greenacres), Deutch (D-Delray Beach), Gelber (D-Miami Beach), Hill (D-Jacksonville), Joyner (D-Tampa), Justice (D-St. Petersburg), Lawson (D-Tallahassee), Smith (D-Oakland Park), Siplin (D-Orlando), Sobel (D-Hollywood), Villalobos (R-Miami), Wilson (D-Miami) (Sen. Nan Rich was absent this week).

    The proposed amendment would keep class-size caps at the school average and then allow schools to add three extra students in the kindergarten to 3rd grade level and five extra students at grades four through 12.

    Here’s what the bill could do to our classrooms:

    ·       In 2002-03 Pre-K-3 averaged 23 students. Now 16 students.  If the amendment passes classes may have 21 students.

    ·       In 2002-03 Grades 4–8 averaged 24 students. Now 19 students. If the amendment passes classes may have 27 students.

    ·       In 2002-03 Grades 8-12 averaged 24 students. Now 22 students. If the amendment passes classes may have 30 students.

    That moves past the sought-after “flexibility” right on over to “gutting” the class-size provisions voters approved eight years ago.

    Retirement bills starting to move

    As the 2010 Legislative Session begins to hit its full pace, we’re starting to see only a few of the 29 filed retirement related bills – plus a few more committee bills – pick up traction.  The really bad bill HB 1319 has fallen by the wayside – although we have to be on the lookout for any of its provisions popping up in other bills through the amendment process.

    These changes to FRS are prompted by the legislature’s burning desire to find more ways to balance the state budget without raising taxes.  As you well know, to balance the budget over the past 3 years they have been making huge cuts to state funding for education, public safety and human services … the one thing they haven’t touched is – you guessed it – the Florida Retirement System (FRS).  So get ready for another promise to be broken by our elected leaders.  Here’s a quick rundown on one moving through the process:

    SB 2022 by Sen. J.D. Alexander (R-Lake Wales) was voted out of the Senate Ways & Means Committee Thursday.  FEA opposes this bill.  The bill changes the FRS from a non-contributory system to a contributory system by requiring each active member of the FRS to contribute 0.25% of gross salary to fund retirement benefits, effective January 1, 2011.

    This bill impacts every active member of the FRS, the Senior Management Service Optional Annuity Program, the State University Optional Retirement Program and the Community College Optional Retirement Program.

    Senators voting in opposition to the bill were: Gelber, Hill, Justice, Lawson, Lynn, Sobel, Wilson, and Deutch.

    This contribution rate applies to both FRS defined benefit plan participants and investment plan participants.  Public testimony in opposition to the bill emphasized the points that the 0.25% contribution rate is merely the camel’s nose under the tent, and the employee contribution will, in effect, be a tax free loan to the state.

    After Sen. Evelyn Lynn (R-Daytona Beach) asked the bill sponsor “what does this bill do for teachers?”  Alexander responded: “It requires them to make a 0.25% of gross pay towards their FRS retirement plan which means that if they make $45,000 per year, their annual contribution would total $112; and if they make $75,000 per year, their annual contribution would total $187.50.”

    Senator Gaetz (R-Niceville) insisted that this was the only way to raise funds to make FRS actuarially sound.  Senator Alexander replied that he wished they didn’t have to make these tough decisions — but the Legislature has to balance the budget.

    Member lobbyists visiting Tallahassee

    Big thank you to all our visiting member lobbyists!  It was quite a week! If this was their first time in Tallahassee they certainly got a view of the legislative process they won’t soon forget!  Thanks to: Alachua, Brevard, Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Lake, Leon, Martin, Orange, Pasco and Pinellas!

    Questions? Call FEA Public Policy Advocacy at 850.224.2078

    Thanks to all those who contributed to this report: Debi McDaniel, Pat Dix, Kevin Watson, and Ron Meyer.

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  • Mar
    25

    March 25, 2010. Deluge of messages to legislators derails HB 1319 from fast track, “Significant threats to pensions” remain, “They are coming at us from all directions.”

    Dear Colleague:

    Thank you for your strong response to the legislative attacks on the Florida Retirement System (FRS).   As a result of the flood of messages legislators are receiving, the enthusiasm for using money from FRS funds to cover part of the $3 billion budget hole in Florida has slowed.  HB 1319 (Grady) no longer appears headed on a fast track for final vote.  (In any event, the legal counsel for the Florida Education Association informs us that Florida law has been interpreted as meaning a pension contribution already vested becomes a property right and cannot be taken away by legislators).

    However, there are still significant threats to pensions.  Several bills have been filed that would subtract funds from the FRS pension fund.  The possibility remains that 1319 (or pieces of it) might be amended onto another piece of legislation.  Because a bill can move quickly depending on circumstances, and because there are several legislators now targeting teachers, faculty, and public employees for severe treatment, we expect there will be legislators ready to move against our interests at any time — up to and including the end of the session.  As one education lobbyist put it, “They are coming at us from all directions.  ”

    The safest path for faculty who want to defend pensions is to leave phone messages for legislators each week (only one or two sentences) until the session closes. The message is: Oppose any reduction in FRS pensions.

    You can find the phone numbers for your senators and representatives at www.myfloridahouse.gov .  Click “find representative” and enter your address.

    Sincerely,

    Tom Auxter

    President, United Faculty of Florida

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  • Mar
    19

    Thursday, March 18, 2010, 4:05 PM

    Dear Colleague:

    Legislative leaders are moving rapidly to pass a bill, HB 1319 (Grady), that could cut your Florida Retirement System pension in half. By changing rules about how pensions are calculated, they can cut your average yearly pension from $30,000 to $15,000, for example.  Tell your legislators to vote against HB 1319.
    (See pdf of HB 1319 below for details.)

    Legislators are also preparing to destroy tenure (continuing contracts) for K-12 teachers when they vote on Senate bill 6. (See link to FEA analysis of SB 6 below.) This bill abolishes continuing contracts for teachers (earned after a probationary period), places them on annual contracts, and makes both reappointment and pay raises contingent on test scores of students.  School boards will actually be punished in funding if they pay teachers more for earning advanced degrees rather than rewarding teachers for test scores of students. Tell your legislators to vote against SB 6.

    Over time, the economic effect of SB 6 will be to eliminate graduate programs in education when funding is taken away for advanced degrees, and make it impossible to adequately fund undergraduate education degrees by imposing unfunded mandates (expensive reporting mechanisms) to check on test scores of graduates. In other words, it is an attack on the funding and potential enrollment in public universities and colleges at the same time that it is an attack on teacher tenure and professional achievement. It severely jeopardizes recruitment of both faculty and teachers when legislators strip away professional compensation and restrict the academic freedom of educators by abolishing tenure.

    Moreover, if legislators abolish tenure for K-12 now and get away with it without resistance, we can expect higher education will be next — losing tenure and finding ourselves subjected to the latest testing scheme to decide if we have the professional standing to continue. Contact legislators now to stop attacks on the conditions of employment of educators. The loss of professional standards now will make it impossible for us to retain and recruit both teachers and faculty in the future.

    Sincerely,

    Tom Auxter
    President, United Faculty of Florida

    Click here to view pdf of HB1319 (Grady)
    Click here to link to FEA analysis of SB 6.
    Read and Sign Defend Tenure Now Petition, by Henry Thomas, UFF-UNF President

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Robert Zoeller;
Department of Exercise Science
561-297-2549
president@uff-fau.org

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