Legislative Update: April 2021

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

A Message from Jay Galbraith, Vice President, Public Affairs and Marketing, and Bill Mullowney, Vice President, Policy and General Counsel

With the 2021 Legislative Session underway, the main focus continues to be on public health and the economic impact created by the pandemic. In regards to the budget, we are continuing to track the status and anticipate a much better budget outlook than initially projected going into the pandemic. Additionally, there are a few bills that we are monitoring, and the status and potential implications are detailed by way of this update.

2021-2022 Budget

Current appropriation proposals in both the House and Senate situates the budget for the Florida Community College System in a good place, with no cuts from last year’s budget, and we anticipate that Valencia’s budget will not receive any additional cuts for the upcoming fiscal year. This is good news.

Last year, as we entered the pandemic, the state’s budget receipts had declined dramatically. With that in mind, approximately 11 months ago, we were anticipating cuts as much as 10% to the budget. Fortunately, as economic conditions have improved, so has Florida’s budget framework.

Although many throughout the state remain laid-off, unemployed or under employed, the anticipated deep impact of the pandemic appears to have lessened, and state budget receipts are increasing each month. In the current Senate proposal, state universities are bracing for a $500 million system-wide reduction, and the House has a proposed $40 million cut to the Effective Access to Student Education (EASE) scholarship program, affecting Florida’s private colleges and universities.

Many of you may remember at the end of the 2020 Legislative Session, there was a veto for the funding of Florida’s Virtual Library system. Plans were quickly put in place to ensure the System remained up and running while a 2021 Legislative “Fix” was created. Funding and long-term plans are in place for this program in the current budget. We will provide an update after the Session.

Bills and Legislation

At present, there are a number of bills moving through the legislature that will have an impact on higher education.

House Bill 1507 aims to streamline workforce programs and funding, in an effort to ensure students are aware of job demand related to individual degree programs, as well as provide better alignment with industry trends and employer needs. We expect a package to pass and have been in discussion with Nasser Hedayat, assistant vice president, career and workforce education, to determine implications for Valencia’s workforce programs.

With a continued push to expand Dual Enrollment, this bill also focuses on increasing enrollment of private school students, expanding summer school options and dedicating an ongoing revenue stream to fund these opportunities.

A key issue that has been passed by both the House and the Senate, and is headed to Gov. DeSantis for approval, is CS/CS/HB 233 – Intellectual Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity. If approved by the Governor, the bill would take effect on Thursday, July 1, 2021. This bill will change Florida law in significant ways:

  • Intellectual Freedom Surveys 

First, the bill requires the State Board of Education (SBE) and Board of Governors (BOG) of the State University System to select or create a survey to be administered by all Florida College System (FCS) institutions and state universities annually. The surveys must be designed to capture the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented on campus, as well as the extent to which those surveyed feel free to express their beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom. The bill requires the surveys to be objective, nonpartisan and statistically valid. All FCS institutions and state universities must conduct the survey annually. Beginning Thursday, September 1, 2022, the results of this survey are to be compiled by the SBE and the BOG, respectively, and published each September.

  • No “Shielding” 

The bill prohibits the SBE, the BOG, FCS institutions and state universities from shielding students, faculty or staff from protected free speech. The bill defines “shield” as limiting students’ access to or observation of ideas and opinions they may find uncomfortable, unwelcome, disagreeable or offensive.

  • Classroom Audio/Video Recording 

The bill authorizes the video and audio recording of class lectures and clarifies that the nonconsensual recording of video and audio of such lectures recorded in classrooms, subject to the privacy protections provided in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), is permissible. The bill makes it clear that this specified recording as authorized would not be a felony under Florida law, even if all the parties to the recording did not consent to be recorded. However, it requires that a recording made in a classroom only be published with the lecturer’s consent and may only be used for the following purposes:

      • personal educational use;
      • in connection with a complaint to the public institution of higher education where the recording was made; or
      • as evidence in, or in preparation for, a criminal or civil proceeding.

The bill provides for causes of action that may be brought by a student against an institution that violates this law, and by individuals (such as faculty members against a student) who publish recordings in violation of this law.

  • Student Codes of Conduct 

The bill proscribes certain requirements that now must be contained in the codes of student conduct maintained by the Florida College System and State University System institutions, including:

      • Written notice of disciplinary proceeding, at least seven business days prior to the proceeding, that includes the allegations, a specific citation to the code of conduct provision alleged violated, a description of the process to be used for the disciplinary proceeding, student’s or student organization’s rights in the proceeding, and the date, time and location of the disciplinary proceeding;
      • a student or student organization must be provided a list of witnesses who provided information to the institution or will provide information at the proceeding, as well as all known inculpatory and exculpatory information at least five business days prior to the proceeding;
      • a presumption of innocence of the accused student or student organization until the institution carries its burden of proof, as created by this bill, as at least a preponderance of the evidence;
      • the right to an impartial hearing officer;
      • the right to not self-incriminate and to remain silent and that such silence cannot be used against the accused student or student organization;
      • the right to present relevant evidence and question witnesses;
      • the right to an advocate or have an advisor provided by the institution to assist the student or student organization in understanding their rights;
      • the right, at their own expense, to hire an advisor, advocate or legal representative to be present and who can fully participate in the disciplinary proceeding;
      • the right to appeal any initial determination to an appropriate senior administrator of the institution;
      • a requirement that an accurate and complete recording be made of the disciplinary proceeding and any appeal and that such recording be made available to the student or student organization upon request; and
      • a time limit for the charging of students under the code, including any exceptions to such time limit.

The Florida Legislative Session is scheduled to conclude on Friday, April 30, 2021. Further updates will be shared as we continue to engage with the legislative process and monitor the movement of bills and budget decisions.

Please feel free to reach out to either of us directly at jgalbraith1@valenciacollege.edu or bmullowney@valenciacollege.edu if you have questions.

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