BRADENTON – Despite being one of the most sound public sector pensions in the United States, the Florida Retirement System found itself once more under attack from lawmakers intent to completely dismantle the popular defined-benefit pension option. But despite passing easily in the House, where Speaker Will Weatherford named it a top priority for the session, the proposal died on a 22-18 vote in the Senate Tuesday after a bipartisan effort to save the program succeeded. The same day, 6 Republicans joined 14 Democrats to kill the controversial parent-trigger bill, that was being pushed by for-profit charter schools.
Weatherford sought to end defined-benefit pensions for new employees altogether, while a Senate bill by Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby) would have only restricted higher-level administrators to the 401-k like defined-contribution plans, though both restricted vesting and other components. Senate President Don Gaetz promised Weatherford an up down vote, but after a passionate debate from Senator Jack Latvala (R- Clearwater), seven Republicans including Nancy Detert (R-Venice), joined him to vote it down. Simpson then withdrew his weaker version of the bill, which many had originally seen as a defensive measure, ensuring the watered-down version wouldn't resurface. Locally, Senator Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) voted in favor of the amendment Tuesday.
Also on Tuesday, Detert again joined a handful of fellow Republicans to buck the party on the parent-trigger bill, which would have expanded turnaround options on failing public schools, to include a parental vote on turning it over to a for-profit charter school company (though it was amended Monday to give local school boards veto power). Citing problems at Sarasota's Imagine School, Detert said that she had not heard from a single parent who was in favor of the bill, which, like the FRS proposal, was largely seen as an ideological move with minimal voter support. Ironically, the bill died in a 20-20 tie, just as it did in last year's session. Detert was among four Republicans who bucked the party on both the FRS and parent trigger votes. Charlie Dean (R-Inverness), Miguel Diaz de La Portilla (R-Miami), and Greg Evers (R-Baker) were the others, while Galvano again voted the party line.
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