TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In a final-day deal, the Florida Legislature on Friday agreed to resurrect $60 million in higher-education projects that had been vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott.
In wrapping up a three-day special session, the Republican-led Senate and House avoided the politically contentious issue of overriding Scott's vetoes by tucking 17 state university, state college and private college projects into an economic-development bill (HB 1A).
Although Scott still retains the ability to remove individual projects from the bill with his veto power, the higher-education projects were part of a deal that also gives Scott $50 million for repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee and increases funding for economic development and tourism- marketing initiatives that were important to the governor.
“I'm excited to travel the state and brag about what we accomplished in the special session,” said Scott, who appeared with legislative leaders after the session ended Friday afternoon.
In reviving the higher-education projects, which were backed by Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, lawmakers reduced the funding to $60 million for the 17 projects. That is down from an original $75 million for 19 projects that were vetoed by Scott when he signed the new $82 billion state budget last week.
The Senate had voted to override the $75 million in 19 vetoed projects on the first day of the special session, but the House never took up the override proposal.
In the state university system, the revived projects include two $12.7 million building projects at Florida International University and Florida Gulf Coast University; $11 million for two building projects at Florida State University; $5.9 million for a music building at the University of Florida; $1.7 million for a downtown project for the University of Central Florida; and $889,000 for Max Planck fellowships at Florida Atlantic University.
The University of Florida will receive $1.7 million for medical marijuana research, while the Moffitt Cancer Center at the University of South Florida will receive $750,000 in research funding in another bill (SB 8A) related to medical marijuana.
Miami-Dade College will receive $4.23 million for a gymnasium project and Polk State College will receive $2.5 million for an arts program in Lake Wales.
The Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Bradenton will receive $2.1 million, and Flagler College in St. Augustine will receive $847,000 for a building project.
Although not part of the special session, another major higher-education bill (SB 374) is being reviewed by Scott.
The bill contains most of the higher-education policy initiatives that had been advanced by Negron in the 2017 regular session, including expansion of Bright Futures merit scholarships and need-based aid programs; a four-year graduation performance standard for universities; block tuition for universities; and a new oversight board for the 28 state colleges.
The expectation is that Scott will sign the higher-education bill as well as a controversial measure (HB 7069) that includes expanding the use of privately run charter schools in the K-12 system. That bill is a top priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes.
Negron said the Senate higher-education bill reflects many of Scott's priorities, including the expansion of Bright Future scholarships to cover summer classes.
“I certainly made the case for the bill. We worked with the governor in the development (of the legislation.) I'm very optimistic he will sign it,” Negron said.