House Speaker vows to continue battling status quo

(AP Photo/Steve Cannon)
(AP Photo/Steve Cannon) (Associated Press)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Dubbing the Florida House as the “House of reformers,” Speaker Richard Corcoran signaled Tuesday that his chamber will move aggressively during the 2018 legislative session to target “sanctuary” cities, hold down taxes and expand school choice.

Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, addressed the House as lawmakers began the annual 60-day session, and he outlined priorities that are almost certain to stir debate -- and controversy.

The House, for example, will take up bill (HB 9) Thursday that would require state and local agencies to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement and would bar “sanctuary” policies. The House also pushed such a measure last year, but the Senate did not approve it.

“Now we have politicians who say they want to make the entire state of Florida a sanctuary state, just like California. That’s unacceptable,” Corcoran said. “You cannot have politicians who go out there and decide that the rule of law is a multiple- choice test and you simply get to go out there and say, ‘None of the above.’ “

But as an indication of the debates to come, Minority Leader Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, issued a statement describing the sanctuary-city bill as a “waste of time.”

“Frankly, this campaign-style political theater is disgraceful,” Cruz said. “This bill is dangerous and it’s time we consider it for what it is; a trampling of fundamental constitutional principles only to drum up headlines and support from a political base.”

Corcoran also made clear that he will not change his stance on a school property-tax issue that could set up a budget clash with the Senate. The issue involves a roughly $450 million increase in revenues that would stem from higher property values -- though school districts would maintain the same tax rates.

Corcoran argues that tax rates should be rolled back to prevent higher tax bills for property owners. But doing so would force lawmakers to shift other state money into schools to boost funding. The Senate and Gov. Rick Scott have argued for using money generated by higher property values.

During the opening-day address Tuesday, Corcoran described the House stance as taking the “moral high ground.”

“The Florida House will never support raising taxes on any individual or any business --- ever,” he said. “We won’t raise them directly. We won’t raise them indirectly.”

Corcoran, a major supporter of school-choice programs, also indicated he will continue pushing for changes in the education system, saying “we will continue to fight and fight and fight to ensure that every single child -- regardless of their race, their gender, their income or their demographics -- is afforded a world-class education.”

The House has started moving forward with a bill (HB 1) that would allow public-school students to receive voucher-like scholarships to attend private schools if they have been bullied, harassed or subject to violence. Critics have argued, in part, that the proposal is more about expanding vouchers than about helping students who have been harmed.