Miami Herald: Florida Legislature to tackle class size, lawsuit damage caps

Mar 4, 2010

The Miami Herald published this article on March 4, 2010

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

The proposed constitutional amendment to freeze class size counts is expected to clear its final Senate committee Thursday, paving the way for an early session floor vote that ensures the measure makes it on the November 2010 ballot.

“As soon as we can get in on the floor, we will,” said Senate sponsor Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. “We want to do it in the first part of session, not the last.”

The proposed amendment would freeze class size counts established by the 2003 class size amendment at the schoolwide level rather than having the counts be done on a class-by-class level as the amendment requires, starting this fall. Proponents of the schoolwide counts say they will give school administrators more flexibility to run their schools while costing the state less money.

Even opponents to the measure concede it is likely to sail through the 40-member chamber, thanks to support from teacher and administrator unions.

“I think I’m the only one who opposes this besides The Miami Herald editorial board,” quipped Sen. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami.

Also Thursday, the Senate Health Regulation Committee will consider SB 1474, the perennial bill to protect emergency healthcare workers and hospitals from large legal claims by capping damages — under this proposal, at $200,000.

The bill has failed in recent years in the Senate, much to trial lawyers’ relief. But this time around the bill has now-Sen. John Thrasher as its powerful sponsor. Thrasher, newly elected RPOF chairman, won his Jacksonville Senate seat this past fall during a heated special election in which he became the target of a steady barrage of hard-hitting ads largely funded by personal injury lawyers.

Thrasher had the support of former Gov. Jeb Bush and pro-business allies during his campaign. He also had the endorsement of Senate president-designate Mike Haridopolos, who made clear his displeasure with the trial lawyers’ decision to work against Thrasher’s election.

Nonetheless, Thrasher said SB 1474 has nothing to do with political revenge.

“I have always taken this stance on this issue,” Thrasher said, referring to his history of tussling with trial lawyers on malpractice and other matters. “I just think this is the right thing to do. We have some serious healthcare issues today.”

The House, meanwhile, will continue to hold budget workshops in its various committees. House budget leaders expect to get the first set of numbers needed to start writing the state spending plan as they hope to complete their version of the budget by April 1.

Gov. Charlie Crist, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Attorney General Bill McCollum will also meet Thursday to hear reports on the investment performance of the agency that invests the state pension fund, the State Board of Administration. The report will focus on how the pension fund has performed during the last year and what obstacles it faces in the years ahead.