The House Public Integrity & Elections Committee had presentations on the integrity of research institutions, including foreign donations to public entities. The meeting began with a presentation from US Senator Marco Rubio. Senator Rubio warned the committee members about the Chinese government’s involvement in state universities and local governments. The Senator called China’s involvement “an enormous challenge,” which he believes will define the 21st century. He cautioned the committee that “there’s only so much we can do at the federal level.”
The committee also heard the following:
Update on University of Florida Research Integrity by a team lead by Dr. David P. Norton, V.P. for Research
Update on Florida State University Research Integrity and Foreign Gifts by Robyn Blank, Chief Compliance and Ethics Officer
Federal Update on Chinese Communist Party Ambitions and Interference in US Civil Society by Peter Mattis, Senior Policy Advisor, Congressional-Executive Commission on China
Chair Erin Grall informed the committee that the FBI liaison reports that both private and public universities have been taking initiative in flagging and reporting possible foreign influence. The universities have been extremely cooperative with ongoing federal investigations. The FBI liaison’s report highlighted that several universities, including FIU and UM, have formed a foreign influence task force.
Chair Grall said she expected the Committee to introduce legislation during the upcoming legislative session related to research integrity.
The House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee held a budget workshop and heard the following presentations:
Tim Jones, Vice Chancellor, Finance/Administration and CFO, Florida Board of Governors, gave an overview of the funding of the State University System. Mr. Jones provided details on funding sources, funding history, specific funding initiatives, and the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.
Suzanne Pridgeon, Deputy Commissioner, Finance and Operations, Florida Department of Education, gave a state student financial assistance overview. The presentation included a description, participation history, and funding history of the various programs with emphasis on the larger programs such as Bright Futures and the Florida Student Assistance Grants.
Bills are referred to multiple committees for hearing. A bill must be heard by all the referred committees before it is eligible to be heard by the full Senate or House. The following bills were heard in committee this week.
CS/HB 7 Civil Liability for Damages Relating to COVID-19 by Representative McClure. The bill provides specific COVID-19-related liability protections for businesses, educational institutions (including postsecondary), government entities, religious organizations, and other entities. A covered entity that makes a good faith effort to substantially comply with COVID-19 guidance is immune from civil liability from a COVID-19-related civil action. (Final of three committees) Bill text and staff analysis.
CS/SB 220 Public Records and Public Meetings by Senators Brandes and Ray Rodrigues. The bill creates a public records and public meetings exemption for personal identifying information for applicants for president of a state university or state college. The information will be made public for the final group of selected applicants at least 21 days before the final selection. (Second of three committees) Bill text and staff analysis.
CS/HB 233 Intellectual Freedom in Postsecondary Education by Representative Roach. The bill provides:
Beginning on September 1, 2022, the BOG is required to annually report on the intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity at each institution by conducting a survey of students, faculty, and administrators.
State universities may not shield students from protected expressive activities.
A student may record video or audio of class lectures for their own 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. A recorded lecture may not be published without the consent of the lecturer.
A cause of action for damages may be brought for an unauthorized publication of a recording made in a classroom.
The cause of action against a public institution of higher education based on the violation of the individual's expressive rights is modified so that the relief includes damages plus court costs and reasonable attorney fees, which may only be paid from nonstate funds.
State university student government associations must provide elected or appointed officers a direct appeal of any discipline, suspension, or removal from office.
State universities are required to adopt a student code of conduct that meet a set of minimum due process protections specified in the bill.
SB 258 Internship Tax Credit Program by Senator Jones. The bill creates the “Florida Internship Tax Credit Program” beginning with the January 1, 2022 tax year. A qualified business may earn a tax credit of $2,000 for each degree-seeking student intern employed for up to a maximum of $10,000 in any taxable year. (First of three committees) Bill text and staff analysis.
HB 423 Hurricane Loss Mitigation Program by Representative Tuck. Annual funding of $700,000 for FIU’s Wall of Wind (WOW) is authorized as part of the Hurricane Loss Mitigation Program. The funding for the Program, including the WOW, is scheduled to expire on June 30, 2021. The bill extends for ten years the funding for the Program through June 30, 2031. (First of four committees) Bill text and staff analysis.
SB 514 Resiliency by Senator Ray Rodrigues. The bill establishes the Statewide Office of Resiliency (SOR) within the Executive Office of the Governor, headed by a Chief Resilience Officer, appointed by and serving at the pleasure of the Governor. The bill creates the Statewide Sea-Level Rise Task Force adjunct to the SOR for the purpose of recommending consensus projections of the anticipated sea-level rise and flooding impacts along this state’s coastline. (First of three committees) Bill text and staff analysis.
SB 538 Use of Epinephrine Auto-injectors on Public K-20 Campuses by Representative Polsky. The bill requires the purchase and maintenance of epinephrine auto-injectors by K-12 public schools, state colleges, and state universities. Each institution must adopt a protocol developed by a licensed physician for the administration of the epinephrine auto-injectors. (First of three committees) Bill text and staff analysis.
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