Live from Music Row Thursday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Florida State Representative Randy Fine to the newsmakers line to discuss some of the Florida legislation that is going through the last days of session and how his state is leading the way.
Leahy: We are joined on the newsmaker line by state Representative Randy Fine of Florida. Good morning Representative Fine.
Fine: Good morning. Happy to be here.
Leahy: We are delighted to have you on here. I’m going to give you some news you may not know. As you know, we own and operate several state-based conservative news sites. And two weeks ago, we launched The Florida Capital Star. Floridacapitalstar.com. Right there, based in Tallahassee. We’ve got a crew of three folks here writing about what you guys are doing in the Florida state Legislature and what Governor DeSantis is doing. We are delighted to have you on here.
Fine: Well, we appreciate you getting the good word out on all the good work we’re doing down here.
Leahy: So your legislative session is about to wind up, I guess tomorrow is that right?
Fine: That’s right. We have a 60-day session by Constitution every year, and tomorrow will be the 60th day.
Leahy: So every time I turn around, you guys are passing legislation that should be viewed as a model by other States. What would you say are the top accomplishments of this session of the Florida state legislature?
Fine: I think number one, we will again pass a balanced budget, which we do every year while adding to our reserves. I like to tell people we do more than balance our budget. We actually put money in savings. That’s always our most important priority. But policy-wise, we’ve passed the most aggressive anti rioting, pro-police legislation in the country to make sure Florida never looks like Portland or Seattle. And we are also close to passing legislation to really hold Big Tech accountable for the way that they manipulate our data and the way that they censor and treat Conservatives.
Leahy: I looked at our website, floridacapitalstar.com, and I can see you had a couple of other bills. The Florida House passed a bill banning vaccine passports.
Fine: We did. We did. The governor feels very strongly that people should not have to prove that they have been vaccinated in order to go into particular businesses. And so that bill passed the Florida House overwhelmingly yesterday.
Leahy: The other thing I’ve been hearing about is that Governor DeSantis has said we’re not going to be teaching critical race theory in Florida. And I’ve also seen that apparently there are some bills out there that would provide bonuses to teachers in the Florida public school system that follow and take advanced training on the Constitution and civics. Where does that bill stand?
Fine: I’m actually the chair of K through 12 appropriations, so I set the budget. We’re very very aggressive on that front. Number one, minimizing the teaching of the hatred of America and that America is bad and everything that we do is bad. And that’s really what critical race theory says. Basically, let’s be critical of America and view everything through a racist lens.
We’re focused on celebrating America. We’ve passed multiple bills this year that focus on increasing civics as well as reminding people about what makes America great through creating new content to show folks portraits in patriotism, and to remind folks about the evil that’s involved in socialism and communism.
Leahy: So is there an incentive program for teachers that get special training on civics and related projects? Is that in the works? Has that been passed or about to be passed or under consideration?
Fine: We haven’t passed anything to provide incentives for it. But we’re doing one thing better. We’re going to require the teaching of this stuff in schools. So you’re not going to get paid extra to do the right thing. We’re going to expect you to do it as a condition of your job.
Leahy: How will that be monitored? Because one of the problems, we interview members of the Tennessee General Assembly all the time, and they have an idea about what’s being taught in the schools and often their idea of what should be taught and what is being taught is very different from what’s actually being taught.
Fine: Well, that’s a great question. So we passed other legislation this session that increases the availability of classroom materials to parents so the parents can see what’s going on. And we have very active parents in our state. But one other thing that we’ve done is that is sort of related to keep the schools honest is we have passed the largest expansion of school choice in the United States this year.
So we’re creating opportunities for all of our Florida families if they so choose to take their child if they’re not happy for any reason out of a government-run school and to put them into a different school.
Leahy: Tell us how that school choice program expansion will work. Here in Tennessee, this is something that we’re very interested in. We have had a few fits and starts in that Arena. And we look to Florida, as many States do, as a model.
Fine: We have hundreds of thousands of students already taking advantage of private school choice here in Florida. We’ve expanded that this year to say any family of four making $100,000 a year or less can get a voucher equivalent to what the state is paying the school to teach your child. You can get a voucher and take that to a private school. That’s what you want to do.
But in addition, we have a very expensive program for families of children with special needs. Whether they can get their money not only to go to a private school but if that child would be better off at home with specialized therapies and other kinds of products and services they can use it for that. So that is for special needs programs and middle-class programs.
Leahy: For a middle-class parent there, what’s that work out to be? About $7,000 a child?
Fine: That’s exactly right. It’s right around $7,000. And it changes from year to year. We’re talking about the income-based scholarship.
Leahy: Right. The income-based scholarship. But any parent down there with $100,000 or less can qualify for those voucher payments. Is that right?
Fine: So to make it simple, you make $99,000 a year. You’re a family of four with two kids in school, you can get $14,000. to send your child to a private school.
Leahy: Wow! And so I’m guessing that there are a lot of parents that are likely to line up to take advantage of that.
Fine: There are. But the fact of the matter is by having this accountability, our public schools and our charter schools have gotten better. So some parents go, well, hey, we appreciate that we have this option. It makes my government-run school have to do a lot better to keep me from leaving. So everybody wins.
Whether you’re going to a private school or whether you’re going to a charter school, which is a public school, or whether you’re going to a government-run public school. That increased competition benefits everybody.
Leahy: So how are teachers in Florida responding to all this? I know the teachers’ unions, particularly up here in Tennessee, are pretty hostile to these kinds of policy changes. What’s the case down in Florida?
Fine: Well, teachers’ unions hate them, but teachers don’t necessarily because whether you’re teaching in a private school or a government-run school or charter school, they is still a job for you. But I don’t do this job for teachers unions. I do this job for children. I do this job for parents. And those folks overwhelmingly like these programs.
But if you are a teacher in a government-run school, Florida has raised our minimum teacher salaries to among the highest in the country at $47,500 which is a pretty good salary for a job where you get 14 weeks a year off.
Leahy: So you are likely to wrap up tomorrow. Do you think you’ll be there until midnight? How long will it take to get all the business done?
Fine: We can’t vote under our Constitution until 12:06 tomorrow on our budget. We have to actually give 72 hours after we print the budget before we vote on it. So I think sometime mid-afternoon. And by the way, I’m in my fifth year in the legislature and this will be the first time in those five years that we actually end on time.
Leahy: Ah. Do you give Governor DeSantis credit for that or the leadership?
Fine: I give everybody credit. I give credit to Governor DeSantis. I give credit to President Wilton Simpson, who’s the President of our Senate, and Speaker Chris Sprowls, my Speaker. I think they’ve all worked really well together to get the job done.
Leahy: So Saturday morning, you’re going to wake up and the session will be over. Is your job as a state representative over, or do you just turn the page to some other sorts of activities?
Fine: Well, it won’t be over, unfortunately, because we have to come back in two weeks to do a special session on casinos in Florida, which really isn’t a basic function of our regular session. But beyond that, I’ll go home, and I’ll start to talk to folks about the work that we did up here. And I’ll also get to know my family again. I’ve hardly seen them for the last two months.
Leahy: So do you stay up in Tallahassee during most of this time or do you go back and forth?
Fine: It’s a Monday to Friday job, and I live a six-hour drive away. So I’m lucky to get home for 24 to 48 hours every weekend. Especially when session gets busier.
Leahy: That’s a big personal sacrifice. What’s the toll on your family life?
Fine: It’s a lot. You get to a point of week six or seven of session where you think of home as more Tallahassee, and then you’re visiting your family. And then it’s sort of like re-entry as people have described it. And I’m not trying to compare this to being in the military, but people describe it as you sort of have been deployed for 60 days and then you go through the reentry process when you get home.
But I’ve now been through it four times, and I’ll get through it again. It takes a big big toll on your family because you’re just gone and it’s very busy when we’re up here.
Leahy: Well, thanks for all the hard work that you’re doing for the folks in Florida State Rep. Randy Fine.
Listen to the full first hour here:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Background Photo “Florida Capitol” by DXR. CC BY-SA 4.0.