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Senate President is open to talks on House plan to punish school districts that kept mask mandates

Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson addresses a legislative session
Phelan M. Ebenhack
Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson addresses a legislative session, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, in Tallahassee.

Hillsborough and Sarasota counties are among a dozen school districts that defied a mask mandate ban from the governor and as a result would get a smaller funding increase under the House budget proposal. The leader of the Senate says its a plan he's open to discussing.

The Florida Senate passed its budget proposal Thursday. The spending plan includes an increase in per student funding for K-12 schools.

The House budget plan also includes more money for schools, but a provision in that chamber’s bill gives a smaller increase to a dozen school districts, including Hillsborough and Sarasota counties, that kept student mask mandates in place even after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order banning the mandates.

Senate President Wilton Simpson said as lawmakers prepare to meet in conference to hammer out the differences in their budget proposals, he’s approaching that issue with an open mind.

“You have school boards that defied an executive order, so what should the penalty for that be? It’s no different than in [Senate bill] 2508, if a South Florida Water Management District defies state law, what should we do about that? And so I think that’s a discussion we’re still going to have. We certainly will discuss that in conference," Simpson said.

Simpson said he expects part of the debate to center on whether there’s a difference between running afoul of an executive order compared to a law. After some districts defied Desantis’ order, lawmakers met in a special session to codify the order in state law.
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