Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation Wednesday providing across-the-board pay raises to state employees for the first time since 2013, but remained mum on whether he would also approve a wide-ranging and controversial education bill.
In a ceremony for veterans at the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles in Tallahassee, Scott signed the compensation legislation (SB 7022), a key priority of Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.
"With the signing of this bill, our state employees will receive a well-deserved pay raise, and our state law enforcement officers will receive a 5 percent raise for their life-saving work," Scott said.
The bill includes a complex matrix of raises for different state employees. Employees making $40,000 or less will get a $1,400 boost to their pay, while those making more will get an additional $1,000.
State law enforcement officers will get a 5 percent hike, while most current correctional officers will get an extra $2,500 a year. There will also be $1,000 hiring bonuses for some prisons.
State corrections officials have pushed for higher pay to try to retain quality workers in response to a string of reports of inmate deaths and brutality by prison guards, allegations of cover-ups and corruption and low morale.
Judges, state attorneys and public defenders will see 10 percent raises. There are also different increases for a handful of other positions in state government, mostly in the legal field or the Department of Veterans' Affairs.
"We want to make sure we keep the most talented and dedicated professional staffers in our state workforce," Latvala said in a statement issued after Scott's action. "These employees guard our prisons, protect our highways, care for abused and neglected children, and perform hundreds of other tasks that are in many cases thankless or unnoticed by many Floridians."
The legislation also includes changes to health insurance and retirement plans for state employees. For example, it includes a change long sought by House Republicans that would put state employees into a 401(k)-style retirement plan unless they specifically opt for the state's traditional pension system. Currently, workers "default" into the pension plan.
State workers and some Democrats have opposed those changes, saying they undermine the current pension system and could harm new state employees. But business groups support the overhaul.
Scott signed 28 other bills Wednesday and vetoed a higher-education measure (SB 374) that was a priority of Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart.
But after the ceremony, Scott brushed off a question about whether he will sign a broad public education bill (HB 7069) that includes provisions on charter schools, teacher bonuses, state testing, recess and more.
Supporters have said the bill will help improve the state's education system, while critics have lambasted it as a step towards privatizing public schools. Critics also say it was cobbled together behind closed doors in the final days of the regular legislative session.
Rumors have spread that Scott will sign the bill, perhaps as soon as Thursday. But the governor didn't reveal his plan to reporters.
"I'm going to be careful in reviewing the bill and I'm going to act in the best interest of all of the students and the parents in our state," he said.