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Nancy Smith

Sen. Alan Hays, Tell 'Em Back Home It Was You, You, You Who Killed 'Parent Trigger'

March 22, 2012 - 7:00pm

Nobody kept Alan Hays from voting for the "parent trigger" bill except Alan Hays. Pay no attention to the excuses.

The bill designed to empower parents to take action on failing schools didn't fail because of Senate President Mike Haridopolos. It didn't fail because of workers' comp legislation. And it didn't fail because of some philosophical change of heart somewhere down the line. It failed because a co-sponsor of the "parent trigger" bill -- Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla -- didn't vote for it.

It's that simple.

The senator who signed on to co-sponsor one of his party's highest priorities in the end snuffed it out like a switchman's lantern.

Why would he do that? I can't figure the man out.

Call me naive. I think the problem is, I haven't been around the Capitol long enough to accept what one longtime mainstream reporter describes as "how things are done up here." I understand ambition and power and political alliance. I understand trading votes on bills and how it all works into the fine art of compromise.

What I don't, what I can't understand is why any legislator -- in this case, Alan Hays -- would sign on to sponsor a bill -- actually give his word to usher it through -- if he couldn't commit to it?

I could imagine a bill sponsor reversing his vote to save face with the home folks -- if the bill was already a winner without him on board. Or, if the bill he's sponsoring wound up so festooned with crazy amendments, he doesn't recognize it anymore. Or, if new information came to light along the way, to show him the bill really isn't right for the people of Florida.

But none of the above was the case with Sen. Alan Hays.

In the waning hours of the regular session on March 9, when Hays cast his vote against what is properly called the Parent Empowerment Act, in his eyes and in his heart and in his mind -- it was payback time. Time to do unto Haridopolos what Haridopolos had done unto him.

The Senate president had kept another of his bills, SB 668, workers' compensation, from reaching the Senate floor. Hays took the position that he would vote against the Haridopolos-favorite "parent trigger" if workers' compensation was not allowed to advance -- and it was not.

"The president, who said he wasn't going to help or hinder the (workers' compensation) bill when it got to budget, refused to release it," Hays told Sunshine State News.

Hays cast the swing "no" vote on the "parent trigger" bill and he knew it. It left the vote count at 20-20, dashing the hopes of parents who sought to restructure their children's bad schools into good ones and breaking a promise not only to his party, but to his largely rural, conservative, charter-school-supportive constituency that favored the bill.

Hays was sponsoring the two bills -- the "parent trigger" and SB 668, a controversial workers' comp bill that would have kept dispensing physicians from "overcharging" for repackaged drugs and forcing a higher-than-necessary insurance rate increase.

And while it's true, Haridopolos disappointed Hays, in the end, what does it matter? The workers' comp bill was not coming to the floor for a vote and the "parent trigger" was. One bill Hays was sponsoring was dead anyway, the other was alive -- and could stay alive, become law, with this sponsor's "yes" vote.

What sense does it make to retaliate against a bill you don't philosophically oppose, you know needs your vote to survive and is a fan favorite back home?

The "trigger" bill, the Parent Empowerment Act, would have allowed parents to seek wide-ranging changes at low-performing schools, including turning a traditional neighborhood school into a charter and giving parents an alternative to sending their children to F-graded schools.

Proponents of "parent trigger" laws throughout the country say that they empower parents to provide their children with the best opportunity for a good education. Often, they say, these parents lack the means to provide other options, such as a better public school or a private school for their kids.

California was the first state to pass a parent trigger law, in January 2010. The primary force behind its passing was Parent Revolution, which, according to its website, makes this promise to parents: "Organize half the parents at your children's failing school to demand change, and we will stand with you and empower you to fight for the great school your children deserve."

Primary sponsor of the Florida bill was Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, who told her colleagues that the law was needed to make sure that "every one of our schools is as great as the schools where your grandchildren go ... where your children go." She added, "We shouldn't rest until every school is at that level."

Alan Hays committed to join Benacquisto as sponsor. Instead, he killed the bill.

I guess at this point, I just want him to take responsibility. I want him to admit he let ego obstruct duty.

It seems to me we should be able to expect all of the people we elect to public office to keep their promises to the people, or have a darn good reason why not. Hays' reason for breaking his is political hocus pocus, nothing more.

Reach Nancy Smith at, or at (850) 727-0859.

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