Fact-checks about the Florida Legislature

From 2014, members of the Florida House were in session during the first day of the Florida Legislative session in Tallahassee. (Tampa Bay Times photo)
From 2014, members of the Florida House were in session during the first day of the Florida Legislative session in Tallahassee. (Tampa Bay Times photo)

When the Florida Legislature convenes March 3, it will kick off a 60-day session during which legislators and Republican Gov. Rick Scott will fashion a budget and set policies on topics including K-12 tests, guns on college campus and whether to allow online voter registration.

At PolitiFact Florida we have fact-checked claims related to the state Legislature since 2011. In years past, we have fact-checked claims about the state’s Stand Your Ground law, Medicaid expansion, Common Core , environmental spending and Sharia law.

We have our ears open for claims this year, and not everything has to be wonky. In 2012, one of our most-clicked on items was a claim by then Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, that Tampa was "the strip club capital of the world." We rated that claim False.

During the session, we will be tracking Scott’s progress on many of the 20 promises he made  for his second term that we’ll rate on our Scott-O-Meter. We have already rated some of his promises -- including those to increase school security spending and funding for springs -- as In the Works.

In the weeks leading up to the session, we’ve fact-checked a few claims related to bills proposed this year. Here’s a look at our fact-checks so far.

Online voting

As Florida approaches the 2016 elections with both former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio as potential GOP presidential contenders, the state once again may revisit election laws.

The statewide association of elections supervisors, which represents officials in both major parties, wants lawmakers to allow Floridians to register to vote online. Supporters of the legislation argue one of the benefits is that it’s more secure.

"This is actually just simply a more secure, accurate and cost-efficient way of doing voter registration," Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said at a Senate Ethics and Elections committee hearing Jan. 20. Clemens is sponsoring a bill to allow online voter registration.

Today, Florida voters fill out a paper form and submit it to a county elections official, or a third-party group can submit it for them. Additionally, under the National Voting Rights Act (also known as "Motor Voter"), a person can verbally relay their voter registration information while applying for a driver’s license.

Experts who study online registration say there have been no reports of actual security breaches or fraud. If designed in a way to account for security, online registration reduces opportunities for fraud and errors.

However, experts warned that both online and paper systems can have potential pitfalls -- the question is how do elections officials protect each system. We rated this claim Mostly True.

Firearms

A shooting incident at Florida State University late last year re-opened a debate in the Florida Legislature about firearms. Panels in both chambers recently voted in favor of bills to allow concealed-carry permit holders to have their guns on college campuses.

Marjorie Sanfilippo, an Eckerd College psychology professor who has researched youth access to firearms, expressed concern about allowing guns on campuses.

Sanfilippo said "200,000 students attempt suicide every year on college campuses."

That statistic is extrapolated from the American College Health Association’s most recent annual survey, which found that 1.2 percent of college and university students had attempted suicide within the past year. There are approximately 20 million students overall, which translates to about 200,000 suicide attempts.

But the study’s author says there are two important caveats: their data is self-reported and the schools self-select to participate. In addition, a different type of survey conducted by the CDC -- one that looked at emergency data -- found a much lower rate of suicide in similar age groups. But experts said that’s to be expected, because emergency data doesn’t capture attempts that don’t lead to a hospital visit.

Given the murkiness of the data, we rated this Half True.

School tests

Facing a backlash from teachers and parents over standardized tests, state legislators are discussing whether to pare down the hours students spend on testing.

The cheekily named Florida Badass Teachers Association, which is part of a national association that fights against testing, raised concerns about the tests as they planned to protest Bush’s Feb. 10 speech in Tallahassee.

Thomas James, an association spokesman and Miami-Dade history teacher, leveled many criticisms of Florida schools, including this one in a statement provided to the Miami Herald.

"Florida public school students have become little more than ‘test drones’ being bombarded with an array of standardized high stakes tests, which eat up as much as 45 school days per year," James said.

Test days do appear to have risen in recent years, and students are not only affected by the tests they take themselves, but also by the impact of other students in their school taking tests.

But pinpointing the number of days that students take tests is difficult, because it varies widely by grade, school, district and other factors. Even so, critics of the amount of testing did not provide hard evidence of any student is taken up with testing for 45 total days a year, much less that it is a typical result in Florida.

In fact, James’ own district said that the maximum number of hours spent on such tests would equal about 44 hours -- a small fraction of the figure James cited.

We rated this claim False.

Hearing a claim worthy of a fact-check related to the Florida Legislature or Gov. Rick Scott? #PolitiFactThis or email truthometer@politifact.com