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In remarks shortly after vetoing Senate Bill 6, Gov. Charlie Crist admonished Republicans for pushing through the controversial teacher tenure bill without allowing amendments or a full and open debate.
"This thing was rushed through," Crist said during a news conference announcing his veto April 15, 2010. "Quite frankly, it reminds me of what happened with the health care bill in Washington -- where members of my party criticized the Democrats for sort of jamming something down their throat. And then here about a month later after that happens, you know, the very same thing happens here in education. So it's the wrong process. It had laudable goals. It can be done right. And we have a duty to make sure it is done right."
Crist said the passage of SB 6 reminded him of how the health care bill played out in Washington. We decided to check whether or not his memory betrayed him.
Republicans argued during the final weeks of the health care debate that President Barack Obama's reforms were being pushed without regard for the concerns of the American people, or without input from Republicans, while criticizing Democrats for using a parliamentary tactic called reconciliation to avoid a potential filibuster in the U.S. Senate. Republicans offered last-minute amendments to either attempt to slow approval down, or force Democrats to take votes against measures that could be used against them in upcoming elections. Democrats rejected all of the amendments, and Congress ultimately approved health care reform without the vote of one Republican.
In Florida, some of the same arguments have been made by Democrats, the state's largest teachers union and Crist. They said Republicans quashed debate and blocked amendments to ram the bill through the Legislature without the vote of one Democrat.
To best dissect the claim, we decided to analyze apples-to-apples comparisons between the two pieces of legislation, inlcuding the length of the process, opportunities for public comment, opportunities for input and the level of bipartisan support.
The health care bill that passed Congress and was signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010, is actually a combination of different proposals passed by the House and Senate.
The U.S. House of Representatives filed its original version of the health care bill, HR 3200, on July 14, 2009, and a second version, HR 3962, on Oct. 29, 2009. That bill passed 220-215 on Nov. 7. One Republican, Joseph Cao of Louisiana, voted with Democrats to approve the bill.
Over in the Senate, a third incarnation of the health care bill, HR 3590, passed on Christmas Eve 2009 without a Republican vote.
The two bills were eventually merged -- without any GOP support -- and signed into law by President Obama.
The total process from bill filing to bill signing took more than eight months -- not necessarily quick.
Compare that with the state teacher tenure bill.
SB 6 was filed in the state Senate on March 1, 2010, and passed on March 24, by a vote of 21-17. All 13 Senate Democrats voted against the bill, along with four Republicans.
The state House took up SB 6 on March 25 and passed it 15 days later by a vote of 64-55 (11 Republicans joined the state's 44 Democrats in opposition).
Crist vetoed the bill on April 15, 2010. Total Democrats in support --- zero. Total time in the hopper -- 45 days.
Opportunities for public comment
People for and against SB 6 had four opportunities to directly address legislators. Public comment was allowed during Senate committee meetings March 10 and March 19, and two House committee meetings March 25 and April 19.
The state teacher's union argued that the public hearings coincided with FCAT testing and then, spring break.
Congress, meanwhile, held at least 100 town hall meetings across the country to discuss health care in the summer of 2009. The conservative Web site Newsmax published a list of the hearings scheduled as of Aug. 12, 2009. They counted more than 140 all together.
President Obama and members of his administration also held town hall meetings to discuss health care reform. The White House held regional forums in five states in March and April 2009. Obama participated in a health care town hall in Wisconsin in June 2009, a tele-town hall with AARP in July and a forum in New Hampshire in August 2009. Then there were health care rallies in Ohio and Virginia in March 2010.
Opportunities for input
The federal health care bill included lengthy debate in both the House and Senate, with each chamber passing a bill incorporating that body's priorities.
Concessions were made for U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., to ensure there would be no public funding of abortion.
And though maybe not significant, Republican amendments were added to the bill.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions adopted 159 amendments offered by Republicans. Only two of them, however, were significant or controversial enough to merit roll call votes. One of those two affected the manufacture of biologics medication and another required members of Congress and congressional staff to enroll in the government-run option (which was ultimately scrapped).
Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, told PolitiFact that 132 of the 159 were for "technical amendments" and that it was a misnomer to call them proof of bipartisanship.
In the House Energy and Commerce Committee, 16 Republican amendments were adopted. But Republicans said only one amendment was major, and none changed the core of the legislation.
In the Education and Labor Committee, six of the 17 amendments offered by Republicans were adopted. Again, Republicans said the amendments were largely technical.
White House spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield said 170 GOP amendments were accepted into the final bill that passed.
Conversely, the passage of SB 6 was orchestrated -- particularly by the Florida House -- to prevent alterations to the bill. Republicans in the House waited until the Senate passed SB 6 before filing identical bill language. (The Senate version included an amendment allowing principals to factor in advanced degrees in their performance reviews.) Florida House Speaker Larry Cretul said he hoped there would be no amendments to the House bill.
The reason? If the House changed the bill, it would have to return to the Senate for a second vote.
"We hope that there won't be any amendments,'' Cretul told the St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald. "What the Senate sent us was a pretty good work product.''
A majority of Republicans in the House rejected 19 amendments before passing SB 6. The amendments would have required school districts to set salaries at or higher than the national average, allowed school districts to use years of service or advanced degrees as a factor in setting pay, and force members of the Florida Legislature to teach nine weeks in a public school before the teacher pay plan could become effective.
Republicans said the bill wasn't perfect, but wanted Crist to sign it anyway. "I understand it wasn't a perfect bill," said Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. "But I thought it laid a good foundation."
And Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said: “This is not a perfect bill; there are things in this bill that will change. It is a framework for going forward.”
State Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, also suggested the Legislature could write a follow-up "glitch bill," if Crist had particular problems with provisions of SB 6.
Back to Crist's original statement.
In vetoing SB 6, he said the process in the Legislature was similiar to the one Republicans criticized Democrats for using in Washington to pass the health care bill. In particular, Crist said both bills were sort of "jamming something down (people's) throat."
He's right that neither the federal health care bill or SB 6 passed with a single vote from the party out of power.
But turns out there actually was more debate in Washington about the health care bill, than there was in Tallahassee about SB 6.
Congress and the president held more than 100 town halls to discuss health care with voters while Florida legislators had four public hearings. And while the White House says 170 GOP amendments were included in the final health care bill, albeit largely technical in nature, Republicans in the Florida House blocked every amendment offered by Democrats when considering SB 6. State GOP leaders also orchestrated a plan to avoid having to send the bill back to the Senate for a second vote or even conference over different bills.
SB 6 meets our definition of jamming a bill through, which is good for Crist. What's bad for him, however, is that the debate over the federal health care bill was actually more collegial. We have to rate Crist's statement Half True.
Gov. Charlie Crist, press conference, April 15, 2010
St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald, "Gov. Crist vetoes teacher tenure bill," April 16, 2010
Library of Congress, Congressional actions for HR 3200 (America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009)
Library of Congress, Congressional actions for HR 3962 (Affordable Health Care for America Act)
Library of Congress, Congressional actions for HR 3590
Newsmax, "List of Health care town hall meetings nationwide," Aug. 12, 2009
Reuters, "Proposed Republican amendments to the U.S. health care bill," March 24, 2010
Washington Post, "GOP amendments to health-care reconciliation bill fail," March 25, 2010
Orlando Sentintel, "Thrasher floats 'reconciliation' for teacher tenure bill," April 9, 2010
Miami Herald, "Widely opposed teacher tenure bill is on fast track in Fla. Legislature,"March 31, 2010
Florida House of Representatives, SB 6
Panama City News-Herald, "Senate passes SB 6 21-17," March 24, 2010
White House, E-mail interview with Katherine Bedingfield, April 16, 2010
Washington Post, "The six Republican ideas already in the health care bill," Feb. 8, 2010
PolitiFact, "Obama says health plan incorporates the ideas of Democrats and Republicans," Sept. 9, 2009
HealthReform.gov, "White House Forums on Health Reform"
Washington Post, "Obama's final health-care rally to be held in Virginia," March 19, 2010
The White House, President Obama's remarks at New Hampshire town hall, Aug. 11, 2009
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