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Bush push to relieve school crowding advances

Gov. Jeb Bush’s plan to make classroom space a requirement before rezoning land for new subdivisions advanced a step Thursday when it won unanimous approval by a House committee -- but the bill’s backers pledged to consider changes before the next vote is taken.

The governor wants to take some of the pressure off overcrowded schools with his plan, but home builders and developers say they won’t go along with the idea unless Bush comes up with a way to make sure the schools get built -- and not at their expense. Minutes before the bill came up for a vote, their lobbyists were still arguing that point with a Bush aide.

Local government lobbyists are worried about another part of the bill. They want only fast-growing areas to be subject to proposed new rules requiring cities and counties to work with school districts on detailed growth plans.

Rep. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, promised to tackle both issues before the next committee hears her bill (HB 1617), which is being combined with another measure (HB 1487) tying development decisions to water supply.

Bush cheered the House committee’s vote in a prepared statement, saying, "This is good public policy and will make Florida a better place to live."

But many lawmakers offer only qualified support for the measure.

"This is not a perfect bill," said Ken Sorensen, R-Key Largo, chairman of the House Committee on Local Government & Veterans Affairs. "The home builders have some legitimate complaints."

Whether the builders ultimately will find a middle ground with the governor is a wide-open question.

"I think it’s hard to read at this point," said Richard Gentry, a lobbyist for the Florida Home Builders Association.

Steve Seibert, who as secretary of the Department of Community Affairs is steering Bush’s efforts to tackle school crowding, said his boss remains focused on planning, rather than money.

"The governor’s been very clear about that," he said. "There are lots of things out there that could help solve this problem."

Christine Shenot can be reached at 407-420-6140 or cshenot@orlandosentinel.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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