With uniformed sheriff’s deputies looking on, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday signed HB 3, a bill aimed at recruiting and retaining law enforcement officers with a variety of perks, including state K-12 scholarships for their dependents.
“There’ a lot of great stuff in here, and I’m just proud that it all came together,” DeSantis said just before signing the bill during a ceremony at the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office in Titusville. A second ceremony was held at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office in Winter Haven.
The bill will make dependents of all law enforcement officers eligible to receive a Family Empowerment Scholarship, one of the state’s several K-12 education choice scholarship programs. The Family Empowerment Scholarship for Educational Options is income based and allows a family of four with an income of about $100,000 to qualify.
(Step Up For Students, which hosts the blog, manages the FES program.)
“We are making dependent children of law enforcement officers eligible for our Family Empowerment Scholarships and so that’s a school choice program where primarily low-income families are able to access a scholarship and access the school of their choice,” DeSantis said. “Now, regardless of income, dependents of law enforcement officers are eligible … and we think that’s something that’s really, really significant.”
Among the bill’s other incentives:
- A $5,000 signing bonuses for new law enforcement officers who live in Florida or current officers transferring from out of state; officers must complete training and work two years to qualify for the bonus
- Coverage of tuition, fees, and up to $1,000 of eligible education expenses for trainees enrolled in a law enforcement officer basic recruit training program through the creation of the Florida Law Enforcement Academy Scholarship Program
- A reimbursement program that will pay for up to $1,000 of equivalency training costs for certified law enforcement officers who relocate to Florida or members of special operations forces who become full-time law enforcement officers in Florida
- $10,000 payments to officers who adopt children from the state welfare system and $25,000 to officers who adopt a child with special needs
- A provision that allows military veterans with an associate degree to skip the basic skills test requirement for law enforcement recruit training programs and that offers police officers credit at state universities and state colleges for their law enforcement training
- A $5,000 increase in county sheriff’s salaries
“We never once backed down from supporting the folks who wear the uniform, who wear the badge, who put themselves at risk to keep us safe,” DeSantis said. “We wanted to say that this law enforcement profession is a noble calling, and we want to support you if you make that decision to protect and serve.”
State Rep. Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, who sponsored the bill, said the legislation shows Florida’s commitment to law and order.
“In Florida, we don’t defund the police,” he said. “Not today, not tomorrow and not ever.”
The new law is drawing praise from education choice advocates who see it as an opportunity to allow those who serve communities to choose the learning environment that best serves their child.
“State school choice scholarships enable so many students with the ability to reach their goals,” said Jen Swain, principal at San Jose Catholic School in Jacksonville. “Within our San Jose Catholic community, the new bill rewarding law enforcement officers will have such a positive impact. This is truly changing lives.”
HB3, which passed with bi-partisan support, takes effect July 1.