TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – A measure aimed at making college textbooks more affordable gained unanimous approval from a Senate committee Monday, but only after lawmakers stripped out one provision of the bill and a faculty representative pointed out potential problems with another.
The legislation (SB 938) would eliminate the sales tax on textbooks and make other changes meant to hold down the costs of instructional materials. The bill, which is estimated to reduce state revenue by $33.9 million, is a priority for Gov. Rick Scott, who has made containing the cost of higher education one of the main goals of his administration.
But while members of the Senate Higher Education Committee said they supported the broad goals of the bill, they differed with language that would have required textbooks to be used in courses for at least three years unless they were replaced by cheaper books or a school’s president approved of the change.
Ashley Spicola, Scott’s education coordinator, said the governor’s office proposed the three-year timeframe with an eye on the market for used materials — one cost-saving strategy for students.
“We just believe that that would be a good amount time to help drive the cost down, providing more used textbooks,” Spicola said.
But Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said the idea “sounds kind of like a 1970’s sort of provision,” given that digital textbooks could be easily updated at relatively low cost. He also questioned what might happen if a new professor came in to teach a course only to be forced to use a previous professor’s book selections.
The committee eventually stripped the language by approving an amendment from Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart.
“To me, what books a professor uses in a particular class is a very personal decision that that professor makes. … I just think, from where I sit, it seems a little much to get into micromanaging how long a textbook has to last,” Negron said.
Other concerns with the legislation also surfaced. Marshall Ogletree, interim executive director of United Faculty of Florida, criticized a provision that would require colleges to notify students of the costs of textbooks for classes 14 days before registration for those courses begins.
Ogletree said registration was already underway for summer and fall classes, some of which won’t begin for almost six months.
“I think that’s totally unreasonable, because faculty members are not even assigned to teach those classes yet,” he said.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, still has two more committee stops in the Senate before it reaches the floor. A House counterpart has not yet been heard.
The News Service Of Florida’s Brandon Larrabee contributed to this report.