In a recent interview, Dean Saunders sat down with The Land Journal to discuss how he helped create Florida's Bright Futures program. For part one of this article, click here.
Since 1985, Dean has specialized in Florida land and conservation easements. He served in the US Senate as Agricultural Liaison, Special Assistant, and Director of External Affairs to US Senator Lawton Chiles, then Governor Chiles (D-FL).
From 1992 to 1996 he served in the Florida House of Representatives. Combining a passion for supporting landowner property rights while also conserving natural land in Florida, Dean proposed and became one of three main sponsors of Bert J. Harris Private Property Rights Protection Act. This legislation later evolved into Florida’s conservation easements programs. The concept of state-owned conservation easements was truly revolutionary 25 years ago, but the success of this idea is recognized today as a tremendous positive impact on our state.
While in the Florida House of Representatives, Dean also initiated legislation for Florida's Bright Futures scholarship program.
In the second part of the interview, Saunders described the process that he went through when passing the Bright Futures bill. He explained that the reason for hesitation amongst lawmakers was because the program was "committing future dollars. The whole idea was that (the scholarship) wasn't financially based."
"It was merit based," Saunders continued, "if you could earn a B in high school and maintain a B in college, you could get your entire tuition paid for. And if you scored even higher than that, you could probably get your books paid for."
Saunders explained the benefits of the Bright Futures program by saying that it "keeps people in the sate of Florida. They go to a college in Florida or one of the state universities, which is probably one of the best deals in the country and they get their tuition paid and they're likely going to stay here and be producing and productive in the state of Florida."
Now it was up to Saunders to convince other lawmakers of these benefits. While he managed to get the bill through the House, it ended up getting slowed in the Florida Senate due to committee procedures.
But Dean went to someone who sat on one of these committees and personally explained how the bill could be of great help to many young Floridians throughout the state. The bill was then taken up by a committee directly, allowing it to move through the confirmation process much more quickly.
However, before the bill could be made into law it would have to be passed by then-governor Lawton Chiles, who Saunders described as being "fiscally conservative."
The battle to get Bright Futures passed was not over yet.