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Legislature Bans Collection of Students' Biometrics

Biometric data include things like a “fingerprint or hand scan, a retina or iris scan, a voice print, or a facial geometry scan,” according to SB 188.

Florida public schools may no longer collect or use what’s known as biometric data from students under an education data privacy measure passed by the Legislature on Friday.

Biometric data include things like a “fingerprint or hand scan, a retina or iris scan, a voice print, or a facial geometry scan,” according to the bill (SB 188).

It also would protect students from being contacted by marketers and news reporters.

With no debate, the House passed the Senate’s bill during a Friday floor session by a vote of 113-1, with Rep. Hazel Rogers, D-Lauderhill, voting no.

The Senate approved its bill last month 38-1, with only Lake Worth Democrat Jeff Clemens voting in opposition.

The bill is likely to be signed by Gov. Rick Scott, whose representatives signaled his support for the bill at committee hearings this session.

Its passage means Pinellas County schools will have to mothball their palm scanners and related technology, which cost about $155,000. A spokeswoman declined comment.

The school system has used the scanners for four years to automatically debit lunch accounts and speed food lines, giving kids more time to eat. Schools have 30 minutes to feed more than 1,000 students; a scan takes 1-2 seconds.

State Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, has pushed the bioscan ban this year. She was worried that children’s identifying information could be stolen out of computers and used for identity theft.

Industry experts have said they’re unaware of any identity theft cases in recent years in which someone has used a purloined palm scan, fingerprint or other identifier.

Language in the bill applies specifically to Pinellas, allowing it until the end of the 2014-15 school year to phase out use of palm scanners in cafeterias.

The bill also bans gathering the political affiliation, voting history and religious affiliation of students and their parents or guardians.

The measure further calls for creating a new student identification system to replace the use of social security numbers.

It allows school boards to make secret certain “directory information” after considering whether “such information would put students at risk of becoming targets of marketing campaigns, the media, or criminal acts.”

The federal law on student privacy defines directory information as “the student’s name, address, telephone listing, date and place of birth, major field of study, participation in officially recognized activities and sports.”

It also includes “weight and height of members of athletic teams, dates of attendance, degrees and awards received, and the most recent educational agency or institution attended by the student.”

In other action, the House passed a bill (HB 129) that creates a sinkhole repair program for policyholders of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. The measure was approved 85-25.

The intent behind the bill is “stabilizing the land and structure and repairing the foundation” of homes within a reasonable time.

Lawmakers also have been concerned about the “many homeowners who obtained payouts from the corporation for a sinkhole claim (but) did not use the funds to repair” the damage, according to the bill.

The Tampa Bay area is known as “sinkhole alley,” and Citizens, a nonprofit government corporation, is the insurer of last resort for homes in sinkhole-prone areas.

But sinkhole claims also have stoked a number of lawsuits against the insurer, by customers upset over bad repairs or ones that took too long.

The corporation recently announced a multimillion-dollar settlement with more than 300 policyholders over sinkhole repair disputes.

Under the bill, sinkhole fixes have to be done by a contractor picked from a pool of bonded and insured repair companies approved by Citizens.

That cuts down policyholders’ freedom of choice, said Rep. Richard Stark, D-Weston, who voted against the bill.

“If I want to use my Uncle Irv and he’s a great contractor, I still may not be able to use him,” he said.

The contract to do the work would be between Citizens and the contractor, and repairs would be warrantied for five years.

A professional engineer would have to “monitor the property and confirm that stabilization has been satisfactorily completed,” the bill says.

Citizens’ homeowners policies will further have to include sinkhole deductible choices of 2 percent, 5 percent and 10 percent.

A Senate version (SB 416) has cleared two review panels and is now in the Appropriations committee.

©2014 the Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Fla.)