February 23, 2017

Florida Senate could vote on higher ed reforms during first week of 2017 session

Galvano and negron

@ByKristenMClark

A top priority of Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, is ready for the full Senate to vote on once the 2017 session begins March 7.

The higher education package -- formerly two bills now blended into one (SB 2) -- includes a variety of reforms intended to elevate Florida's State University System and its state colleges to a more competitive level, nationally and internationally.

"We should be at the very top of our game in our state university and college system," said Bradenton Republican Sen. Bill Galvano, the higher ed budget chairman who spearheaded the legislation. "We should raise expectations, and that’s what we’re doing."

SB 2 -- dubbed the "Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2017" -- advanced unanimously out of the Senate's full budget committee Thursday morning with some additional revisions. Negron told the Herald/Times the bill will be among the first considered by the chamber during the first week of session next month.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

February 16, 2017

Senate keeps DC law firm hired to fight redistricting -- to fight the Florida House

Joe Negron Richard CorcoranWhy would Florida's Senate president spend $71,600 on a Washington D.C.-based legal firm with no offices in Florida to represent them in legal battles over the Florida Constitution, and with the Florida House?

That's the obvious question for Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who has signed two contracts, and assumed a third, from former Senate President Andy Gardiner, with Sidley Austin, a mega-firm in D.C. with offices across the globe -- except Florida.

Negron signed the third contract with the firm on Nov. 18, shortly after House Speaker Richard Corcoran disclosed rules that will bind the Senate to an unprecedented budget protocol, complete with disclosure requirements and prohibitions on recurring line items.

"This is a very unique area of the law given that it is unprecedented for one chamber to promulgate rules that would purportedly control the actions of another chamber,'' Negron told the Herald/Times said. "Those are issues we can look to precedence from the United State Supreme Court and to Florida courts."

He said he has authorized Sidley Austin to advise the Senate on the House rule relating to the appropriations process and it is "looking at the legal relationship and separation of powers."

"I believe their firm has expertise not only that is beneficial to us but has also done work in other states and brings a national perspective that brings significant value to the Senate and how we navigate the matter,''

The firm recently drafted a brief to challenge the House rules in court. Negron has refrained from filing that action, saying instead negotiations are ongoing.

"The House and the Senate are negotiating to work out quickly a joint budget rule that promotes transparency and a good process,'' he said. "We are continuing to talk."

Unlike the House, whose lawyers do not believe that a draft lawsuit is shielded from Florida public records law, the Senate refuses to release a draft copy of its work.

Continue reading "Senate keeps DC law firm hired to fight redistricting -- to fight the Florida House" »

Senate keeps DC law firm hired to fight redistricting -- to fight the Florida House

Joe Negron Richard CorcoranWhy would Florida's Senate president spend $71,600 on a Washington D.C.-based legal firm with no offices in Florida to represent them in legal battles with the Florida House?

That's the obvious question for Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who has signed two contracts, and assumed a third, from former Senate President Andy Gardiner, with Sidley Austin, a mega-firm in D.C. with offices across the globe -- except Florida.

Negron signed the third contract with the firm on Nov. 18, shortly after House Speaker Richard Corcoran disclosed rules that will bind the Senate to an unprecedented budget protocol, complete with disclosure requirements and prohibitions on recurring line items.

"This is a very unique area of the law given that it is unprecedented for one chamber to promulgate rules that would purportedly control the actions of another chamber,'' Negron told the Herald/Times said. "Those are issues we can look to precedence from the United State Supreme Court and to Florida courts."

He said he has authorized Sidley Austin to advise the Senate on the House rule relating to the appropriations process and it is "looking at the legal relationship and separation of powers."

"I believe their firm has expertise not only that is beneficial to us but has also done work in other states and brings a national perspective that brings significant value to the Senate and how we navigate the matter,''

The firm recently drafted a brief to challenge the House rules in court. Negron has refrained from filing that action, saying instead negotiations are ongoing.

"The House and the Senate are negotiating to work out quickly a joint budget rule that promotes transparency and a good process,'' he said. "We are continuing to talk."

Unlike the House, whose lawyers do not believe that a draft lawsuit is shielded from Florida public records law, the Senate refuses to release a draft copy of its work.

Continue reading "Senate keeps DC law firm hired to fight redistricting -- to fight the Florida House" »

February 07, 2017

Florida Senate’s state college reform plan 'has got big problems,' Sen. Tom Lee says

Galvano and negron

@ByKristenMClark

A comprehensive plan by Florida Senate leaders to refocus the state college system back to its original purpose of offering two-year degrees and of being a pipeline for the State University System stumbled through its first hearing this week.

The proposal (SB 374) is among a package of bills that are a priority for Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, in his push to improve Florida’s higher education system this year.

Senate leaders have dubbed SB 374 the “College Competitiveness Act,” which Sen. Bill Galvano — a Bradenton Republican and top lieutenant of Negron in executing the higher ed reforms — says will “provide independence and greater opportunity for advocacy and oversight” of Florida’s 28 state colleges, which include Miami Dade College.

But some aspects of the bill arguably would have the opposite effect — namely by reining in the colleges’ freedom to add four-year degree programs and, in some cases, requiring legislative action to approve new four-year degrees.

Other reforms in the 254-page proposal include removing the state colleges from the purview of the State Board of Education — which oversees public education in grades K-20 — and, instead, putting the colleges under a new State Board of Community Colleges.

The measure advanced out of the Senate Education Committee on a unanimous vote Monday, with some senators — although vocally disapproving of the plan — resisting a “no” vote mainly as a show of good faith to Senate leadership.

“I just think it’s not ready for prime-time,” said Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican and former Senate president who asked a series of probing questions critical of the proposal. “I’m going to support it today out of deference to my Senate president, Sen. Galvano and Sen. [Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, the bill sponsor], but this bill has got big problems.”

 

More here.

Photo credit: Bradenton Republican state Sen. Bill Galvano, left, speaks with current Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, during the 2016 session. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

January 31, 2017

Scott's budget doesn't include money for Everglades land buy. No problem, Negron says.

Negron_apday0131@ByKristenMClark

Senate President Joe Negron told reporters Tuesday he isn't upset that Gov. Rick Scott's 2017-18 budget proposal doesn't include funding for Negron's top legislative priority: Purchasing land for water storage south of Lake Okeechobee.

"I don’t expect the governor to put the priorities of the House and Senate in his budget," Negron, R-Stuart, said. "I have the burden of proof to convince him and convince my colleagues that based on Amendment 1 and based on the current issue that it’s appropriate to spend money on additional water storage south of Lake Okeechobee."

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, filed legislation last week to carry out Negron's $2.4 billion plan to buy 60,000 acres of farmland to create a water-storing reservoir and prevent future toxic algae outbreaks in local estuaries, such as those that wreaked havoc on the state last summer.

In reiterating his pitch for the land buy, Negron said "the best we've come up with" as a state hasn't worked and isn't good enough.

"We have a lake in the middle of Florida -– one of the largest lakes in the country -– and it rises when you have a lot of rain. So when that happens, and it gets too high, we say the only solution we can come up with in the United States of America … is we’re going to open up floodgates and we’re going to drain the water through man-made canals and we are going to poison estuaries, rivers and now the ocean," Negron said.

"This is it? This is the plan?" he added. "It’s not acceptable. No one’s defending it anymore."

While Scott's budget proposal doesn't include money for the land-buy, it does recommend more than $215 million for several water storage projects around Lake O, including federal projects for the Indian River Lagoon for which the state bears some of the cost.

The Legislature ultimately decides on the state's annual budget, although the governor has some veto power over specific projects.

Image credit: Florida Channel

 

January 30, 2017

Florida Senate President Joe Negron resigns from law firm job

Negron_Joe@ByKristenMClark & @stevebousquet

Four days after Republican Gov. Rick Scott suggested lawmakers should be prohibited from working for law firms that lobby the Legislature, Florida Senate President Joe Negron says he is "stepping away" from the law firm he works for.

The Stuart Republican announced his resignation in a statement today -- provided by his Senate office -- saying he was leaving Gunster Law Firm out of an "abundance of caution, to avoid even the possible appearance of" a conflict of interest.

Negron joined the prominent, statewide law firm as an income shareholder six and a half years ago, working in the firm's West Palm Beach and Stuart offices and focusing his practice on business litigation and environmental and land use cases.

“For the first time, I have reached a crossroads where my firmly held conviction to promote legislation that would benefit my constituents, community, and state has the potential to result in a possible perception of a conflict with my professional employment," Negron said.

He was not immediately available for additional comment.

Negron made $225,952 from Gunster in 2015, according to his most recent financial disclosure filed over the summer. His Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta said Negron, as an income shareholder, "does not have equity in the firm."

Here is Negron's full statement:

Continue reading "Florida Senate President Joe Negron resigns from law firm job" »

January 20, 2017

Who wants to serve on the Constitution Revision Commission? Here's who has applied so far

Florida Constitution Florida MemoryToday is the deadline to apply to House Speaker Richard Corcoran to be a part of Florida's unique opportunity for a citizens panel to propose changes to the Florida Constitution, the 37-member Constitution Revision Commission.

The Senate set a deadline of Dec. 9 but today Senate spokesperson Katie Betta said the Senate has decided to continue accepting applications.   Download Senate MEMO re 2017 CRC Applications 2016 09 23 (1)The Supreme Court Dec. 31.

Gov. Rick Scott, who appoints 15 members and the chairman, also has decided to continue taking applications here. Applications for the Florida Supreme Court closed Dec. 31.

For the list of applications we have collected so far, scroll to the end of our story here.

 

December 20, 2016

Open-carry bill should have a friendlier path next year in Florida Senate

Guns

@ByKristenMClark

For the past two legislative sessions, the Florida Senate had been the blockade for NRA-endorsed gun bills, but the odds are now greater that that trend won't continue in 2017.

A contentious and comprehensive bill that allows for the open-carrying of handguns and otherwise expands gun-owners' rights in Florida will have an easier path to the Senate floor next spring, thanks to friendlier committee assignments than similar proposals that previously stalled.

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has sent SB 140 -- by Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube -- to be heard before three committees, all chaired by conservative Republicans who passionately support gun-owners' rights. They are: Steube's Judiciary Committee; Government Oversight & Accountability, chaired by Dennis Baxley of Ocala; and Rules, chaired by Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers.

Committee assignments are a routine step that is typically not significant but, in this case, is quite revealing of Senate leadership's support for Steube's wide-ranging measure.

Notably: The bill will not be reviewed by the Criminal Justice Committee, a common stop for past gun-related legislation. That committee is now chaired by an Orlando Democrat, Randolph Bracy.

When reporters asked Negron about Steube's bill earlier Tuesday -- before the committee assignments were published -- Negron was vague on where the bill would be routed.

His spokeswoman, Katie Betta, told the Herald/Times this afternoon: "The President referenced the bill to the committees he deemed appropriate, based on his judgement after reviewing the bill."

"I've always been a strong proponent of Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens," Negron told reporters earlier Tuesday. "A particular bill, we'll have to see what components are in it. Obviously I have a lot of confidence in Senator Steube."

Steube's legislation would allow nearly 1.7 million people with with concealed-weapons permits in Florida to openly carry their firearms. It would also remove several locations from the list where concealed weapons are currently banned -- allowing guns at legislative meetings, local government meetings, airport passenger terminals and public schools, colleges and universities.

There's no guarantee that Steube's bill has the votes to pass, but these committee assignments at least give it a better chance at advancing.

The stopgap in previous legislative sessions that had prevented similar gun proposals from reaching the Senate floor had been then-Judiciary Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami. He had denied such bills the chance to be heard at his committee, let alone voted on. He lost re-election in November to Democrat José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami.

Proposals calling for open carry and to allow concealed weapons in airport passenger terminals and on public college and university campuses have been filed in the House for next session as well, but as individual pieces of legislation.

Photo credit: AP

November 29, 2016

Florida Senate's committee leaders for 2016-18 announced

Florida Senate-Renovations (2)

@ByKristenMClark

Senate President Joe Negron R-Stuart, announced his leadership team for the 2016-18 term on Tuesday, a list that includes some expected appointments but also some surprises and a few snubs.

Negron put many of his most trusted allies in key positions, such as naming Trilby Republican Sen. Wilton Simpson as majority leader. Simpson is in line to take over as Senate president in four years. Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel was named Simpson's deputy.

President Pro Tempore Anitere Flores, R-Miami -- Negron's No. 2 in the chamber -- will helm two committees: Banking and Insurance and the subcommittee in charge of the Health and Human Services budget. She'll also be vice-chairwoman of the full Appropriations Committee. Meanwhile, Bradenton Republican Sen. Bill Galvano -- last year's majority leader who is likely to succeed Negron as president in 2018 -- will be in charge of the higher education budget, a reflection of the emphasis Negron plans to put on the state's public colleges and universities during his tenure.

Because half of the Senate is new this term, many freshman senators landed key leadership spots -- including several recently former House members and two Democrats, Lauren Book and Randolph Bracy. Veteran Democrats Bill Montford, of Tallahassee, and Audrey Gibson, of Jacksonville, also were given committee chairmanships, affording the minority party's 15 members a level of influence in the chamber.

Of note, as well: The Senate's former steadfast firewall that last spring had halted a couple controversial measures to expand gun rights in Florida is gone, potentially giving such bills an easier route in the 2017 session.

Rather than keep a moderate lawmaker as chairman of the powerful Judiciary Committee, Negron named conservative Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, to the leadership post. The committee was previously led by Miami Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, who lost his re-election bid to now-Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami.

Steube, an ardent supporter of gun rights who last year was in the Florida House, told the Herald/Times last week that he's drafting comprehensive legislation for 2017 to reduce various types of restrictions on conceal-carry permit holders. Some of those same proposals were considered last year but failed to pass because of Diaz de la Portilla's decision to kill the bills. Diaz de la Portilla had said the proposals lacked support in the 40-member Senate, which is generally more moderate than the House and where Republicans hold a narrower majority.

In the absence of Diaz de la Portilla, though, Bracy could potentially be a different obstacle as head of the Criminal Justice Committee. The Orlando Democrat supported last year's campus-carry bill but opposed a measure to allow the open-carrying of firearms.

Here's the full list of chairmanships for main committees in 2016-18:

Continue reading "Florida Senate's committee leaders for 2016-18 announced" »

November 22, 2016

Negron, Corcoran now officially in charge of Florida Legislature

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@stevebousquet @MaryEllenKlas @ByKristenMClark

Under new leadership, the Florida Legislature entered a strange new world Tuesday as the House speaker condemned the entrenched power of lobbyists and called for major changes in spending sure to be opposed by the Senate and Gov. Rick Scott.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, described a Capitol controlled by lobbyists and politically-wired vendors, with lawmakers doing their bidding at the expense of taxpayers.

“Too many bills filed in session are given to members by lobbyists and special interests,” Corcoran said. “Too many lobbyists see themselves as the true power brokers of this process. Too many appropriations projects are giveaways to vendors and the decision of whether they get in the budget has more to do with their choice of lobbyist than the merits of the project … It all ends, and it all ends today.”

But it won’t all end as easily as it sounds.

Despite Corcoran’s zeal for reforming the process of lawmaking, he controls only one side of the Capitol. The Senate, led by Republican Joe Negron of Stuart, has very different ideas.

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times