August 30, 2017

Florida Democrats urge state lawmakers to remove Confederate statue in U.S. Capitol

Confederate Statue Florida

@alextdaugherty 

 

The entire Florida Democratic congressional delegation wants Gov. Rick Scott and state lawmakers to remove a statue of Confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith from the U.S. Capitol.

On Wednesday, 11 House Democrats from Florida sent a letter to Scott, State House speaker Richard Corcoran and State Senate president Joe Negron urging the trio to call a one-day special session to replace the statue in September.

“No family visiting our nation's Capitol should have to explain to their child that the statue representing our state honors someone who fought for a philosophy built on hatred, inequality and oppression,” the letter said.

Last year, the state legislature agreed to remove Smith's statue but it remains in National Statuary Hall in Washington, where daily tours are conducted in the Capitol, because lawmakers couldn't agree on a replacement.

But with the recent violent protests in Charlottesville and elsewhere over the legacy of Confederate statues, and debates about streets named after Confederate generals in Florida, Democrats around the country are pushing to remove statues in public places.

Two weeks ago, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, asked state lawmakers to make the change.

“It's time to stop playing games,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Now, Wasserman Schultz is joined by her Democratic colleagues in Washington, including Miami Gardens Rep. Frederica Wilson.

Scott and Corcoran ruled out the possibility of a special session two weeks ago.

“Like most politicians in Washington, the Congresswoman is out of touch,” Corcoran said on Twitter. “We've already made this decision and are now having a conversation about which great Floridian we should honor. The Congresswoman should stop grandstanding and focus on balancing the Federal budget.”

Read more here. 

June 28, 2017

Joe Negron returns to West Palm Beach law firm

Florida Legislature (30)

@ByKristenMClark

Senate President Joe Negron is back at work in the private sector as of Wednesday, when he returned to a West Palm Beach law firm he previously worked for seven years ago.

Akerman LLP announced Negron’s return through a statement that touted Negron’s “30 years of experience in high stakes litigation, business law and complex commercial litigation.”

“Joe is widely-known by both the bench and the bar as a compelling advocate who skillfully represents businesses and directors in complex commercial disputes. He brings important investigative and trial experience to our clients,” Lawrence Rochefort, the head of Akerman’s Litigation Practice Group, said in the announcement. “His strong reputation and track record make him a powerful addition to our trial team.”

Negron, R-Stuart, previously worked for Akerman from 2005 to 2010. He had left the firm to join another West Palm Beach-based practice, Gunster.

It was from Gunster that Negron resigned in January out of an “abundance of caution to avoid even the possible appearance of” a conflict of interest with his legislative duties.

When asked Wednesday how that concern of a conflict of interest had been resolved, he told the Herald/Times his resignation in January “was a unique set of circumstances related to one particular issue, Senate Bill 10.”

SB 10 — one of Negron’s main priorities during the 2017, which Gov. Rick Scott signed into law last month — calls for building a 78 billion gallon reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee in an effort to improve Everglades restoration. One of Gunster’s major clients, U.S. Sugar Corp., opposed the land buy required for the additional water storage.

Like Gunster, Akerman represents high-profile clients with business before the Florida Legislature, and the firm also advertises “Florida legislative and executive lobbying“ as among its services.

Negron emphasized that Florida’s part-time Legislature is a “citizen legislature where people from all walks of life, business and industry serve the people.” 

“Like all elected officials, legislators continue to work in the communities they serve,” he said. “There are very clear guidelines and ethical rules that relate to all members of the Legislature, and I will certainly adhere to those.”

Negron said he’ll practice business law and commercial litigation at Akerman, a firm that he noted has a “national platform.” He said Wednesday was his first day of work and he’ll be based out of the West Palm Beach office.

At least one other influential lawmaker works for Akerman: Miami Republican Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, who is running in a special election this year to fill the District 40 Florida Senate left vacant when Republican Frank Artiles resigned this spring.

Photo credit: AP

June 06, 2017

Miami-Dade Republican: I'm 'not comfortable' with more K-12 funding without changing HB 7069

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@ByKristenMClark

Hialeah Republican Sen. René García told Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, in a letter today that he's "not comfortable supporting any compromise" on increasing K-12 funding for 2017-18 that does not also address a controversial education policy bill that awaits Gov. Rick Scott's approval.

García was one of three Senate Republicans to vote against HB 7069 when it narrowly passed the Senate on the final day of the 2017 regular session.

Lawmakers are returning to Tallahassee for a three-day special session starting Wednesday, one of the topics of which includes increasing money for K-12 public schools after Scott vetoed the Legislature's approved spending level as insufficient.

But HB 7069 -- although tied to the budget -- will not formally be up for discussion during the special session, which has drawn some unrest among senators who had expected Scott to veto it and now fear he won't. Scott has not committed to an opinion on the bill, but many lawmakers expect he'll sign it in trade for the Legislature approving his ask for additional economic development money.

García said in his letter he was grateful for the special session to "revisit several critical issues."

"While my career has reflected a passionate commitment to school choice and local autonomy, I find it difficult to support adjusting the Florida Education Finance Program while failing to address the erosion of Florida's commitment to public education that is contained in HB 7069," García said.

"Dramatic policy shifts such as broadening the scope of eligibility of Title I funds, as well as allowing charter schools to use local tax revenue for capital outlay projects should be discussed in conjunction with any proposed increases in per student funding," he added. "The public policy held within the FEFP and the set of policies passed within HB 7069 are inherently intertwined."

Negron's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Read García's full letter here.

Altamonte Republican Sen. David Simmons, the chairman of the K-12 education appropriations committee who also opposed HB 7069, has said he wants to "fix" the bill as early as this special session -- particularly to address challenges in implementing it that he says are too constraining on traditional public schools. However, HB 7069 is not formally part of the call for a special session and it would take a two-thirds vote of both chambers to add it to the agenda, which is incredibly unlikely.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero / el Nuevo Herald

June 02, 2017

Budget deal includes $200M more for schools, $165M for economic development

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@stevebousquet @maryellenklas @michaelauslen @ByKristenMClark

Gov. Rick Scott has agreed to sign the budget and a controversial House public education plan and come back in special session next week to inject more than $165 million into the governor’s top economic development priorities, as well as put about $200 million in additional funding for public schools.

The agreement, which will be announced at a 10 a.m. news conference at Miami International Airport, was finalized late Thursday night after several days of backstage negotiations mostly involving House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Scott and their top staff members.

Lawmakers have agreed to boost public school spending by $210 million, bringing the total increase in this year’s state budget to $100 per student, Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, told the Herald/Times. That’s still less than half as much as Scott and the Senate originally sought earlier this year to boost school funding but it’s a significant increase from the extra $24.49 per student that the Legislature had in its approved budget — which critics had described as “starvation-level.”

They also will fund Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing program that was gutted in the Legislature’s original budget, at its current level of $76 million. And they will put $85 million into a new job-creation fund at the Department of Economic Opportunity, which would be used for infrastructure and other economic development costs, rather than to pay companies for bringing workers to Florida, which Corcoran has decried as “corporate welfare.”

All of that would be funded by more than $300 million in vetoes of member projects tucked into the state budget passed overwhelmingly by the House and Senate in early May.

Full details here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

May 02, 2017

After failing to meet deadline, Legislature headed for OT

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@ByKristenMClark @stevebousquet @MichaelAuslen

Florida’s legislative session will head into overtime after two top Republicans — negotiating in private billions of dollars worth of spending and substantive policy — failed to meet a deadline to get an $83 billion budget done Tuesday night, so that the session could have ended on time on Friday.

As time expired Tuesday, Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, both said the 60-day session would have to be prolonged, but they didn’t yet know for how long.

“You know the timetable as well as I do, with the 72-hour requirement. We will definitely not complete the budget work prior to the end of Friday,” Negron told reporters Tuesday evening — a few hours after House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, downplayed the increasingly expected delay by saying an on-time budget was still “90 percent likely.”

But earlier in the day, Trujillo was already guaranteeing lawmakers would remain in Tallahassee for longer than they’d planned.

More here.

Photo credit: House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, with Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

April 27, 2017

Senate's vetting of 'schools of hope' has been vastly limited compared to House

Negron-joe-with-jack-latvala

@ByKristenMClark

Nine minutes.

That’s how long senators on the Appropriations Committee spent this week to hurriedly describe, amend and approve their version of one of the most high-profile, substantial and costly education policy changes the Legislature will enact this year affecting K-12 public schools.

Senators did not even debate their pair of bills Tuesday that counter a House Republican-approved $200 million “schools of hope” incentive for specialized charter schools. The one person from the public who wanted to weigh in was cut off after 56 seconds.

That’s not the picture of open, thorough and public debate Republican Senate leaders painted a couple of weeks ago when they agreed to send the House bill directly into budget negotiations and vowed transparency in those talks with the House.

Senate leaders had pledged they would have enough time — and would take the time — to properly vet the House “schools of hope” legislation and develop their own ideas on how to improve educational opportunities and services for students, mostly poor and minorities, who attend perpetually failing neighborhood schools.

“These issues have been discussed around here, and we’re just putting them in the conference posture,” Senate Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, told reporters Tuesday, referencing the pending budget negotiations process and dismissing the lack of time spent on the Senate’s “schools of hope” bills.

The Senate had general, conceptual conversations earlier in session on how to help kids in failing schools, as did the House. But substantive consideration of an actual policy proposal by the Senate has been extremely limited, compared to the airing the House gave its priority bill.

Senators, so far, have spent barely 90 minutes vetting their legislative proposals (SB 1552 and SB 796) across three committee hearings since senators unveiled their specific policy language early last week.

In contrast, House members spent nine hours considering their bill (HB 5105) during two committee hearings and across two days of discussion, debate and voting on the House floor — about six times as long as the Senate has to date, a Herald/Times analysis found. (Through its two committee hearings alone, the House spent three-and-a-half hours on “schools of hope.”)

Full story here.

Photo credit: Stuart Republican and Senate President Joe Negron, left, and Senate Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, talk with reporters during a press conference in early April. Phil Sears / AP

April 20, 2017

Lawmakers, politicians sound off on social media about Frank Artiles

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@ByKristenMClark

Several state lawmakers and other politicians in the state have taken to social media to express their anger since the news broke Tuesday evening that Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles had used curse words and a racial slur to insult a black female lawmaker and describe other senators.

Artiles apologized privately by Tuesday evening and formally apologized publicly Wednesday morning on the Senate floor, but calls are mounting for him to resign.

MORE: "Legislative complaint seeks to expel Miami lawmaker from Senate over ‘racist rant’ "

Here's a snapshot of the reactions:

Continue reading "Lawmakers, politicians sound off on social media about Frank Artiles" »

April 19, 2017

WATCH: Senate President Joe Negron addresses Frank Artiles' remarks

@ByKristenMClark

After this morning's Senate session when Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles formally apologized, President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, sat down with reporters to discuss Artiles' offensive remarks toward his Senate colleagues on Monday night.

MORE: "Legislative complaint seeks to expel Miami lawmaker from Senate over ‘racist rant’ "

Negron first laid out in detail -- almost as if presenting a case in a courtroom -- how he was informed of Artiles' comments and how and why he decided to respond. He then answered questions, including whether he thought Artiles should resign and what the next steps for possible discipline might be for the freshman senator.

Watch Negron's explanation and answers below.

April 17, 2017

Major education policy will be decided in conference negotiations. Will it be transparent?

Richard Corcoran Jose Oliva@ByKristenMClark

Florida lawmakers thisweek set into motion a budget process that will result in several highly consequential policy reforms affecting public education to become law this year in one form or another.

But if years of precedent are any indication, what exactly those final laws might be will now be determined through deal-making and negotiations that will take place largely in private, behind closed doors and out of the public eye.

The policy ideas — each tied to hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer funding — range from reforming oversight and student financial aid for the state’s public colleges and universities to financially enticing privately run public charter schools to compete with failing K-12 neighborhood schools.

MORE: “House fights over $200 million incentive for charter schools, but bill passes”

Citing the fact that such policies are linked to the annual budget lawmakers are constitutionally required to pass, both chambers of the Legislature made a pivotal choice on Thursday to send these substantive education bills to a conference committee. That panel of House and Senate members will be tasked with hashing out a compromise on both the policy and the funding.

Conference is a common annual process for the budget, but lawmakers in recent years have shied away, in most cases, from using it as a vehicle to pass drastic policy reforms that are otherwise amended, debated and voted on on the House and Senate floors.

By comparison to the day-to-day legislative process, conference committee proceedings typically are not transparent and are more unabashedly a display of a preordained outcome.

Leaders in the Republican-led House and Senate reject that conference committee decisions haven’t been open, but at the same time, they’ve also pledged to make the meetings more transparent and accessible to the public this year.

“We’ll have public comments in the conference committee meetings if people want to talk,” Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, told reporters.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Rep. Richard Corcoran, a Land O’Lakes Republican who is now House speaker, talks with Rep. Jose Oliva, R- Miami Lakes, on the House floor during the 2016 session. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

March 10, 2017

Higher ed reforms breeze through Florida Senate. Now for the House.

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@ByKristenMClark

A $162 million plan to improve state funding for student financial aid opportunities and make Florida’s public colleges and universities more competitive passed the state Senate on Thursday with near-unanimous support — marking early success for one of Senate President Joe Negron’s top priorities.

Senate Bill 2 is the cornerstone of proposed reforms that Negron, R-Stuart, wants for the state higher education system this year. Other potential changes aimed at the state college system are more controversial and moving slowly through the Senate.

MORE: “Oops! Joe Negron initially didn’t vote for his hallmark higher ed legislation”

A companion measure to SB 2 still needs to be approved by the House. That package (HB 3 and HB 5) has yet to be considered, and it could now face more difficulty due to clashing priorities — and rising tensions — between Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.

The proposed reforms in SB 2 include an array of changes to Florida’s public colleges and universities.

Read here for more.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times