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

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@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

March 09, 2017

Oops! Joe Negron initially didn't vote for his hallmark higher ed legislation

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@ByKristenMClark

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has talked for several years about his desire to reform and enhance Florida’s higher education system. It’s one of his few top priorities.

But when he finally saw the culmination of the main cornerstone of those efforts on Thursday, he missed a significant step.

He didn’t vote.

More here.

Image credit: Florida Channel

*This post has been updated

March 07, 2017

Joe Negron adds Stand Your Ground changes, 'religious liberties' bill to his priorities

Negron_scott keeler

@ByKristenMClark

Florida Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, added a couple new priorities to his agenda for the 2017 session as the Legislature convened on Tuesday: the revived “Stand Your Ground” changes that’ll be voted on in the Senate on Thursday and a new bill fortifying “religious liberties” in Florida public schools.

The two controversial and polarizing proposals contrast to Negron’s otherwise moderate agenda — which includes improving the state’s public colleges and universities, better funding environmental protection and Everglades restoration, reforming the juvenile justice system and fixing Florida’s unconstitutional death-penalty law.

Negron had addressed those priorities several times before in previous speeches to the chamber, such as when he was designated the next Senate President last year and when he officially took over as chamber leader in November.

But the proposed changes to “Stand Your Ground” (SB 128) and the bill codifying religious expression in schools (SB 436) were additions to that list in Negron’s session-opening speech on Tuesday.

“I talked about embracing the Constitution, and I realize that means different things to different people and I respect that,” Negron said.

More here.

Photo credit: Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, greets Florida Gov. Rick Scott as the Senate formally began the 2017 session on Tuesday. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times.

Senate President Joe Negron focuses on higher ed, environment to kick off annual session

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@JeremySWallace

Florida Senate President Joe Negron kicked off the first day of the annual 60-day Legislative Session by making clear that higher education and environmental issues will continue to be his top priorities.

On higher education Negron said his focus will be turning Florida’s universities into “elite destinations” and making sure no one is denied a university education for economic reasons or where they come from.

“My vision is that we will have in Florida national elite destination universities that people from all over the country will want to come to,” said Negron, citing the University of North Carolina and the University of Michigan as examples.

He said a second guiding principles is making sure where a student comes from doesn’t keep the from higher education.

“Every student in Florida, regardless of their financial circumstances - what family they come from - will have an opportunity to attend a university in which she or he is accepted,” Negron said.

On the environment, Negron talked about his disgust over watching pollution from Lake Okeechobee making swimming dangerous. He said at hospitals in Martin County, patients had to fill out a questionnaire to see if they had come into contact with area algae-infested water supplies before they could be treated.

“Let’s stop the Lake Okeechobee discharges,” Negron, 55, said.

Negron is pushing a $2.4 billion water storage plan south of Lake Okeechobee that is aimed at reducing polluted water discharges into lakes and estuaries to the east and west of the lake. Though he faces a fight with agricultural interests over his plan, Negron said Tuesday he will work with those interests.

“I am confident we can work with the agricultural community,” Negron said.

To help pay for the cost Negron has looked toward Amendment 1, approved by 75 percent of voters in 2014. That amendment was passed with the promise of increasing spending on land and water conservation.

“The Legislature owes it to the millions of Floridians who voted for that amendment, to fully implement Amendment 1 the way voters anticipated,” Negron said.

Photo credit: State Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart. Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times

March 06, 2017

'Dramatic' reforms in play for all levels of public education

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@ByKristenMClark

Every level of Florida’s public education system — affecting kindergarten to university students — faces some measure of drastic reform in the upcoming legislative session that begins Tuesday.

Just some of what’s on the table:

▪ “Dramatic” expansions of school choice alternatives in K-12 public schools and the state’s voucher-like scholarship programs are a top priority of Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran. His education chairmen also have grand goals of narrowing the achievement gap for the state’s lowest-performing schools by attracting and expanding innovative educational options.

▪ The operations of Florida’s 28 public colleges could be reined in over what some senators see as unnecessary competition with the state’s public universities, sparking a need for more oversight.

▪ And the State University System itself faces a changed future as Republican Senate President Joe Negron seeks to make Florida’s 12 public universities globally competitive with the likes of the University of Virginia or the University of Michigan.

It’s a bold, sweeping agenda for both the House and Senate — intentionally so, Republican leaders say.

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times