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

Sb 2 vote

@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

Negron1st

@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

February 28, 2017

Roads named for celebrities are OK, but not laws named to honor the people who inspired them

Picture00 CommemorationNW13

@ByKristenMClark

Mayra Capote was a 15-year-old freshman at Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High School when she and two other students were killed in a car accident in September 1999 as they rushed back to school from an open-campus lunch break.

In the weeks afterward, Miami-Dade public schools changed district policy to prevent students from leaving school grounds during the lunch hour. And in the nearly 18 years since, Hialeah Republican Sen. René García has tried several times to prevent future tragedies statewide by seeking a Florida law affecting all public high schools.

With his most recent attempt this year, García sought to name the proposed law directly in honor of Mayra.

But her name was abruptly deleted from the bill last week — at the request of Senate President Joe Negron.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Mayra Capote, 15, and two high school students died in a car accident in 1999 while coming back to school from an open-lunch break. Hialeah Republican Sen. René García this year wanted to name a proposed state law after the younger Mayra, but the 15-year-old’s name was taken out of his bill at Senate President Joe Negron’s request. (Herald file photo)

February 23, 2017

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

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@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