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

Florida state Sen. Dorothy Hukill undergoing treatment for cancer

@ByKristenMClark

Newly reelected state Sen. Dorothy Hukill was the only senator not in attendance for Tuesday's organizational session of the 2016-18 term.

But she has a very justifiable reason for her excused absence.

The Port Orange Republican was recently diagnosed with cervical cancer and is undergoing treatment.

In a letter to new Florida Senate President Joe Negron, she said: "I am fortunate that it has been diagnosed in the early stages and my medical team advises that my prognosis for full recovery is good."

During Tuesday's session, Negron acknowledged Hukill's "health challenge." He said Hukill is expected back in Tallahassee in early December for the Legislature's first committee week preceding the 2017 session.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with her," Negron said.

Hukill -- who represents parts of Volusia and Brevard counties -- has been in the Florida Senate since 2012 and, before that, served in the Florida House for eight years.

Joe Negron reaffirms policy goals as he takes over as Florida Senate president

Negron

@ByKristenMClark

As Sen. Joe Negron officially took over control of the Florida Senate on Tuesday, the Republican from Stuart outlined once again his priorities for improving higher education, stopping harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee and reforming juvenile justice.

Negron first detailed those plans in his designation speech almost a year ago, but now he's in a position to personally drive that agenda for the next two years.

The Florida Senate unanimously elected Negron as its chamber president for the 2016-18 term during the Senate's one-day organizational session on Tuesday, which lasted roughly two hours.

Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores was also elected unanimously as Negron's No. 2; she is the first Hispanic woman to hold the position of Senate president pro tempore -- and among several Miami-Dade lawmakers in positions of power for this upcoming term.

MORE: "Oscar Braynon, Lauren Book named Florida Senate Democrats' top leaders"

In his 15-minute acceptance speech, Negron demonstrated some of his most well-known characteristics: thoughtful deliberation and a wonkish knack for public policy.

Continue reading "Joe Negron reaffirms policy goals as he takes over as Florida Senate president" »

November 21, 2016

Oscar Braynon, Lauren Book named Florida Senate Democrats' top leaders

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@ByKristenMClark

A longtime legislator from Miami Gardens will lead the Democrats of the Florida Senate for the next two years.

Sen. Oscar Braynon’s ascension to Senate minority leader was made official Monday evening in advance of Tuesday’s organizational session for the 2016-18 Legislature. He’s now in charge of a 15-member Democratic caucus, of which 11 are newly elected senators.

“I’m happy to be taking on that role,” Braynon said. “We’re going to have a bunch of blank slates when it comes to what happens in the Senate. There’s a lot of potential there.”

One of those newcomers is freshman Broward County Sen. Lauren Book, whom the Democratic caucus also unanimously elected as Braynon’s No. 2 in the role of Senate Democratic leader pro tempore.

Book, of Plantation, is a prominent advocate for victims of childhood sexual abuse and the founder and CEO of Aventura-based Lauren’s Kids. She is also the daughter of powerful Tallahassee lobbyist Ron Book, whom she called “her best friend, rock and mentor.”

Although the Republican majority in the Senate will drive the agenda, Braynon said his goal as minority leader is to continue pushing for Democratic priorities, such as equal pay for women and raising the minimum wage, protecting the environment, improving access to health care and strengthening public education.

Read more.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

New Florida Senate chamber gets its long-awaited debut

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@ByKristenMClark

After eight months and nearly 50,000 hours of construction work, Florida legislative leaders got their first official look at a brand new Senate chamber on Monday.

The $6 million renovation was the first major overhaul to the room since the current Capitol was built in the late 1970s, and the result is a brighter and modernized — yet classically styled — chamber where the Florida Senate will continue to conduct its business.

“They did a phenomenal job, and it’s long overdue,” said Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. “It brings a level of respect to the process to have the chamber looking so stately as it does now.”

Read more.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

Florida Legislature's leadership for 2016-18 includes major Miami-Dade influence

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@ByKristenMClark

For the next two years and potentially beyond, lawmakers representing Miami-Dade County are poised to wield extreme influence in the Florida Legislature — the likes of which they haven’t had in a decade or more.

At least seven Miami-Dade legislators — and potentially a few more yet to be announced — will hold powerful leadership positions from now through 2018 under incoming Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.

These roles should ensure Miami-Dade’s mark on everything from school choice measures and gambling regulations to which local projects get funding priority.

The 2016-18 Legislature will be sworn in Tuesday during a one-day organizational session, when Negron and Corcoran will also formally take over as chamber leaders.

Both the new Senate president and House speaker have chosen Republican women from Miami as their top lieutenants: Sen. Anitere Flores and Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, respectively.

Below them will be a slew of committee chairs from Miami-Dade, too, who will have the ability — particularly in the House — to hold sway over statewide policy and the purse strings of the state’s $82 billion budget.

Among those chairs is Miami Lakes Republican Rep. Jose Oliva, who Corcoran named leader of the powerful House Rules and Policy Committee. Oliva is also what his Miami colleagues call the “speaker in waiting,” poised to succeed Corcoran as head of the chamber two years from now.

For local residents, these positions of influence for Miami-Dade legislators mean the senators and representatives they elected — especially the Republican ones, since that party holds the majority in both chambers — will be among the key decision-makers in Tallahassee with the ability to put the county’s needs and priorities at the forefront for possibly years to come.

“It’s access to where decisions get made,” Nuñez said. “We really are in a unique position and our citizens are the better for it.”

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

November 15, 2016

66 new Florida lawmakers arrive in Tallahassee for training

Capitol

@ByKristenMClark

A week after Florida voters elected them, 66 new state lawmakers -- who make up 40 percent of the entire Legislature -- will be in Tallahassee on Tuesday for training and orientation.

More than a third of the 120-member House and half of the 40-member Senate are new to their legislative seats for 2017. Many have held elected office before (even within the Legislature itself), but for several, this is their first foray into public service.

Over the next two days, freshmen House members will learn the basics of legislating and the essentials for navigating the Capitol itself. Sessions range from "Introduction to State Government" and lessons in ethics, open meetings and public records to "How to Fill Out your Committee Preference Form" and "What to Expect in Your First Term."

Incoming senators will have similar training, too, although they're only in town for one day.

Among the 46 freshmen House members, there are expected to be 24 Republicans and 22 Democrats -- the second-largest freshman class in the Florida House's history. (There were 63 new members in 2000.) The final partisan breakdown depends on the outcome of a recount for a Miami-Dade House seat, in which Democrat Robert Acensio led Republican David Rivera by 68 votes in initial Election Day results.

Two of the freshmen House members are recently experienced in the Legislature having moved from the Senate back to the House with Tuesday's election: Palm Beach County Democrat Joe Abruzzo and Rockledge Republican Thad Altman.

In the Senate, 20 are freshmen -- the largest freshmen class in the chamber's history, with 11 Democrats and nine Republicans. At least a dozen are recently former representatives promoted by voters last week to the Legislature's upper chamber.

All 160 lawmakers will return to Tallahassee next week for the organizational session on Nov. 22, during which they'll be sworn in to their new terms in office.

Times/Herald co-bureau chief Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

November 10, 2016

Anitere Flores named to Florida Senate leadership post

Ap_flores2@ByKristenMClark

Newly re-elected Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores has been named the Florida Senate's President Pro Tempore for the 2017 session.

Incoming Florida Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, announced Flores' appointment as his No. 2 on Thursday, heralding Flores as a "loyal friend and trusted ally."

"The role of Senate President Pro Tempore is a significant position of trust and authority," Negron said in a statement, adding that Flores has "longstanding relationships with many new and returning senators. She has a proven ability to work in a bipartisan manner without compromising her own unwavering principles. I have complete confidence in her ability to represent the Senate in this important leadership position."

Flores was re-elected to the Senate on Tuesday with 54 percent of the vote after a competitive battle with Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell for the newly redrawn District 39. The district includes portions of Miami-Dade County and all of Monroe County. Flores has been in the Florida Senate since 2010.

Flores' appointment will become effective Nov. 22, when the Senate convenes in Organization Session. The President Pro Tempore is formally nominated and elected by the full Senate during the Organization Session.

Flores joins a growing list of Miami lawmakers who will hold influential positions in Tallahassee next session. On Wednesday, several Miami-Dade County representatives were also named to the leadership team in the Florida House under incoming Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes.

Photo credit: AP

November 03, 2016

Legislative candidates who don't live in district they're seeking can't vote for themselves

Ap_flores2@ByKristenMClark

When she votes this fall, veteran Miami Republican lawmaker Anitere Flores might not be able to vote for herself.

Because if she votes in her current precinct, the ballot she receives will have neither her name nor her District 39 Florida Senate race on it. It will list the District 40 race instead.

The same goes for House District 103 candidate Ivette Gonzalez Petkovich, a Doral Democrat in her first bid for public office. Rather than seeing her own name on a ballot for the first time, she’ll see candidates for House District 116 if she votes in the precinct she’s assigned to now.

That’s because Flores and Gonzalez Petkovich — along with five other legislative candidates in Miami-Dade — don’t currently live in and aren’t registered to vote in the district that they’re seeking to represent.

The Herald/Times identified the seven candidates — one Republican (Flores) and six Democrats — through an analysis of current voter registration records. These candidates make up 20 percent of the 34 candidates competing for Miami-Dade legislative seats this fall.

More here.

Photo credit: AP

November 01, 2016

Misleading slate card purports to show Democrats -- but recommends some Republicans

Democratic action pac mailer@ByKristenMClark

A suspicious slate card recently mailed to some Miami households deceptively represents itself as recommending Democrats but actually encourages voters to support some Republicans, including two incumbents for state Senate: Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Anitere Flores — both of whom are fighting for re-election in newly redrawn, Democratic-leaning districts.

The true source of the mailer is dubious. The political action committee listed on the disclaimer doesn’t exist anymore, never operated in Florida and its treasurers — one of whom has past ties to Diaz de la Portilla — say they have no knowledge of it.

Both Diaz de la Portilla and Flores also said they had no involvement in it and that the first they had heard of the slate card was when a Herald/Times reporter asked for comment Monday.

“I have nothing to do with it; I don’t know it,” Diaz de la Portilla said emphatically.

This isn’t the only deceptive slate card that has surfaced in Miami-Dade County in recent weeks. Another one that was distributed at early voting sites in North Miami-Dade and North Miami also appeared to be pro-Democrat but urged people to vote for Amendment 1, which Democrats oppose, and to support Raquel Regalado for Miami-Dade mayor, one of two Republicans on the ballot.

MORE: Mysterious Democratic slate card says vote yes on Amendment 1 and for Regalado

This new slate card — which was purportedly “paid for and approved by Democratic Action PAC” — was mailed to voters, rather than handed out at polling sites.

Full story here.