March 07, 2017

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

Negron_scott keeler


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.

February 07, 2017

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

Galvano and negron


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

Plan to count computer coding as foreign language earns easy win in 1st Senate committee

Brandes coding 020617


A revived proposal to let Florida high school students count computer coding as a foreign language looks to be on an easy path to pass the state Senate again this year.

Members of the Florida Senate Education Committee offered no questions or commentary on the proposal before voting unanimously to advance the measure out of its first committee on Monday, after hearing strong support from the business community and personal testimony from a Broward County middle-schooler and his mother.

The bill has only one other committee, Rules, to clear before it would reach the Senate floor for a final vote after the 2017 session begins March 7. House committees have yet to consider their version of the bill (HB 265).

Full story here.

Photo credit: Ethan Greenberg, a sixth-grader at Silver Trail Middle School in Pembroke Pines, poses for a photo with state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, while his mom, Ryann, looks on after a Senate Education Committee meeting Monday in Tallahassee. Ethan and Ryann Greenberg spoke in favor of Brandes’ proposal to make computer coding count as a foreign language for Florida high school students. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau


February 02, 2017

A 'sanctuary cities' bill is in the works for 2017 session



As President Donald Trump’s administration cracks down on so-called “sanctuary” cities for undocumented immigrants, some Republican lawmakers in Florida aim to do the same this year.

State Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, told the Herald/Times that he and Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, are drafting legislation that will seek to impose “consequences” on cities and counties “who say there are only select, certain federal laws they’re going to abide by.”

“We’re looking at financial penalties, yes,” Bean said when asked if the consequences potentially included withholding state funding from cities and counties deemed “sanctuaries” for immigrants who are in the country illegally.

“We’re also looking at removing the umbrella of your sovereign immunity for elected individuals, boards and constitutional officers,” Bean said — which would allow victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants to then sue city and county officials if they don’t fully comply with enforcing federal immigration laws.

More here.

Photo credit: Protesters gather at the Miami-Dade government center on Jan. 27, 2017, to protest against Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s decision to remove the county’s label as a “sanctuary” for undocumented immigrants in the country illegally. C.M. Guerrero / el Neuvo Herald


January 31, 2017

Senate Democratic leader from Miami Gardens recounts his 'reality' with gun violence

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With controversial gun legislation again proposed for Florida lawmakers to consider this spring, Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon told reporters Tuesday that the Legislature needs to do a better job of understanding the true reality of gun violence -- as opposed to referencing hypothetical, Hollywood-inspired examples.

And he speaks from experience.

RELATED: "These are the gun law changes Florida lawmakers could take up in 2017"

"My reality is a little different from their’s," the Miami Gardens Democrat said, referring to his fellow legislators. "How many people have been in a club that got shot up? I can raise my hand and say that I have."

More here.

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

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 24, 2017

Steube plans to dismantle his comprehensive gun bill into several smaller ones

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Senate Judiciary Chairman Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, told reporters Tuesday that he's switching strategies in the hopes of getting legislation passed this year that will make it easier for gun-owners with conceal-carry permits to carry their guns in public.

Steube had originally proposed a comprehensive gun bill, SB 140, which would have made several changes to Florida's statute governing concealed weapons -- including allowing the open carrying of guns by permit-holders.

Now acknowledging that bill might be too large for lawmakers to swallow, Steube says he's drafting legislation to effectively break up SB 140 into potentially 10 different, more narrowly focused bills that each target individual aspects of the law that he wants to change. (Senators aren't limited in the number of bills they can file, as House members are.)

"Instead of looking at it as a huge comprehensive bill, we're going to try to do it piecemeal," Steube said. "Just from feeling the tea leaves, it's probably better to attack it piece by piece."

It's unclear when the new bills will be filed; Steube said they're still being drafted.

RELATED: “These are gun law changes Florida lawmakers could take up in 2017

He said he had heard the House was planning its own omnibus companion to his original bill, "but I haven't seen it."

"I've been at this for now seven years, and sometimes it's beneficial to put everything in one bill and kind of attack it, and if there's issues, amend things out -- and sometimes it's easier to do it piece by piece," he said.

SB 140 called for allowing the open carrying of handguns by the state’s 1.7 million concealed weapons permit-holders and allowing those permit-holders to then carry guns in several places where they're currently banned: elementary and secondary schools, public college and university campuses, airport passenger terminals, legislative meetings, meetings of municipal, county, school or special district boards, and career centers.

With the smaller bills, Steube said his top priorities for passage would be the ones lifting the ban on concealed weapons at public colleges and universities and at airport terminals.

"Obviously, I filed campus-carry now for the last four or five years; that's been an issue that's important to me and will continue to be important to me," Steube said. "And given what happened at the Fort Lauderdale airport, that obviously is important to me."

RELATED: "Bloodbath shows why guns should be allowed in airports, lawmakers say"

Individual bills for both of those measures have been filed in the House. Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, is sponsoring a campus-carry bill, HB 6005, and Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia, is sponsoring a bill to allow concealed guns in airport terminals, HB 6001.

Steube is a staunch supporter of Second Amendment rights, arguing that "law-abiding" concealed weapons permit-holders shouldn't be restricted in how and where they are armed. He also argues that so-called "gun-free" zones, likes universities and airports, are targets for mass shootings because criminals don't obey gun bans.

But his proposals have outraged and concerned Democrats and gun-control advocates, who argue that more guns is not the answer to reducing gun violence in Florida.

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

Proposed changes to Florida's Stand Your Ground law again divide Legislature, attorneys

Rob bradley_012417


An effort by conservative Republican lawmakers to revise Florida’s Stand Your Ground law is back under consideration with a viable chance at passing this year, even as opponents again warn that enacting such changes would “water down” Florida’s gun laws and make it easier for people to kill without consequence.

For the second year in a row, Fleming Island Republican Sen. Rob Bradley is proposing to alter the legal procedure for how a criminal defendant seeks immunity from prosecution under Florida’s controversial 2005 law.

Stand Your Ground allows individuals to use deadly force in self-defense — with no obligation to retreat or flee. Current practice, supported by the Florida Supreme Court, requires defendants to prove before trial why they’re entitled to such immunity.

But Bradley’s proposal (SB 128) would shift the burden of proof at that pre-trial hearing so instead, the prosecutor would need to prove before trial “beyond a reasonable doubt” why a defendant couldn’t claim they lawfully stood their ground.

There’s no public outcry for the change; it’s driven out of principle, Bradley told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday at his bill’s first vetting of the 2017 session.

More here.

Photo credit: The Florida Channel

December 22, 2016

Florida Republican legislative leaders host January fundraiser for Artiles, Diaz

Artiles-diaz fundraiser invite@ByKristenMClark

When the Florida Legislature returns to Tallahassee in early January for its first committee work week ahead of the 2017 session, two Miami-Dade Republican lawmakers will also use the time to get a head-start on raising money for their 2018 races.

And they'll have the help of some powerful party backers.

Newly elected Miami state Sen. Frank Artiles and Hialeah state Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. -- who's running for a Florida Senate seat in 2018 -- are planning a joint fundraising reception for Jan. 10 at the Governor's Club in Tallahassee, according to an invitation obtained by the Herald/Times.

The host committee for the reception includes five influential Republicans, four of whom are current or future chamber leaders: current Senate President Joe Negron of Stuart, Bradenton Sen. Bill Galvano, Trilby Sen. Wilton Simpson, Miami Lakes state Rep. Jose Oliva and Hialeah Sen. René García.

As Senate president, Negron is in charge of the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which raises money to assist top party candidates. Galvano and Simpson are both on track to be future Senate presidents after Negron: Galvano in the 2018-2020 term and Simpson in 2020-2022. And, Oliva is poised to take over as House speaker in 2018.

García's presence on the host committee indicates an endorsement of Diaz as his successor. García is in his final term representing Senate District 36 and Diaz, a three-term representative, is running for that seat.

Expect that Artiles and Diaz won't be the only ones fundraising in January. Committee weeks often attract evening fundraising receptions since lawmakers are already convened in Tallahassee. House and Senate rules bar lawmakers from fundraising during the official legislative session, which in 2017 begins in March.

December 20, 2016

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



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