Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, announced the complete lineup of new Senate committee chairs and members Wednesday, and it has a very familiar look.
Like his predecessor, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, Gardiner gave chairmanships to three Democrats: Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, at Agriculture; Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, at Governmental Oversight and Accountability; and Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, at Children, Families, and Elder Affairs. The three Democrats chaired those committees for the past two years.
Gardiner handed three of the most coveted appropriations subcommittee chairmanships to Gaetz, a former school superintendent, at Education, and to the two senators locked in a competition to succeed Gardiner as president in 2016. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, will chair the budget subcommittee on transportation and economic development and Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, chairs the subcommittee for criminal and civil justice appropriations.
Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, will chair the budget panel for health and human services and Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, stays put as chairman of the budget subcommittee for general government.
Several others are also staying put: Sens. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg (transportation); Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach (Health Policy); Thad Altman, R-Melbourne (Military & Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security); Wilton Simpson (Community Affairs); Greg Evers (Criminal Justice); Charlie Dean (Environmental Preservation and Conservation); Nancy Detert (Commerce and Tourism). Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, remains chair of Finance & Tax, which is now a full-fledged committee again.
Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, is the new chair of the Banking & Insurance Committee, perennially a focal point of business lobbying, as is the Communications, Utilities and Public Utilities committee, now chaired by Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring. Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, chairs Education Pre-K-12, and Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, chairs Higher Education.
Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, is the new chairman of the Regulated Industries Committee, overseeing gambling, alcohol, tobacco and other assorted vices. Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, now chairs the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, heads the Ethics & Elections Committee, which figures to be a quieter place for the next two years.