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Gaetz and Weatherford offer a joint agenda aimed at vets, tax cuts and more pension changes

As an election year looms, Florida’s Republican legislative leaders announced they will focus on a legislative agenda that continues to refine their attempts to provide more skills-based education, cuts  taxes by $500 million, keeps sexual predators off the street, strengthens regulations on homes for the elderly and gives military veterans more support.

The list of priorities, called “Work Plan Florida 2014” was outlined by House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, before a meeting of reporters and editors in Tallahassee on Wednesday.

“The state of Florida has had a tremendous transformational turnaround in the last three years,’’ Weatherford said, noting the 6.2 unemployment rate and rise in tourism.

He attributed it to “disciplined, focused, conservative leadership” and said his agenda is “doubling down” on their achievements.

“I believe in the redistribution of opportunity,’’ he said. Their joint agenda will freeze university tuition in 2015, increase education vouchers for private schools, and focus on restoring “trust and integrity into our grading system.”

Gaetz said he wants Florida to be the nation’s top destination for military veterans and the least favorable destination for sexual predators. He said the state will also increase regulation on Assisted Living Facilities, an effort the industry has resisted since the Miami Herald first exposed the abuses three years ago. 

He said they will endorse a $500 million tax cut but, unlike targeted tax cuts of the past, it will be “broad based tax cut that will target low income and working Floridians.”

Weatherford said efforts will also increase to protect the vulnerable with legislation that cracks down on human trafficking and closes loopholes in how the money is spent and also reduces the waiting list for the disabled.

Finally, Weatherford will renew his effort to revise the state’s pension fund to steer more of the accounts to privately-managed investors which, Gaetz said, would provide “more options for making retirement for Floridians secure.”

Meanwhile, as Republicans nationally remain divided on economic and social policies, the leaders appeared to focus on a modest list of initiatives with populist appeal. Neither leader mentioned any proposals to address the fact that Florida still leads the nation in mortgage foreclosures and is second in the nation in the number of uninsured Floridians under the age of 65.

The veterans proposal will waive licensing fees for military veterans who move to Florida, waive out-of-state tuition for veterans and fund scholarships for Florida National Guard members. 

The crack down on sexual predators aims at increasing public notification, expand registration requirements to better track and monitor sexual offenders and strengthen civil commitment laws. 

Gaetz said they will also tighten ethics laws to make failure of a public official to disclose his finances "grounds for removal." He also wants to tighten legislative residency rules.

"This isn't a Republican plan, a Democratic plan -- this is a Florida work plan,'' Gaetz said.