The Florida Senate is in session.
Senators convened at 9:30 with a prayer and the traditional singing of the national anthem.
“They need wisdom, direction, and understanding,” Pam Olsen, president of the Florida Prayer Network said during the invocation.
“Keep their marriages strong” while the members are “here doing the people’s business,” she prayed.
“I know I’m asking for a miracle, but make this session end on time.”
There for the occasion were Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, plus members of the Florida Supreme Court.
“We understand you have a busy morning,” Senate President Joe Negron told Scott, who was due to deliver his State of the State address later than morning.
One of the first orders of business was approval of rules changes designed to prevent a meltdown over the House’s strict new rules for member projects in the state budget while respecting the Senate’s prerogatives.
In reaching the agreement with the House Friday, “potentially we dodged a bullet that could have stopped our appropriations process in about the fifth week,” budget chairman Jack Latvala said.
Negron discussed his hopes for education funding during the session, including building the state’s universities to “national elite” standard, comparable to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Virginia, and the University of Michigan.
Also, that every student in Florida, regardless of financial and family background, be able to attend the state university of his or her choice. They might have to work their way through college, he said, but he hopes “there will never be a financial impediment to a student attending a university and graduating on time.”
He touted his plan to prevent discharges of toxic algae from Lake Okeechobee — which, he said, draws unflattering national attention to the state. He wants to buy land to store overflow water south of the lake.
“In the end, we’re going to have to have a place for the water to go” to avoid damaging discharges to communities to the east and west of the lake, he said.
Negron also highlighted his proposal to create alternatives to the criminal justice system for youthful misdemeanors. “Let’s have some room for young people to make mistakes” that doesn’t jeopardize their job prospects later, he said.
Negron endorsed proposed legislation to require unanimous jury verdicts to impose the death penalty, shift the burden of proof to prosecutors in “stand your ground” cases, and protect students’ right to pray in schools without compulsion.
He praised the governor’s, House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s, and his own appointees to the Constitutional Revision Commission, saying he hopes the panel will protect individual rights.
“I really think there’s a special part of opening day — this is really when a lot of our constituents are going to get engaged” in the legislative process.
“I’m asking all of us to share in that renewed energy and commitment,” he said, “and look at today as Day One going forward.”