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Florida Senate renovations near completion

The Florida Senate’s chamber renovations should be done by early-to-mid November.

Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta tweeted back on Oct. 5: “Chamber Reno Update — About one month to left to go.”

She posted photos showing the chamber with redone walls, new desks, and new carpet going down.

As planned, the nearly 40-year-old mural that greeted visitors to the 5th floor gallery has been removed.

Departing Senate President Andy Gardiner has said the mural will be preserved for viewing elsewhere and stored until then.

The 10-foot-by-16 foot “Five Flags Mural” greeted visitors to the Senate since the Capitol opened in 1978.

The work also happens to depict a Confederate general and flag. The Senate previously voted to remove that symbol from its official seal and insignia.

When the chamber is reopened, senators will stand under a new ceiling dome, modeled after one in the Historic Capitol.

Gardiner pulled the trigger on the upgrade, recognizing that the chamber “has received only minimal updates since its original construction in the 1970s,” he said in a memo.

The final product in the Senate will be similar to an artists’ rendering released earlier this year.

It shows the new dome and other design elements that echo the Historic Capitol’s exterior, such as a pediment on top of columns over the president’s rostrum and the words, “In God We Trust.”

The renovation project was budgeted for $5 million. The chamber should be open for the Nov. 22 Organization Session.

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Is Oscar Braynon running the best Senate political operation in years?

Democratic uber consultant (and frequent Uber customer) Steve Schale contends in a must-read, table-setting blog post about which Florida Senate races are worth watching that “Oscar Braynon is running the best Senate political operation I’ve seen in years.”


Technically, Schale is absolutely right. Braynon is running the best political shop in years because, when compared to previous Democratic efforts, O.B. looks like a black James Carville.

Beyond Schale, there are other super-smart people in Tallahassee who think very highly of the Florida Democrats’ Senate political arm. Associated Industries of Florida’s Ryan Tyson often sings its praises, warning Republicans that if the Dems ever have more than two nickels to rub together, they’ll be dangerous.

Schale is also right on two more points:

— that, especially based on recent history, if Braynon’s Democrats overreach, they’re more likely to end up with just 14 or 15 seats in the Senate;

— and that if the Senate Dems get to 16 or 17 seats, that would make a huge impact in the chamber.

But I’m not ready to sing Braynon’s praises. One could make the argument that if the Democrats don’t get to 16-plus seats, the fault squarely lies with Braynon.

Putting aside all of the usual knocks on Florida Democrats — can’t raise money, etc. — Braynon has made glaring strategic mistakes for which he must be held accountable.

The first is not being able to recruit a candidate in Senate District 22. Few developments made me more relieved than to see our friend Jeff Brandes go without a challenge this cycle, but SD 22 is a genuine battleground seat that could have been won in a presidential year (and, admittedly, lost back to the Republicans in the 2018 non-presidential cycle). Braynon was left at the altar by Augie Ribeiro, who flirted with running in the seat, then decided to run in Senate District 19. Still, the seat encompasses St. Petersburg and South Tampa — veritable hotbeds for whatever constitutes Democratic intellectualism (for example, several major national and statewide environmental organizations, such as Defenders of Wildlife, have their offices in the district). It’s just a sin of omission that Braynon was not able to field a candidate here.

O.B.’s second tactical mistake is one borne out of his personal loyalty and willingness to reach across the aisle. By not pinning down his friend, Republican Anitere Flores, in SD 39, Braynon has allowed a couple of million dollars of Republican money to be freed up and redeployed to other races. Had a poll shown Flores in the slightest bit of trouble, Joe Negron would have spent $5 million to protect his chief lieutenant. Instead, Negron can now spend that money to shore up Dana Young in Senate District 18.

And while not outflanking the Republicans in SD 39, Braynon also left himself exposed on his left after backing the wrong candidates in two Democratic primaries. Braynon’s caucus of one backed Mike Clelland over Linda Stewart in SD 13, and Ed Narain over Darryl Rouson in SD 19. He didn’t spend a lot of money to do it, but Braynon now has two members who he personally tried to block from coming to Tallahassee. Look for both of them to give Braynon fits during the 2017-18 legislative sessions.

The honest truth about Braynon is that he is one of the smartest, most well-liked Democrats to hold the leadership post in a while. He’s O.B. from the press skits video of him and Andy Gardiner cutting it up as the “honest” Senate President.

But the Democrats were given the greatest political gift they’ve received in decades with the Florida Supreme Court’s redistricting ruling. Some political reporters, such as Mary Ellen Klas, speculated the Democrats were in position to pick-up six seats.

However, at the end of the day, they might just pick up just one seat (SD 13). If that’s what constitutes running the best Senate political operation in years, that’s hardly worth recognizing.

SD 13 race pits familiar names as Dems hope to flip seat

This used to be Andy Gardiner country, a Florida Senate district at the heart of GOP power, and now three Democrats are fighting for it like it’s theirs for the taking Tuesday.

Tuesday’s Democratic Florida Senate District 13 primary will pit three former elected officials, all with at least decent name recognition, one of them, former state Rep. Mike Clelland, with enormous amounts of campaign money; one, former state Rep. Linda Stewart, with a legendary ground game; and one, former Orange County School Board Member Rick Roach, with 16 years in the local spotlight.

Because redistricting has changed SD 13, dominated by central and east Orlando, from a strong Republican lean to a moderate Democratic lean, this is one of the Florida Senate districts the Florida Democratic Party thinks it’s most likely to flip this year, and even Gardiner, the outgoing Republican Senate president, has hinted he thinks it will flip.

Standing in the door disagreeing is Realtor Dean Asher, who’s got his own big piles of campaign money and much of Central Florida’s business community behind him. But Asher will have to wait to see which of three very different candidates he’ll have to take on.

“I am the favorite,” to win, Stewart bragged this week.

It’s an odd boast coming from a candidate who has raised just $25,400 for her campaign through Aug. 12, less money than Clelland sometimes collects in a week. Yet Stewart’s name recognition is high and her ground games have long set standards in Orange County, where she was three times elected county commissioner and once as state representative for House District 47.

Roach also calls her the front-runner, and Clelland clearly has recognized her strength, for he and his political action committee, “Common Sense for Central Florida,” have run attack ads focused on Stewart.

Clelland has raised more than $285,000 in his campaign fund and another $452,000 for Common Sense, which is collecting five-figure checks from firefighters’ unions and law firms, representing his background as a career firefighter who went to night law school and became a lawyer. His campaign also is being supported by Christian Ulvert’s Engaged Florida PAC and the Florida Democratic Party, who’ve both run Clelland ads in Orlando.

But Clelland said never mind the money.

“I made 208 phone calls today and then I went knocking on doors,” he said. “That’s what we’re focused on: we’re talking to voters.”

Meanwhile, as Clelland has been attacking Stewart in in TV commercials and mailers, and Stewart has been dismissing Clelland as someone who doesn’t know the district [Clelland moved in this year; he previously represented House District 29 in Seminole County], Roach has been the candidate showing up at every event and drawing crowds of more than 100 to his own town halls.

“I have talked to literally 2,000 people in the last two years in small groups and one-on-one,” Roach said. “I formed my campaign on what they told me.”

The trio agree with Democratic policies on almost all issues, though they’ve clearly quibbled over details, particularly as Clelland and Stewart have traded jabs on gun votes. But each has and focuses on individual strengths: Clelland, with his background in public safety; Stewart with her background as an environmental, women’s issues and community activist; Roach with his background as a school board member and former teacher.

Roach, who’s gotten a number of education-related endorsements from teachers unions to school administrators, combines his understanding of the schools and their challenges with economic themes. His message: strip the schools of much of the testing-prep, turn those test-prep positions, including reading teachers, back into shop classes and technical teachers. Graduate students who can get technical jobs and careers. Increase employment in higher-wage, skilled-labor jobs, reduce impacts on social services, including prisons.

“Once I discovered the talent gap, that I learned from the Chamber of Commerce, once I learned we had over 200,000 job openings, most of which don’t require college education, that pay good wages, I thought, well hell, why don’t we put people in those jobs,” Roach said.

“I know what’s happening in education. We’ve clogged it up with prep courses. So we can’t give kids auto education, construction, heating and plumbing. We’re too concerned about driving up standardized test scores. So if we just simply clean out all the junk in schools and use these tests the way they were designed, you could actually put between 10 and 15 courses in 1,000 high schools that all matched up with those jobs,” he said.

Stewart, whose endorsements have ranged from the National Organization of Women to mental health advocates to environmental groups, and said those represent the issues she’s best known for.

“People do want you to take a stand on assault weapons and no-fly, no-buy, which I have done a number of times,” she said. “People want you to take a stand on women’s issues, anything dealing with any kind of restrictions to abortion, they’re very concerned the government is getting too concerned about their personal lives. They’re also very concerned about the award of Amendment 1 money being diverted.”

Clelland has gotten endorsements from various first responder groups, law firms and a handful of establishment Democrats such as former Orange County Chairwoman Linda Chapin.

“It’s education, health care, Medicaid expansion, and water has resonated, particularly in Orange County, where quantity is as important as quality,” Clelland said. “I think those are the important things. That’s what I’m focused on.”

ABLE United launches, offers tax-free savings for disabled Floridians

Floridians with disabilities will now be able to save up to $100,000 in a tax-free account to pay for their health care, education and job training without jeopardizing their government benefits.

Under a 2015 law, sponsored by Estero Republican Rep. Ray Rodrigues and Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican, ABLE United launched the program July 1. The state law is the result of the federal Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, a Jacksonville Republican, shepherded through Congress in 2014.

“The mission of ABLE United is to encourage and assist the saving of private funds to help people with disabilities to cover costs that support their health, independence and quality of life,” said Kevin Thompson, director of the program. “Simply put, to have a better life experience.”

Senate President Andy Gardiner, who attended the Capitol news conference with his wife and children, said the savings accounts would help Floridians with “unique abilities,” like his son who has Down syndrome, have more opportunities, ranging from going to school to finding a job.

“ABLE United provides the opportunity for people with unique abilities to save for the future without the concern of losing important state and federal benefits,” Gardiner said.

Under the former law, disabled Floridians could not earn more than $700 a month or have more than $2,000 in assets without the threat of losing benefits like Supplemental Security Income or Medicaid.

The limits led to some “troubling” statistics, Rodrigues said, including the fact that the unemployment rate for the disabled was around 36 percent, and the poverty rate for them was 24 percent in Florida.

Rodrigues, who has a son with cerebral palsy, said many disabled Floridians want to work or otherwise improve their lives, but they were afraid of losing the “safety net” of government support.

“For the benefit of the safety net, you have to accept a life of extreme poverty,” he said.

Through a website,, Floridians with disabilities, like blindness, muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis, can create the savings account, which is similar to a federal 529-college savings plan. The law allows up to $14,000 a year to be contributed to the account.

Eligible individuals must be Florida residents and have acquired their disability before age 26.

The money can be used for health, housing, education, employment training, transportation, legal fees and other activities.

Florida is a national leader in the program and is one of three states that have established ABLE savings accounts, said Michael Roush of the National Disability Institute, a nonprofit group whose aim is to lift disabled Americans out of poverty.

Don Gaetz: We don’t need special session for gun control

State Sen. Don Gaetz is telling constituents not to take the special-session-on-gun-control bait.

Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who was Senate president in 2012-14, sent out an email Monday. It reprinted and linked to an op-ed he wrote for the Northwest Florida Daily News, Okaloosa County’s newspaper. It appeared Sunday.

He wrote on the mass shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub that left 49 people dead and 53 wounded. The shooter, later killed by police, called 911 to claim allegiance to the Islamic State terror group.

“Though law enforcement investigations are far from concluded, one thing seems clear — the demented and tortured wretch who committed these murders was either inspired by ISIS or wanted the world to believe he was,” Gaetz said.

But his Democratic colleagues in the Senate are pointing to the shooting as the need for a special legislative session to look at gun control in the Sunshine State.

Democratic Sen. Darren Soto of Orlando, who is running for Congress, will hold a press conference Tuesday in Orlando with other lawmakers to detail “their effort to convene a special session to address gun violence,” according to a news release.

“Some Florida state senators are using these killings to draw attention to themselves and their own campaigns for higher office — as if calling for a special legislative session would somehow cure madness, wipe away grief or defang ISIS,” Gaetz wrote. “It does get a politician in the blogs or on the front page for a news cycle or two. But how smarmy.”

Gaetz added that Senate President Andy Gardiner, a fellow Republican “who has lived in Orlando his entire life, isn’t taking the special session bait. He’s far too sensible.”

To the contrary, “huddling up a bunch of breathless legislators in Tallahassee to snap-pass laws banning guns won’t stop some terrorism-inspired human tool from building a bomb out of fertilizer or shopping the robust weapons black markets … ,” he said.

“… I surely hope we can resist allowing this tragedy to be exploited as just a slot into which politicians can jam their own agendas,’ added Gaetz, who is term-limited and leaving the Senate at the end of this year.

Soto could not be immediately reached for comment.

Florida LWV wants Legislature to convene special session to address gun control issues

Eight days after the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando left 49 dead and an additional 53 injured in the single worst shooting incident in modern U.S. history, the Florida League of Women Voters is calling on state leaders to hold a special session to deal with two specific gun control issues by the end of the month.

Specifically, the LWV wants the Legislature to make it a crime to knowingly import, sell, manufacture, transfer, or possess a semiautomatic assault weapon or large capacity ammunition feeding device.

“There is simply no reason for private citizens to have access to weapons like the MCX Carbine firearm used to murder the 49 people in the Pulse Night Club in Orlando on June 12, 2016. These weapons have immense destructive power and do not belong in civilian hands,” writes Pamela S. Goodman, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, in a letter addressed to Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner.

The LWV of Florida also wants the state to implement universal background checks.

“Both nationally and in Florida, legal access to guns is still too easy — and this tragedy is only the latest in a long line of examples, ” Goodman writes about the massacre in Orlando. “In particular, the state should require private parties (i.e., non-federally or state licensed dealers) to conduct a background check before selling any firearm. Simultaneously, the state of Florida should ensure that all relevant records are provided to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check.”

In a conference call Monday afternoon, Goodman said the purpose of the letter was to get a response and begin a discourse from the people of Florida to their lawmakers.

Forty-nine different individuals and groups signed on to the letter, including Nadine Smith with Equality Florida and Maria Rodriguez with the Florida Immigrant Coalition.

Goodman said it was important for state lawmakers to hear from so many different organizations and individuals who are calling for specifics, “be it business, be it faith-based, the LGBT community, the Hispanic community, civic organizations, residential organizations, small businesses, entrepreneurs all around the state, from the north, the south, the east, the west, that feel quite strongly that fewer weapons in this state … is common-sense legislation.”

Gov. Scott said in an interview with WESH-TV in Orlando on Monday that he doesn’t believe gun control is the answer. “Let’s be realistic, the Second Amendment didn’t cause this,” he said when asked about the gun control proposals going before the U.S. Senate. “It didn’t shoot innocent people. I mean, evil did. ISIS did. Radical Islam did.”

Gardiner also has expressed his lack of interest in entertaining any discussion of what to do about guns in reaction to Orlando. His spokesperson, Katie Betta, reacted last week when several state Democrats similarly called for a special session on guns to be convened.

“The President does not support expending taxpayer dollars on a special session unless there is definitive support within the Senate for a concrete legislative proposal that requires time-sensitive action,” Betta said. “Absent those elements, the President has a hard time viewing press conferences calling for a special session three days after the worst act of terrorism in this country since Sept. 11 as anything more than political posturing by two senators who have declared their intention to run for Congress.”

The Florida LWV will be hosting a conference call with reporter at 2 p.m. to discuss their proposals.

Mitch Perry Report for 6.16.16 -CLC clears the path for Rubio

Politics never takes a day off, and some would probably say it shouldn’t. Take the reaction this week to the shooting massacre in Orlando.

Democrats have done what they believe urgently needs to be done to lessen the possibility of further mass gun shootings, by introducing gun control legislation in Washington.

In Washington early this morning, Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy put himself into the history book with a nearly 15-hour filibuster to force the Senate to take action to address gun violence. Murphy tweeted at 1:53 a.m. that “we will have a vote on closing the terror gap & universal background checks.”

Meanwhile in Orlando, a handful of state Democratic lawmakers like Darren Soto and Geraldine Thompson called for the Legislature to hold a special session to call for additional gun control measures. That didn’t go down well with GOP leadership.

“The president does not support expending taxpayer dollars on a special session unless there is definitive support within the Senate for a concrete legislative proposal that requires time-sensitive action,” said Katie Betta, a spokesperson for Senate President Andy Gardiner. “Absent those elements, the president has a hard time viewing press conferences calling for a special session three days after the worst act of terrorism in this country since September 11 as anything more than political posturing by two senators who have declared their intention to run for Congress.”

Is it exploitive, or just a natural reaction to try to prevent further tragedies?

Yesterday, Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner was accused of being exploitive when he was able to lobby his colleagues to approve hanging the rainbow flag over the County Center in downtown Tampa for the rest of gay pride month.

And what about the GOP U.S. Senate race? Although momentum for Marco Rubio to re-enter the race has been growing for weeks, we’re now told the events in Orlando may be the X factor that brings Rubio back, and compels his ally, Carlos Lopez-Cantera, to leave the race.

In a statement yesterday, CLC issued a statement after talking to Politico, saying “I have asked Sen. Marco Rubio to reconsider his decision and enter the senate race.  The decision is his and his alone to make. As friends for 20 years, this race is so much bigger than the two of us, and, as you have heard me say on the trail, this race isn’t about an individual, this race is about Florida and the future of our country.”

But is the race bigger than CLC, but not bigger than Rubio?

“You should reconsider running for your seat,” Lopez-Cantera says he told Rubio last Sunday in Orlando, after they had been on the ground, dealing with the aftermath of the shooting tragedy.

So Orlando changed everything about this Senate race, at least for these two men? That’s apparently what CLC is saying now. He emphasized in his statement yesterday he remains in the race — for now. Again, this will all be cleared up in the next few days, because the calendar demands that it be so.

In other news..

David Jolly will announce his plans to run in either the House or Senate tomorrow — anyone wanna bet that he actually stays in the Senate race?

Patrick Murphy introduces new legislation regarding the Zika virus.

Pat Kemp leads in the Democratic race for County Commission District 6.

The BOCC also took one step closer to preparing for the introduction of a high-speed ferry project being spearheaded by St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman. 

Senate District 18 Democratic candidate Bob Buesing clarifies his stance on the TBX project.

David Jolly, Kathy Castor and Vern Buchanan were among the members of the Florida delegation to get a disturbing update on the Zika virus in Washington.

Todd Wilcox continues his “Preserving Peace through Strength” tour today in Florida.



Democrat Rick Roach finds his mark in SD 13 race with fix-education platform

Democrat Rick Roach drew 155 people in his quest for state Senate District 13 and said he received a standing ovation Sunday for delivering a new platform for reforming school testing and education in Florida.

“It kind of exceeded my expectations. I think I’ve given people something to vote for,” said Roach, a former Orange County School Board member seeking election in the Senate district that covers much of central and eastern Orange County. “I didn’t expect a standing ovation for four minutes from 155 people but I swear that’s what they gave me at the end.”

Roach’s platform, delivered at a town hall meeting in Winter Park Sunday, declares, “If you fix education, you’ll fix Florida,” and contends student testing programs need to be reined back to measuring students, not being the purpose of schools.

Roach is in a three-way Democratic Aug. 30 state Senate primary battle with former state Reps. Mike Clelland and Linda Stewart. The Republicans have Dean Asher seeking the seat that’s currently held by term-limited state Senate President Andy Gardiner.

Roach said the first thing he would do as a senator is arrange for representatives of the testing companies to testify in Tallahassee, because he is confident they would tell lawmakers that Florida is using them all wrong, as foundations for designing curriculum, rather than as tests for appropriate school curriculum.

Money spent on test-training and preparation could be rerouted to shop classes, internship programs and other job training in the schools, he said.

“What’s happened for the last 16 years since I’ve been on the school board is we’re spending more money on human services, more money on locking people up in prison, and they stole it all from education,” he said. “We have more people in poverty, more working poor, more people without health insurance, we have a pitiful job market income here, under $25,000 per year [median income, based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.]

Plaintiffs seek summary judgment in Amendment 1 suit

Advocacy groups suing the Legislature over environmental funding now are asking a judge to hand them the win.

Florida Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club and others filed a 57-page motion for summary judgment Wednesday. Granting such motions allows parties to win a case without a trial.

They filed suit last year over Amendment 1, the constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 that mandates state spending for land and water conservation.

The measure requires state officials to set aside 33 percent of the money from the real estate “documentary stamp” tax to protect Florida’s environmentally sensitive areas for 20 years. This year, that number is expected to total more than $740 million.

But the suit and Wednesday’s motion allege House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, Senate President Andy Gardiner, and other state lawmakers aren’t following through. The Legislature opposes the motion and will file a response soon.

“Plaintiffs are entitled to summary judgment because Amendment One prohibits the Legislature from appropriating land acquisition and restoration funds for any other purpose, but the Legislature appropriated most Amendment One monies to salaries and ordinary expenses of four state agencies,” the motion says.

Those agencies are the Department of Environmental Protection, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Department of State and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The standard for summary judgment is “that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.”

The motion says: “That the Legislature appropriated funds for those purposes is not in dispute, and as a matter of law those appropriations are unconstitutional.”

The amendment, which needed a minimum of 60 percent to pass, got a landslide of nearly 75 percent, or more than 4.2 million “yes” votes.

“Florida voters did not vote for salaries and operating expenses … Amendment One allows only for acquisition and restoration of conservation lands,” the motion adds.

“State officials have misused these funds, plain and simple,” said David Guest, managing attorney for Earthjustice, the nonprofit environmental law firm representing the groups.

“Floridians put an amendment into the Constitution directing the state to use these tax dollars to buy and restore conservation land,” he added. “With this legal action, we are asking a judge to hold up the intent of Florida voters.”

The case is in Leon County Circuit Civil Court and assigned to Circuit Judge George Reynolds III.

Jim Rosica ( covers the Florida Legislature, state agencies and courts from Tallahassee. 

At summit, Rick Scott urges on Florida colleges, universities to help students graduate sooner

Gov. Rick Scott has some suggestions to make sure college students graduate in four years.

Remove additional fees for online classes. Allow Bright Futures scholarships to be used for summer classes. Make sure students get credit for college-level courses taken in high schools.

The Naples Republican laid out his proposal at his Degrees to Jobs Summit at the Loew’s Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando. The two-day summit ­­— which was sponsored by several organizations, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce, The Florida College System Foundation and Universal Orlando —  has been billed as an opportunity to connect businesses and higher education leaders.

On Wednesday, attendees heard from Cissy Proctor, head of the Department of Economic Opportunity; Senate President Andy Gardiner, and panelists who discussed a wide-range of topics, including how to keep higher education affordable.

“Help us figure out how to make (higher education) more efficient, more effective and less expensive,” said Scott.

For Scott, that means encouraging Florida students to graduate in four years. According to the governor’s office, 44 percent of undergraduate students at state universities graduate within four years; while 71 percent of students are graduating with a four-year degree in six years.

Scott said he’s hoping to see that number decrease. To do that, he said colleges and universities should remove all additional fees for online classes and tell incoming freshman how much money they’ll save if they graduate in four years.

“My goal is that this is the state people want to live because they can get a good job and can get a great education,” said Scott. “I put a challenge out … to figure out how do we get our students out with a four-year degree in four years.”

Scott said he plans to urge the Florida Legislature to expand the Bright Futures scholarship to cover summer classes. That would give students more flexibility when it comes to scheduling classes. He also said the state needs to make sure students are getting credit for college-level coursework — like Advanced Placement classes — when they go to college; and make it easier for students to get credit for internships.

“When I was in school, I went to a four-year college,” said Tom Grady, a former state representative and a State Board of Education member. “Four years was the benchmark, and I think it should be again.”

But colleges and universities also need to take steps to make higher education more affordable, said Scott and others who spoke during the event. All 28 of the state’s colleges offer a $10,000, four-year degree, and several state universities are taking steps to make sure students get the most bang for their buck.

Take, for example, Florida Gulf Coast University. The university announced in February that first-year students who declare a major and graduate with a bachelor’s degree in four years will have the chance to get repaid all out-of-pocket tuition costs from their freshman year. Dudley Goodlette, chairman of the FGCU board of trustees and a former state representative, said the money graduates receive back will be paid with no public dollars.

In a statement Wednesday, Senate President Designate Joe Negron said he looked forward to working with the governor “on policy and funding enhancements that will help achieve our common goal of making Florida’s good universities great.”

Negron, who has made improving public universities a top priority during his presidency, toured the state’s 12 public universities last month. He said one of the most common things he heard were concerns over debt after graduation.

“We want to take steps to reduce the impact these financial insecurities have on their ability to graduate in four years,” he said. “We also want to increase opportunities for students who work throughout college to gain real world experience in their field of study that will improve their job prospects following graduation.”

Scott, who is in his final term as governor, said he plans to spend the next two years working to make sure Florida’s students can get a good education, and find a good job in the Sunshine State.

“I’m excited about what’s going to happen in the next two years and seven months,” he said. “We have every opportunity to continue the progress we’ve made and even get more done.”

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