Florida Senate Archives - Page 4 of 27 - Florida Politics

Andy Gardiner, Linda Stewart arrange moments of silence for Pulse victims

As one of his last acts on behalf of the state of Florida, outgoing Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner arranged a moment of silence Tuesday for those killed in the Pulse nightclub shooting just outside his district on June 12.

Gardiner, the Orlando Republican who now is a private citizen, did so on the request of his successor, now state Sen. Linda Stewart, the Democrat from Orlando, who also arranged for a moment of silence at the Democratic Caucus organizational meeting Monday night.

Gardiner did so, in a highly unusual move, just before the 2017 senators were sworn in, he said, “Because it is the right thing to do.

“I took the presidential privilege to do a moment of silence. You know, we lived — all of us — through it, and the impact of it. And certainly in my role at Orlando Health … we were there,” Gardiner said.

Gardiner’s day job is as senior vice president of external affairs and community relations at Orlando Health, the parent company for the Orlando Regional Medical Center. A few blocks away from Pulse, the facility treated most of the 53 wounded survivors and other victims from the massacre played out by the gay-hating, ISIS-pledging mad gunman Omar Mateen. Forty-nine people were killed before police killed Mateen.

So on Tuesday, after the invocation prayer, Gardiner called for the senators to please remain standing.

“I would like to ask my colleagues and the individuals in the gallery, a lot has happened since the last time we met,” he told them. “And for my community and for the country and state we faced one of the worst tragedies that you can ever imagine in the Pulse nightclub. Forty-nine individuals lost their lives. And for those of us that were there shortly after, it has made a huge impact on our future. And for those in the Orange County delegation it would mean quite a bit to us for a moment of silence.”

Stewart said a similar moment of silence was requested in the House of Representatives, but was not held.

She said the moment in the Florida Senate meant a lot to her, as did the moment — 49 seconds long — that she arranged in the Democratic Caucus meeting the night before. Pulse now is in her district, thanks to last year’s redistricting, which expanded Senate District 13 farther south from the area that Gardiner represented.

“Twas a moment in time where I wanted to make sure that every day that representatives of the state of Florida remember that this tragedy happened,” Stewart said.

 

 

Senate and House not that different, Joe Negron says

Senate President Joe Negron said his approach to budgeting isn’t that different from fellow Republican and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Negron
Negron

Negron met with reporters Tuesday after he officially became president during the Legislature’s biennial Organization Session.

In sweeping changes to the House’s traditional way of doing business, Corcoran said senators would need House sponsors for special spending requests, such as hometown projects, often derided as “turkeys.”

But Negron, who along with Corcoran is a former Appropriations chair, said he “would encourage senators to find someone in the House” to support a budget item, and “we’ve always done that,” he said.

“The chances of an appropriation surviving this process are higher if both chambers are doing it,” said Negron, a Stuart Republican.

He also suggested those who lobby the Legislature for appropriations for paying clients have as much of a First Amendment right to cajole lawmakers as residents who seek money to build a senior center.

“The Capitol … should always be open for comment,” Negron said. ” … I believe that lobbyists and others and constituents have every right to redress grievances and to work in the process. And I believe all of us have a responsibility, myself included, to get information from many different sources to make a decision about voting and on budget decisions.”

The Senate this week adopted internal rules that do not contain the same strict provisions of the House regarding lawmakers’ interaction with lobbyists.

The House, for instance, even forbids members from looking at text messages from lobbyists while they are sitting in committee or a floor session.

“I think the spirit is the same: We all want to operate in a way that would make our constituents proud,” Negron said. “I think both Speaker Corcoran and I agree that we should be held to the highest standard.”

Florida Senate reopens chamber after $6 million upgrade

The chamber of the Florida Senate is reopening after a $6 million upgrade.

Outgoing Senate President Andy Gardiner showed off the renovated chamber on Monday.

Workers spent the last eight months tearing out carpet, replacing desks and installing a new stained glass dome and new wood columns. The state motto of “In God We Trust” is now displayed prominently above the president’s rostrum.

Senate leaders had been considering renovations for more than a decade, but Gardiner said they went ahead with the renovations because the 2016 session ended in early March.

The renovations mark the first substantial work that has been done to the Senate chambers since it was opened in the late ’70s. The Florida House renovated its chamber in 2000.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Nearly $20 million spent on ads in Florida legislative races

Despite a never-ending flow of presidential ads during the election, nearly $20 million was also spent in Florida on ads targeting legislative races.

Final data shows that $19.4 million was spent over the last two years to air more than 33,000 commercials in races for the Florida Senate and Florida House. The vast majority of ads were run in state Senate races.

The biggest spender was a Republican political committee controlled by incoming Senate President Joe Negron. The GOP majority only lost one senate seat during the election.

The Center for Public Integrity analyzed data about political advertising on broadcast television from Kantar Media/CMAG, a media tracking firm that monitors media markets around the country.

These figures cover ads aired over the last two years and do not include ads for radio, online, direct mail or local cable TV ads.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

For Darren Soto, it’s still all about a stronger, fairer economy

Of the three new members of Congress elected from Orlando this month, Democrat Darren Soto is the one who’s no mystery to constituents, and still committed to the same agenda he’s pursued for nearly 10 years in the Florida Legislature: a stronger, fairer economy.

Soto, 38, an Orlando lawyer, defeated Republican businessman Wayne Liebnitzky for the open seat to represent Florida’s 9th Congressional District, covering south Orlando, southern Orange County, Osceola County, and eastern Polk County. He heads for Congress as the veteran rookie of Orlando’s congressional delegation, someone with a clear track record of lawmaking who’s not talking about wavering from it.

Soto becomes the first member of Congress with Puerto Rican roots to be elected from Florida and the first Hispanic member from Central Florida. That’s important considering the makeup of CD 9, where the Puerto Rican-dominated Hispanic community is nearly a majority and growing. And it’s important to Soto, who grew up constantly interacting with family coming and going from the island. But it doesn’t change Soto’s approach.

His first task, seeking committee appointments to reflect what he’d been pursuing in Tallahassee: growth in high-tech jobs and protection of the environment.

That also includes seeking to replace some of the clout that his predecessor, Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, and Orlando’s other former representatives, U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, John Mica, and Dan Webster exerted, particularly in addressing the roads, highways, railways, and other needs of the growing area. Now, Orlando will be represented by Democratic freshmen Soto, Val Demings, and Stephanie Murphy.

“We hope to get on committees that can help with high-tech jobs in our economy in Central Florida,” Soto said in an interview with FloridaPolitics.com. “I hope to also continue our good work on the environment. And in addition we are hopeful I can help with the growing infrastructure needs that we have here in Central Florida.”

Getting I-4 finished. Expanding SunRail. Upgrading the Kissimmee and Lake Wales airports with air traffic control towers. Pursuing the Kissimmee River restoration plans.

“Certainly, I’ve sought out committees that would help in those three areas,” Soto added. “As well as, the Democrats pushing for our version of an infrastructure package, which potentially all parties can agree upon.”

Except for his views on social and environmental issues, Soto has largely been a more moderate member of the Florida Democratic Party. While he led a Democratic insurrection to seek gun law reforms after the June 12 Pulse massacre in Orlando, in Tallahassee he sided with gun lobby proposals often enough that his Democratic primary opponents threw that in his face.

He defeated two prominent progressives in the election, former ally Susannah Randolph, and Dina Grayson, wife of the outgoing incumbent.

Soto’s been around. He came up as part of a new, younger generation of Democrats that came together 12 years ago in Orange and Osceola counties, in an environment that saw the area’s base of low-wage, hospitality-industry economics as a top concern. With his future chief of staff and campaign manager Christine Alkenavich Biron, Tracy Sumner Brooks, Vivian Rodriguez, Susannah’s husband Scott Randolph, and a handful of others they began to transform the Young Democrats from a small, depressing group into a force.

At age 28, Soto first tried to run against Republican state Rep. Andy Gardiner in House District 40, knowing all along, he said, he could not possibly win. But the experience helped and the following year he won a six-way Democratic primary and a close general election to be elected in House District 49, to replace Republican state Rep. John Quinones who had resigned mid-term to become a county commissioner. Two re-elections later, Soto coasted into the Florida Senate in District 14 in 2012.

And as soon as congressional redistricting made CD 9 a near-majority Hispanic district in 2011, Soto was seen as a likely future candidate, presumably as soon as Alan Grayson stepped aside, which he did this year, seeking to run for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat.

Besides Brooks, Rodriguez, and Biron, his trusted political advisors include Iza Montalvo, his law partner Nicole McLaren, and Democratic party leaders Jimmy Auffant and Doug Head. He’s also had close ties with Lonnie Thompson, Linda Stewart, Bill Segal, and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.

“Buddy has shown that an independent-minded, pro-growth Democrat can be very successful in our region,” he said.

Soto grew up on in small-town New Jersey and watched his father, who was Puerto Rican, work to support his family and go to night school to get a college education. That dedication stuck, and he did much the same thing, going to Rutgers University, and then on to law school at George Washington University.

Many of his Puerto Rico family members moved from the island to Central Florida in the 1990s. Darren joined them when a distant relative offered him his first job out of law school.

“I fell in love with the place. It changed my life,” he said.

He met his wife Amanda, a teacher, through a blind date set up by Osceola County School Board member Jay Wheeler. The two plan to split their time between Washington D.C. and a new home they intend to move into in Celebration.

When he’s not legislating, you might find Soto making music, as a singer-guitarist in a folk-rock band called the Orange Creek Riders.

Soto said he quickly came to terms with the election of Republican Donald Trump as president. As a state lawmaker, he’s dealt with Republican governors Charlie Crist and Rick Scott.

“Now,” he said, “I’m ready to help lead the resistances, as need be.”

 

 

Senate chamber

Senate to re-open next week after months of renovations

The newly renovated Florida Senate chamber will be ceremonially opened next Monday at 3 p.m.

And don’t expect another re-do for a very long time.

“We believe the historic components of the remodel have created a timeless design that will limit the need for future renovations,” outgoing Senate President Andy Gardiner said in a statement.

The re-opening will take place the day before the new Legislature’s Organization Session. The project began minutes after last session’s Sine Die, with sergeants-at-arms hauling chairs and other furniture out of the chamber. 

The chamber features redone walls, new desks, and new carpet. Senators will stand under a new ceiling dome, modeled after one in the Historic Capitol.

Also as planned, the nearly 40-year-old mural that greeted visitors to the 5th floor gallery has been removed and stored in the old Capitol. It depicts a Confederate general and flag, which the Senate previously voted to remove from its official seal and insignia.

Gardiner had 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.

Design elements 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.

Darryl Rouson arrives in the Legislature’s ‘upper house’

Darryl Rouson went and said it. He referred to the Florida Senate as the Legislature’s “upper house.”

He did it Tuesday while introducing himself to new colleagues during an orientation session for freshman senators.

Members of the Florida House of Representatives, where Rouson served before winning the Senate seat for District 19, have been known to take umbrage at such talk. Was he joking?

Nope, Rouson said.

“The Senate is a more deliberative, collegial type body, where everything is not along partisan lines,” he said. “The Senate, I hope, will be that voice of reason.”

The House is subject to too many diverging priorities, he continued.

“There are a lot of members of the House, 120, and sometimes 119 of them have different views. Here, you have 40 people. Policy can be close and not so divergent.”

Another former House member turned senator, Gainesville Republican Keith Perry, played down any cross-rotunda rivalry.

“You’re going to have competition within the House, you’re going to have competition within the Senate, and you’re going to have it between the Senate and the House,” Perry said. “That’s a normal thing.”

Freshman state senators learn the ropes in Tallahassee

Newcomers to the Florida Senate were met with a dose of reality Tuesday, in the form of a warning about the state’s iffy revenue forecasts.

They also got a dose of optimism from Jeff Atwater, the state’s chief financial officer, who told them Florida is in relatively good shape compared to other big states like California, New York, and Illinois.

Between 2009 and 2014, 31 states raised taxes by more than $100 per capita, 26 raised debt, and 18 did both, Atwater said. “Only one state did not raise its taxes $100 on a per capita basis and did not raise debt, and that’s the state of Florida,” he said.

“That means the state’s credit is sound and state leaders have options,” he continued. “It sets you up for the future. You have the capacity to do things that no one else does. You have choices. You have a growing economy.”

The freshman senators convened in a committee room to be briefed on finances and protocol — and to take possession of their official Senate laptop computers. The incoming House class met later in the day.

The new Senate class comprises 20 members — a record, according to Senate President Joe Negron, for the 40-member body. He sees the arrival of so many newcomers — many of whom have served in the House — less as a challenge than “an opportunity and a blessing,” he said.

“When the voters instituted term limits, this is exactly what they intended to happen,” Negron said. “I see only an upside.”

Still, the Legislature will have just $7.5 million in unallocated money to spend next session, and faces shortfalls worth $1.3 billion the year after and $1.9 billion the year after that.

Negron, who favors spending $1.2 billion in state money on land south of Lake Okeechobee to absorb fertilizer runoff from sugar producers and septic tanks, sought to put the situation in the perspective of an $82 billion state budget.

“Budgets are all about competing priorities,” Negron said. “I think that, within the budget that we have and the revenue that we have, there’s no reason why we can’t undertake some old and some new opportunities based on what’s happening today.”

Linda Stewart, a Democratic freshman senator from Orange County, said the budget situation did not alarm her.

“I’m not scared. I think it’s helpful of them to lay out what our challenges are,” Stewart said of legislative staff who briefed the newcomers.

“But it’s going to come down to the needs of the people of Florida. We’ve got to get in there and fix a few things,” she said.

“There’s obviously some challenges with the budget,” said Dana Young, a Republican from Hillsborough County. “But with some fiscal restraint, we can deal with those challenges, like we have in the past.”

Personnel note: Lynda Bell named to Florida Communities Trust

Lynda Bell, an anti-abortion former Miami-Dade county commissioner who fell short in a Florida House race this year, will serve instead on the Florida Communities Trust.

Gov. Rick Scott announced the appointment Thursday.

Bell finished third in a crowded race for the GOP nomination in House District 118.

Bell, president of Florida Right to Life, fills a vacant seat and will serve through 2019, subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

The trust administers state grant programs that help local government and nonprofit organizations develop “parks, open space, greenways and projects supporting Florida’s seafood harvesting and aquaculture industries,” according to its website.

She is a graduate of Miami Dade College.

Joe Negron picks Anitere Flores to serve as Senate President Pro Tempore

Senate President-designate Joe Negron has picked a longtime ally to be his right hand woman in the Senate.

The Stuart Republican announced Thursday he selected Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican, to serve as Senate president pro tempore. The appointment is effective Nov. 22, when the Legislature convenes for its organizational session.

“The role of Senate president pro tempore is a significant position of trust and authority. Anitere is a loyal friend and trusted ally. She also has longstanding relationships with many new and returning senators,” said Negron in a statement. “She has a proven ability to work in a bipartisan manner without compromising her own unwavering principles. I have complete confidence in her ability to represent the Senate in this important leadership position.”

Flores was first elected to the Florida House in 2004, serving three terms before being elected to the Florida Senate in 2010. She handily won re-election Tuesday, defeating Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in the newly drawn Senate District 39.

Negron’s announcement comes one day after House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced his leadership team and committee chairs. Corcoran tapped Rep. Jeanette Nunez to serve as House speaker pro tempore.

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