Joe Negron Archives - Florida Politics

State budget deal struck? Jack Latvala says, ‘no,’ but…

Updated 2:45 p.m. — The House has sent over an offer and the Senate is reviewing, according to staffers in both chambers.

After teetering toward a late-session meltdown, the bones of a roughly $83 billion 2017-18 state budget are in place, according to three sources close to Gov. Rick Scott‘s office and several lobbyists familiar with the negotiations.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, however, early Tuesday morning said to “not believe the rumors.”

The budget framework, as it stands now, gives legislative leaders Richard Corcoran and Joe Negron their top priorities while delivering a likely-fatal blow to Enterprise Florida (EFI), the public-private economic development organization Scott wants full funding for.

Latvala even told Enterprise Florida interim CEO Mike Grissom Monday evening that a deal was coming together and Grissom “would not like it.”

Flexing their muscle, future Senate Presidents Bill Galvano and Wilton Simpson played pivotal roles in shaping the compromise plan, sources said.

There was bound to be horse-trading: The Senate agreed to fund the House’s “Schools of Hope” charter-school proposal and backed down on increased property taxes, while the House will go along with the Senate’s plan to revitalize Lake Okeechobee.

Negron’s $1.5 billion plan to help Lake O and stop overflows of toxic “guacamole water” into the state’s rivers and streams earlier passed the Senate 36-3. The Senate wanted to leave mandatory local property tax levels (“required local effort,” in Capitol parlance) where they are, to capture rising property values for school funding; the House sees that as a tax increase. Negron also gets more money for higher education.

But the deal also sets up a showdown with the Governor’s Office: Funding for Enterprise Florida, which gets far more public than private dollars, would be zeroed-out.

And VISIT FLORIDA‘s budget would be capped at $50 million, and House accountability measures for the public-private tourism marketing agency also would be put in place, including pay caps and limiting employees’ travel expenses.

The sticking point in all of this may be the torpedoing of EFI, explaining Latvala’s resistance to saying there is a deal. He’s carried Scott’s water in the Senate, but at this point he may willing to go along with a deal if, as those close to the negotiations suggest, the hundreds of millions of dollars in projects that his committee has shepherded get funded.

Unable to reach a deal over the weekend, the House offered a “continuation” budget that would have kept state funding intact at current levels in many places.

That would have allowed legislators to end the session on time and avoid the need for a costly special session. But it would have meant that there would be no money for any new projects.

The Senate rejected this idea. Negron, in a memo to senators Monday morning, called it a “Washington creation where Congress is habitually unable to pass a budget,” adding he had “no interest in adopting this ineffectual practice.”

Despite Senate opposition, Corcoran announced late Monday the House would pass a second budget that would freeze most spending and allow for some growth in Medicaid and public school spending. He said this budget would prevent a possible government shutdown later this summer.

“We remain hopeful that we will be able to reach an acceptable compromise,” Corcoran said in a memo to members. “It is our responsibility to pass a budget that continues the functions of state government.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this post.

Florida Forever bill could affect Everglades reservoir plan

A bill that looks to “un-muddy” the mission of Florida’s main environmental land acquisition program could potentially affect the plan for an Everglades reservoir.

A House bill brought forth Monday by Rep. Matt Caldwell, a Republican with close ties to House leadership, was passed unanimously by a House panel. Caldwell wants to alter what projects are eligible for money under the Florida Forever Program and put more money into land conservation. But the measure would also remove funding allocations for acquisitions on water management districts’ priority lists.

Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida, said this could potentially make it more difficult for water management districts to fund projects through bonding.

“I’m just pointing out that by taking water management districts out, it takes away an important part of the Florida Forever program that has been used to fund both land acquisition and construction of projects,” Draper said.

This could hinder Senate President Joe Negron‘s plan to build a $1.2 billion reservoir system south of Lake Okeechobee to curb toxic algal bloom from coastal communities. Senate Bill 10 would direct the South Florida Management District to find land for the reservoir system.

Negron’s plan to have the state borrow money to pay for the project has not been welcomed by House leadership, which has yet to hear the proposal. Caldwell’s bill could prevent the South Florida Management District from using bonding for the reservoir project. House Speaker Richard Corcoran supports the Florida Forever bill.

Caldwell does not believe his bill takes aim at Negron’s project because the focus of his bill pertains to land acquisition for conservation purposes, not capital projects.

Environmental groups were split on whether removing water management districts would affect the project. But they said they were hopeful Caldwell’s bill could lead to more money in the state budget for the Florida Forever program.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Legislature at stalemate over new state budget

With time running out in this year’s regular session, Florida’s legislative leaders are at a stalemate over a new state budget and are starting to lash out at one another over the breakdown.

The first but crucial round of negotiations between the House and Senate fell apart on Sunday. The session is scheduled to end on May 5, but state law requires that all work on the budget be finished 72 hours ahead of a final vote.

The lack of a budget deal can also derail other crucial legislation since many times stand-alone bills get tied to the spending plan or are used as leverage in negotiations.

The growing divide prompted Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran to lash out at fellow Republicans in the Senate, comparing them to national Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders.

“There are no limits to their liberalism,” Corcoran said.

Sen. Jack Latvala, the Senate budget chief, said that Corcoran was acting as if “everyone was a liberal but him.”

“I just think it’s very unfortunate for the process, where we start calling names and broadly classify people instead of trying to constructively work out solutions,” Latvala said.

The House and Senate are working on a new budget to cover state spending from July 1 of this year to June 30, 2018. The two chambers started their budget negotiations with a roughly $4 billion difference in their rival spending plans.

For more than a week, the two sides privately traded broad offers that outlined how much money would be spent in key areas such as education, health care, the environment and economic development.

Gov. Rick Scott has been highly critical of a House plan to shutter the state’s economic development agency and to sharply cut money to Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing corporation. Scott has urged Senate Republicans to stand firm against House Republicans.

Part of this broad framework also included how much money the state should set aside in reserves.

Corcoran said one stumbling block was that the House wanted to place more money in reserves because of projections that show a possible budget deficit in the next two to three years if spending continues to increase.

“We refuse to let the state go bankrupt,” said Corcoran, who also said such a strategy could force Florida to raise taxes.

Unable to reach a deal, the House over the weekend offered a “continuation” budget that would have kept intact state funding at current levels in many places. That would have allowed legislators to end the session on time and avoid the need for a costly special session. But it would have meant that there would be no money for any new projects.

The Senate, however, rejected this idea. Senate President Joe Negron, in a memo sent out to senators Monday morning, called it a “Washington creation where Congress is habitually unable to pass a budget.”

Reprinted with permission of The Associated Press.

Lizbeth Benacquisto: Frank Artiles made the ‘best decision for himself and his family, his constitutes, and the Florida Senate’

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto said she believes Frank Artiles’ decision to resign was the “best decision for himself and his family.”

Benacquisto, the Fort Myers Republican who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, said Sen. Perry Thurston has withdrawn his complaint against Artiles, and as such “no further action on the part of the part of the Rules Committee is warranted in connection with this matter.”

Artiles resigned his seat Friday rather than face a hearing that could have resulted in his explusion from the Senate. He made national news after he accosted Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, calling her a “b—h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation at a private club in Tallahassee Monday night. Thurston and Gibson are black.

Artiles also used a slang variation of the ‘N-word,’ referring to white Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President. While Artiles apologized on the Senate floor Wednesday, many said it wasn’t enough and called for his resignation.

“I believe Senator Artiles made the right decision for himself and his family, his constituents, and the Florida Senate,” said Benacquisto about Artiles decision. “I join my Senate colleagues in wishing Frank and his family all the best.”

Thurston, the chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, subsequently filed a Senate rules complaint against Artiles seeking his explusion.

 

Joe Negron: Frank Artiles ‘made the right decision’

Senate President Joe Negron said former Sen. Frank Artiles made the “right decision” to resign.

The Miami-area Republican resigned his seat Friday rather than face a hearing that could have resulted in his explusion from the Senate.

“Senator Artiles made the right decision,” ,” said Negron in a statement. “As Senator Artiles has noted, he holds himself responsible and accountable for his actions and comments.”

Artiles made national news after he accosted Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, calling her a “b—h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation at a private club in Tallahassee Monday night. Thurston and Gibson are black.

Artiles also used a slang variation of the ‘N-word,’ referring to white Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President. Thurston and Gibson are black.

“Despite the events of the last week, Senator Artiles has a long and proud record of public service. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for serving our country in the United State Marine Corps, where he fought for our freedom in the Global War on Terror,” continued Negron. “Additionally, his years of service in the Florida House and Senate demonstrate a commitment to helping others that will not end with his departure from the Senate. My Senate colleagues and I wish Senator Artiles and his family well.”

While Artiles apologized on the Senate floor Wednesday, critics said it wasn’t enough. Thurston, the chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, subsequently filed a Senate rules complaint against Artiles seeking his explusion.

Negron said Thurston informed him he would be withdrawing his complaint; and Negron has “directed the special master to close her investigation.”

“No further action will be taken by the Senate in regard to this matter,” said Negron.

Lawyer: Frank Artiles’ racial slurs offensive, but also free speech

A lawyer representing a state senator who could be punished for using a racial slur and other vulgarities said Thursday that the remarks — as offensive as they were — are protected by free speech and that other senators have used similar language.

Tallahassee attorney Steve Andrews wrote to the Senate lawyer reviewing the case of Republican Frank Artiles and said that a complaint filed by black lawmakers shouldn’t be pursued because Artiles is protected under the U.S. Constitution.

He also said Artiles’ comments should be judged side-by-side with the remarks of other senators.

“Should this matter be sent to the Senate floor, my client intends to put evidence of other similar speech by other Senators,” Andrews wrote to Senate lawyer Dawn Roberts.

He also said Roberts should step down from the case because of conflicts of interest, having previously represented Artiles and witnesses that could be called.

The matter began Monday night during a private conversation with two African-American senators at a members-only club near the Capitol. Artiles used obscenities with Sen. Audrey Gibson, including one particularly offensive to women.

Sen. Perry Thurston intervened and Artiles, a Cuban-American from the Miami area, used a variation of the “n-word” and used a vulgarity to describe Republican Senate President Joe Negron, according to the complaint filed Wednesday by Thurston.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, reviewed the complaint and found it’s likely Artiles’ comments and behavior violated Senate rules.

The Florida Legislative Black Caucus is asking for Artiles’ expulsion, which would be an option if the full Senate determines there was a rules violation.

Negron asked Roberts to make a recommendation by Tuesday.

In the meantime, Republican Gov. Rick Scott weighed in on the matter while speaking with reporters in Tampa.

“If I had an employee that said what he said, I would immediately fire him,” Scott said.

Thurston wasn’t immediately available for comment, according to a receptionist in his Senate office.

In a separate letter to Negron, Andrews told the Senate president that he should avoid voting on any punishment because he has already prejudged Artiles by condemning the comments earlier this week.

____

AP writer Gary Fineout contributed to this report. Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida’s NAACP joins those calling for Frank Artiles’ resignation

The head of the NAACP Florida State Conference is calling for state Sen. Frank Artiles to step down. 

The organization “stands fully behind the Florida Legislative Black Caucus … and several groups who have called for the resignation of Miami Senator Frank Artiles,” said Adora Obi Nweze, president of Florida’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Artiles, a Cuban-American Republican from Miami-Dade County, made national news after he accosted Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, calling her a “b—h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation at a private club in Tallahassee Monday night. Thurston and Gibson are black.

Artiles also used a variation of the “N-word,” referring to her and to white Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President. Artiles apologized on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Thurston has lodged a Senate rules complaint against Artiles seeking his expulsion. An investigative report by General Counsel Dawn Roberts is due next Tuesday.

“The racial slur, profane language and degrading tone used to members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus—in particular, a black woman—has no place in our society,” Nweze said in a statement. 

In 2017, it’s unfortunate we still must remind everyone about the N-word and the negative impact it has had in the black community for many years,” she added.

“A public apology is not good enough … Do us a favor, take your racist language and racist actions and resign,” said Nweze, also a member of the NAACP’s National Board of Directors.

Senate sets tight timeline on Frank Artiles investigation

Senate Rules Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto has appointed the chamber’s top lawyer to investigate a complaint by next Tuesday seeking to remove Sen. Frank Artiles from office.

Senate President Joe Negron announced the move Wednesday in a memo to senators.

Benacquisto “found that the complaint states facts supporting a finding of probable cause,” meaning it’s more likely than not that Artiles violated a Senate rule governing its members’ conduct.

Negron appointed Senate General Counsel Dawn Roberts to be a special master, a quasi-judicial officer who hears cases and makes recommendations.

Roberts, a lawyer since 1993, served as a legislative staff director before her appointment as chief attorney to the Senate last year. She also was interim Secretary of State in 2010-11, appointed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist when Kurt Browning suddenly quit.

Her “report and recommendation to the Committee on Rules (is due) by the close of business on Tuesday, April 25, 2017,” Negron said. 

“All parties involved in this incident are entitled to a fair, impartial and unbiased examination of the facts and a recommendation consistent with the current rules and historical precedent of this body,” he added.

“I encourage all Senators to be respectful of this important process and to refrain from participating in any activities that would jeopardize the impartiality of the ongoing investigation.”

Sen. Perry Thurston on Wednesday filed the complaint to remove Artiles.

The Cuban-American Republican from Miami-Dade County made national news after he accosted Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, calling her a “b—h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation at a private club in Tallahassee. Thurston and Gibson are black.

He also used a variation of the “N-word,” referring to her and to white Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President.

Janet Cruz latest Democrat to call for Frank Artiles resignation

Florida Democratic Minority House Leader Janet Cruz is calling for Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles to step down, following the outrage over published remarks of his racist comments to black Democratic lawmakers.

“Frank Artiles’ comments Monday night transcend politics and get to the idea of who we are as people,” said the Tampa Representative in a statement issued late Wednesday afternoon. Her response was the latest in a series of calls by Democrats for Artiles to resign.

The Florida Legislative Black Caucuswhich includes seven senators and 21 state representatives, issued a letter Wednesday calling for the Senate Rules Committee to begin the process of ousting Artiles from the Senate.

Fort Myers Republican Lizbeth Benaquisto, the Rules chair, agreed there was “probable cause” Artiles violated Senate rules  that say a senator must “maintain the integrity and responsibility of his or her office.”

Artiles apologized on the floor of the Senate Wednesday morning, less than 24 hours after the Miami Herald reported on racist comments he made to Democratic Sens. Audrey Gibson from Jacksonville and Perry Thurston from Fort Lauderdale.

Artiles also made a sexist remark to Gibson, the Herald wrote.

“My comments to you were the most regretful of all because they injured you personally,” Artiles said to Gibson. “No one deserves to be spoken to like that.”

Senate President Joe Negron stripped Artiles of his chairmanship of the Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee, while Florida Gov. Rick Scott called the comments, “disgusting,” but would not respond to questions about whether he thinks Artiles should step down.

Cruz had no such qualms.

“Do we believe in equality and treating each other well?” the Minority Leader asked in her statement. “Or do we believe that loose slurs and misogynistic attacks should be a part of our rhetoric? These disgusting remarks do nothing to bring us closer together as people and should not be tolerated by a civil society. Senator Artiles should take into account the best interests of his constituents and resign immediately.”

Black lawmaker seeks to remove Frank Artiles from Senate

Surrounded by fellow black and Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Perry Thurston announced Wednesday he had filed a complaint to remove fellow Sen. Frank Artiles from the Senate.

In a move sure to send chills through the Capitol’s lobbying corps, he suggested influencers who were within earshot when Artiles went on his tirade in the private Governors Club could be called to testify.

Artiles, a Cuban-American Republican from Miami-Dade County, created a national spectacle when news broke that he had accosted Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, calling her a “b—h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation.

“This incident is not the first, nor do we believe it will be the last,” he told reporters. Thurston and Gibson are black.

Artiles ran into them at the club on Monday night, just a short walk from the Capitol. He also used a variation of the “N-word,” referring to her and to Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President.

Thurston’s complaint was filed with Rules Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto for the “expulsion” of Artiles, elected to the Senate just last year after serving in the House since 2012. He says Artiles violated a Senate rule on legislative conduct.

Rep. Kamia Brown, an Ocoee Democrat, said Artiles was “unstatesmanlike” and a “bully:” “As a woman … as an African-American, I have to speak out on this. (Artiles) has not shown leadership.”

Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon II called it “asinine” that Artiles said his use of the N-word was because he grew up in Hialeah, a “diverse community.”

He also dismissed Artiles’ claim that he was being politically targeted: “This isn’t a Democratic issue—this is a Senate issue, a people issue, this is a human being issue,” Braynon said.

But Braynon also mused whether the election of President Donald Trump, supported by a fringe element of white supremacists, “emboldened” the kind of language that Artiles used.

“The shadow he has cast over our chamber deserves the most severe punishment available,” Thurston’s complaint says. “His public comments were overheard by elected officials and citizens alike who were” in the club. The press coverage over the incident has brought “more disrepute” to the Senate, he added.

Under the Senate’s rules, Benacquisto must find that Thurston’s complaint “support(s) a finding of probable cause” or she can dismiss it.

Otherwise, she must appoint a “special master,” a kind of quasi-judicial officer, who will “conduct an investigation” and hold hearings, ultimately issuing a recommendation to Benacquisto and Senate President Joe Negron.

“The President shall present the (Rules) committee’s recommendation, along with the special master’s report and recommendation, to the Senate for final action,” the rule says.

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