Joe Negron Archives - Page 2 of 42 - Florida Politics

Jack Latvala denies sexual harassment, says he’ll ‘clear my name’

Hours after POLITICO Florida reported that powerful state Sen. Jack Latvala had sexually harassed six women who work in the legislative process, the Clearwater Republican said in a Friday night statement that he “unequivocally den(ied) the allegations.”

But the news dealt a stunning blow to the powerful Appropriations Committee chairman and Republican gubernatorial candidate, with House Speaker Richard Corcoran also calling for Latvala’s resignation.

Moreover, Senate President Joe Negron ordered an investigation into Latvala, asking “anyone with information regarding today’s report to confidentially come forward to the General Counsel’s Office.”

In his statement, Latvala said it was “hard to confront anonymous accusers, and even more difficult when the news is manufactured by a fake news entity like POLITICO, who gave me less than a half hour to respond to this smear campaign.”

“And I find it interesting that these anonymous complaints have only come forward after I began my campaign for governor,” the 66-year-old Clearwater Republican added.

“I am in consultation with my attorney and will take all legal actions necessary to clear my name,” Latvala said. “I also welcome a complete review of these allegations by the Senate. If my political opponents want a fight, then it’s a fight they will get.”

Negron earlier had called the allegations that Latvala sexually harassed and groped the women “atrocious and horrendous.” He ordered the investigation, to be led by Senate general counsel Dawn Roberts.

“As Senate President, my first priority is the safety of our staff and visitors,” Negron said in a statement.

According to the POLITICO report, the women “described their physical interactions with Latvala as anything but welcomed. They said they felt degraded and demeaned when he touched their buttocks or other private areas of their bodies, or when he commented on their weight and their breast size.”

On Thursday, Latvala had strongly denied any ties to sexual misconduct after he spoke at the Associated Press’ legislative coverage planning session in the Capitol.

The website previously reported he’d been the subject of surveillance, including while he kissed a lobbyist in a parking lot after a dinner meeting in Tallahassee.

“I asked the (Senate’s) general counsel to find out whether I had any problems with this,” Latvala told a POLITICO Florida reporter. “And she wrote a memo to your boss — I didn’t know she was writing a memo — that said I never had any incidents like that.”

He added: “But that very day, you were on the phone trying to stir up one.”

The allegations against Latvala come a day after Negron defended a controversial sexual harassment policy change that some said would make it harder to report complaints when they occur.

Negron, a Stuart Republican, said in a news conference Thursday that he was not aware of any “formal or informal” sexual harassment complaints against members.

Though Negron has not said anything about relieving Latvala from his chairmanship, Corcoran—the Land O’ Lakes Republican expected to announce his own run for governor after the 2018 Legislative Session—was quick to call for him to step down from office.

“This behavior should never be tolerated. He should resign immediately,” Corcoran said in a statement. “The most dangerous threat to self government is morally corrupt leaders acting in their own selfish interests.”

Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat, said the allegations are “appalling and disgusting” and called on Negron to  at least remove Latvala from his role as budget chairman.

“Additionally, I call on Speaker Richard Corcoran to tell the Senate that the House will refuse to go into budget conference with Senator Latvala in that position,” said Moskowitz, the Democratic ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee.

Joe Negron defends Senate sexual harassment policy, again

In the wake of a sex scandal that rattled the state Capitol last week involving Senator Jeff Clemens and his extramarital affair with a lobbyist, Senate President Joe Negron on Thursday defended the process in which sexual harassment complaints are reported in the Senate.

“I don’t think it would be fair to say that in the absence of complaints that must mean that there is or is not sexual harassment occurring in the building,” Negron said in a news conference. “I believe that the vast majority of legislators and staff handle themselves and conduct themselves appropriately.”

Clemens’ affair came to light thanks to a news report by POLITICO Florida.

While Negron reiterated there is “zero tolerance” for misconduct or sexual harassment in the Senate and that he has seen very “respectful treatment” among staff members, a recent policy change in the Senate came under fire. The policy adjustment sought to change how sexual harassment is reported in the chamber and some scrutinized it because it would have made it harder to file complaints.

Instead of going to human resources, complaints would have gone directly to Negron, which he said would have bolstered the “elevation of seriousness” of each complaint.

“The new policy in the administrative rules was actually an enhancement of earlier policy and may even streamline to say we take this with the utmost seriousness that there is zero tolerance for sexual harassment and that any complaint will be investigated,” Negron said.

The policy has been placed under review to make it stronger.

Negron reassured reporters there would be “dire consequences” if there were any founded complaints. So far, though, he is not aware of any “formal or informal complaints” in relation to sexual harassment in the Senate — other than those reported by the media

“The process works when any person who feels there has been misconduct, or a victim of sexual harassment, comes forward,” Negron said.

Scott wants $50M to speed up Lake O dike repairs

Gov. Rick Scott announced Monday that he will ask lawmakers to include $50 million to fast-track repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee in the 2018-19 state budget.

In a Monday press release Scott thanked President Donald Trump for his “commitment to accelerating critical repairs” to the dike but said Trump green-lighting a sped up repair schedule wasn’t enough on its own.

“While this partnership is game-changing, we cannot stop there,” Scott said. “These repairs are a priority and that’s why I’m proposing $50 million in state funding to help expedite the project.”

Scott announced the dike money to a Clewiston crowd including House Speaker Richard Corcoran Monday, and both Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron said they were on board with the plan.

“None of what we announced today would’ve been possible without the heavy lifting and tireless effort of Governor Scott,” Corcoran said. “The fruits of this investment will mean safety and security for the community surrounding the Lake, as well as averting potential environmental dangers. And I’m proud to stand with the governor today and will do all I can to help him hold Washington’s feet to the fire.”

Negron thanked Scott for his “leadership” on the issue and plugged his own signature proposal to expand water storage south of Lake O.

“I look forward to working with him again this session on these important issues to ensure we have an effective state and federal partnership that leads to the elimination of harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee,” he said.

Legislators will consider the proposal when crafting the state budget during the 2018 Legislative Session, which will start in January.

Scott’s environmental budget, released last week, will also include $355 million for Everglades restoration, $50 million for land preservation fund Florida Forever as well as budget bumps for state springs, beaches and parks.

Lizbeth Benacquisto, Lauren Book issue statement on sexual misconduct

Two female state senators Monday issued a powerful joint statement on sexual misconduct in the Capitol, the same day Senate President Joe Negron agreed to reconsider his new hard-line harassment reporting policy.

Sens. Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican and Rules Committee chair, and Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat and chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources, said such misconduct, “whether in action or in spoken word, has no place in our world and certainly not in our places of work nor in the halls of power.”

Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat, resigned from elected office Friday after admitting to an extramarital affair with a South Florida lobbyist. Clemens was the chamber’s Democratic Leader-designate.

The news happened to come soon after light of multiple sexual harassment allegations leveled against film producer Harvey Weinstein, as reported by The New York Times.

His accusers include actors Rose McGowan, Annabella Sciorra, Asia Argento, Daryl Hannah and dozens of others, some going back to the 1970s.

Sciorra told The New Yorker that Weinstein “had violently raped her in the early (1990s), and, over the next several years, sexually harassed her repeatedly.” Weinstein, known as a “pioneering independent film executive,” stepped down from the namesake studio he helped found.

In their Monday statement, Benacquisto and Book said “many times, a known or perceived imbalance of power can be exploited. This is why it’s so difficult for many to speak up.

“This is why so many don’t report,” they said. “Victims are made to feel ashamed, afraid, and uncertain of how this may impact their careers. They are made to bear a piece of this burden and the weight of the misconduct somehow becomes the responsibility of the victim. That ends here. That ends today. 

“We are here to say that you are not to blame. If you have been hurt or exploited, let your voice be heard. Come forward. Make a report and get the help you deserve to heal and to be protected. It is crucial that you find your strength and use your voice. As long as we are here, you will be heard, and we will do all that we can to help.

“We are your allies because sadly we can both say #MeToo. We understand what it means to be victimized, demoralized, and silenced in the face of sexual assault. We stand with you because we all deserve to feel safe and to be safe. Be strong. Be brave.”

On Friday, Negron told Senate employees that, going forward, sexual harassment complaints should only be reported to their direct supervisor, Senate chief of staff Cheri Vancura or Negron himself. And all complaints ultimately had to go to Negron’s desk for review.

By Monday, he backtracked, saying employees could report sexual or other “workplace harassment” to anyone in their chain of command.

He said in a memo he wanted to make it “even more abundantly clear to employees that they can and should report sexual or workplace harassment to anyone they feel comfortable speaking with.”

Negron, a Stuart Republican, also again made clear his “zero tolerance” of sexual and workplace harassment against anyone who works for or “visits” the Senate.

Later Monday, Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, thanked Negron “for his listening ear on revisiting the sexual and workplace harassment policy issued this weekend.

“Making it clear that multiple places of sanctuary for reporting sexual and workplace harassment will continue to exist ensures neutral environments for reporting such offensive behavior, and encourages individuals to come forward,” she said in a statement.

COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

Dorothy Hukill files ‘college competitiveness’ bill

Sen. Dorothy Hukill has filed a bill to “support the over 800,000 full- and part-time students of Florida’s nationally-recognized college system,” she said in a Wednesday press release.

Her legislation (SB 540), known as the “Community College Competitiveness Act of 2018,” would “expand credit transfer options … , requir(e) student and faculty representation on the new state coordinating board of the community college system, and expand strategic academic advising to help students save time and money.”

“As a former teacher, I have seen firsthand how each component of our education system provides a valuable experience for our students as they learn the skills needed for a successful career,” the Port Orange Republican said in a statement. “For this reason, in developing this legislation, we worked to incorporate feedback from our state colleges regarding their unique strategies for student success.”

Her legislation “seeks to further elevate Florida’s nationally-ranked community colleges through a renewed focus on student success that will lead to on-time completion of vital associate degrees and workforce credentials that prepare students for jobs in communities across our state,” she added.

Here are excerpts from the rest of the release:

“Florida’s 2+2 college-to-university program has earned a national reputation as a model for success in higher education. With a distinct mission, separate from the role of our K-12 and state university systems, Florida’s community colleges are vital to Florida’s K-20 public education system,” said Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican.

“An independent coordinating board will ensure this critical component of our state’s education and economic development infrastructure retains its dedicated local focus while elevating the statewide leadership presence needed to continue to meet the needs of growing local and regional economies throughout Florida,” he added.

The bill elevates the organizational prominence and affirms the distinct leadership significance of the Florida Community College System and the essential role local community colleges play in improving the quality of life and economic well-being of the state and its residents.

It restructures state-level governance of Florida’s community college system under a state coordinating board uniquely dedicated to the advocacy and advancement of the economic, community, and professional advancement goals of Florida’s 28 community colleges.

It also restores a “State Board of Community Colleges” (SBCC) to oversee and coordinate the FCCS (local college boards of trustees retain current local autonomy and local governing authority), and shifts state-level responsibilities regarding Florida community colleges from the State Board of Education to the SBCC.

Bill Galvano brings policy skills to top Senate post

Sen. Bill Galvano, a 51-year-old lawyer from Bradenton, will be designated Tuesday by Senate Republicans as the next president of the Florida Senate.

The Republican lawmaker will lead the 40-member Senate for two years after the November 2018 general elections, assuming the Republicans hold their majority — now at a 24-16 margin — in the chamber.

Over the course of his 13-year legislative career in the House and Senate, Galvano has handled complex issues, including the investigation of a House speaker, a gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe and, most recently, a major higher-education initiative.

“It’s not accidental that I entrusted one of my top legislative priorities to him,” said Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, referring to Galvano’s handling of the Senate’s higher-education legislation.

Negron met Galvano when he was assigned to help the Manatee County lawmaker in his first campaign for the House in 2002. They had a common background as lawyers from medium-sized communities.

“He approaches legislative issues like you prepare for a trial,” said Negron, who has been Galvano’s Tallahassee roommate for about nine years.

Negron said Galvano is also strong in building long-term relationships in Tallahassee, which is important in passing legislation as well as rising in the legislative leadership.

“Bill is unique in that he is equally adept in the policy part of the political process as well as the social component,” Negron said.

Earlier in his legislative career, Galvano focused on health care, chairing a House committee. He later became the chamber’s Rules Committee chairman and then led a special committee investigating the conduct of House Speaker Ray Sansom, who resigned.

In his last year in the House, Galvano was one of the key architects of a major gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe in 2010.

After brief hiatus from the Legislature, Galvano won election to the Senate, where President Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican, tapped him to oversee the $20-billion-plus public-school budget. It was Galvano’s first foray as a budget leader.

In 2015, Galvano led the Senate effort to resolve a redistricting challenge to the 40 Senate seats, after a court ruled the 2012 redistricting map had violated the state Constitution.

During Negron’s presidency, Galvano has led the chamber’s higher-education budget panel and is the sponsor of a Senate bill (SB 4) this year that seeks to expand and make permanent changes to Florida’s Bright Futures merit scholarship program.

“It’s made my career more interesting to be able to focus on these areas,” Galvano said in an interview. “And I think it will help give me some depth going forward.”

Major influences in Galvano’s life were his parents, Phil and Betty Galvano.

Galvano’s father, the son of Sicilian immigrants, was a self-made man who became one of the nation’s top golf professionals, claiming a list of clients that included celebrities like Johnny Carson and Perry Como.

Galvano said his father was also a strong believer in self-learning and education. In his honor, Galvano hosts an annual golf tournament each spring and has raised more than $3 million for Manatee County schools.

But Galvano said it was his 82-year-old mother, Betty, who helped guide him into a career of law and politics. He said she has always had an active civic life, evidenced recently when Galvano called her to ask how she was doing during Hurricane Irma and found out she was on her way to Moore Haven as a Red Cross volunteer.

“I really got involved in a lot of different issues through her and it piqued my interest in politics at a young age,” Galvano said.

Galvano’s wife, Julie, is an administrator at Blake Medical Center in Bradenton. The couple are parents of two sons and a 13-year-old daughter, Jacqueline, who is a budding actress and singer. Jacqueline, who keeps up with classes through the Florida Virtual School, recently completed a national tour in the musical “Annie.”

Asked about his legislative priorities as the next Senate leader, Galvano said he is looking to the Senate membership to develop ideas reflecting the scope and diversity of the nation’s third-largest state.

“I want to make sure my message is one of recognizing that everyone can contribute to the process, the empowerment of the members,” Galvano said about his agenda. “And most of all to be a facilitator of their ideas and their opportunities.”

Galvano said he knows the state will face budget challenges in the next few years, including dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

He also said he wants to help the state’s citrus industry, which lost crops in the hurricane and has a long-term challenge from citrus greening disease.

Galvano said he would also like to encourage more international trade and continue efforts to diversify the state’s economy, with the aim of creating more homegrown businesses rather than trying to attract businesses from outside the state.

Miami Lakes Republican Rep. Jose Oliva, who was recently designated by the House Republicans as their next speaker, and Galvano will preside over the Legislature in the 2019 and 2020 regular sessions.

Galvano said while he and Oliva may not always agree, they have already established a solid working relationship.

“I think whether it’s known or not, we have been able to resolve and work together on issues far more often than not,” Galvano said. “I don’t perceive that his and mine relationship will be one steeped in gamesmanship, but more based on how we as one team get things accomplished.”

Galvano also said since he began working with Oliva, whose family owns a cigar company, they have found another area of agreement.

“I have to say his cigars are the best I’ve had,” Galvano said.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Ed Hooper lands Wilton Simpson nod on the heels of Bill Galvano endorsement

Former lawmaker Ed Hooper is looking to rejoin the Legislature via Senate District 16 next year, and in the past couple days he’s landed endorsements from the two men who would serve as Senate President during his first term.

“Ed Hooper is a committed public servant dedicated to working for his neighbors. As a firefighter and as an elected official, Ed has demonstrated that we can trust him to get job done,” Majority Leader Wilton Simpson said in a press release. “Common sense and integrity are the hallmarks of a leader, so I give my full support to Ed and ask the people of District 16 to join me to support Ed Hooper for the Florida Senate.”

Simpson, a businessman and farmer, has been in the Florida Senate since 2012 and is set to take over as Senate President after the 2020 elections.

“I appreciate Senator Simpson’s faith in my candidacy and in my ability to get the job done,” Hooper said. “I look forward to working with him in the Senate and getting good things done for Florida.”

Simpson’s public show of support for Hooper comes just days after an endorsement from Bradenton Sen. Bill Galvano, who is a couple weeks away from becoming Senate president designate and would take over for current Senate President Joe Negron following next year’s election.

Hooper has called the Clearwater area home for 45 years, including 24 years working for the city’s fire department. He served in the House from 2006 through 2014, when term limits forced him to retire, and has spent his three years out of the Legislature working as a consultant.

Currently, Hooper is the only Republican candidate in the race running for the seat currently held by Clearwater Republican Sen. Jack Latvala, who is termed out of the senate and running for Florida governor in 2018.

SD 16 covers the northern half of Pinellas County and a strip of coastal Pasco County that includes New Port Richey. It also has a clear GOP lean, with about 20,000 more registered Republicans than registered Democrats. The district voted for Donald Trump last year over Hillary Clinton 56-39.

Since filing in January 2016, Hooper has racked up endorsements from fellow GOP pols – including one from Latvala – and raised about $144,000 for his campaign.

Sweeping measure addresses prescription pills

Doctors would be limited to prescribing seven days’ worth of opioids for patients with acute pain and would have to check a statewide database before ordering most prescription pain medications, under a proposal filed Friday in the state House.

The 114-page bill, sponsored by House Commerce Chairman Jim Boyd, a Bradenton Republican, incorporates proposals put forward by Gov. Rick Scott aimed at curbing the opioid epidemic that has engulfed the state.

Scott’s office issued a news release Friday announcing the filing of the measure, an indication of the importance of what will be one of the most pressing issues for the Legislature during the session that begins in January.

“Families across our state are struggling with pain and loss inflicted by the national opioid epidemic and today I am proud that Senator Benacquisto and Representative Boyd are filing important legislation to help combat this terrible crisis,” Scott said in the release. Senate Rules Chairwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican, is expected to file a companion measure to Boyd’s bill.

The proposal (HB 21) would limit doctors to writing prescriptions for three days’ worth of opioids, such as highly addictive oxycodone, unless the practitioner decides a seven-day prescription is “medically necessary to treat the patient’s pain as an acute medical condition.”

For the week-long supply, physicians would have to document the patient’s “acute medical condition and lack of alternative treatment options to justify deviation” from the three-day limit.

Some doctors, especially those who work in emergency rooms, have balked at a three-day limit and the requirement for documentation, which they say would take away time from patients.

Critics of a three-day limit also say that prescription-drug restrictions, while possibly stopping new patients from becoming addicted, won’t do anything to address the growing number of overdoses on heroin and fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid often mixed with heroin.

“In the emergency department, we see four to five overdoses a day,” Aaron Wohl, an emergency doctor in Lee County, told the Senate Health Policy Committee this week. “They’re not any using (prescription) medications. They’re using fentanyl and heroin.”

The limits are grounded in research that shows patients who took powerful pain medications for the first time had a higher chance of developing dependencies with longer prescriptions.

For example, new patients with a three-day prescription have a 3 percent chance of becoming addicted, compared to patients with a 30-day prescription, who have a 30 percent chance.

But Scott and his administration have indicated that the governor is open to increasing the three-day limit.

“The goal is to have a conversation and get everybody involved so as we go through this legislative session we have a bill that passes that is going to work to deal with the crisis,” Scott told doctors at a Florida Medical Association opioid summit in Tampa last week, after speaking about the prescription restrictions.

Shortly after Scott spoke, John Bryant, assistant secretary for substance abuse and mental health at the Department of Children and Families, expanded on the governor’s comments, saying Scott was offering an opportunity for doctors to “get it in a way that you think is something less than harsh.”

“We had this discussion in our shop and find that there are a lot of reasons … why three days may be more of a constraint than an aid at this point,” Bryant said.

The bill also includes a controversial component that would require doctors to look up patients on a prescription drug database, called the prescription drug monitoring program. The program has been aimed at keeping patients from getting multiple prescriptions for pain medications from different doctors.

Scott’s push to expand the use of the program is a dramatic departure from where he stood when he took office in 2011.

Then, the governor called for a repeal of the database, known as the PDMP. He reversed his opposition to it as Attorney General Pam Bondi lobbied heavily for the program to curb prescription-drug abuse.

State law now requires pharmacists to check the database before they fill prescriptions for controlled substances, but doctors are not required to consult it.

Many doctors and other health-care providers complain that the system is slow, difficult to use and takes too much time.

Even the state’s surgeon general admitted the database needs work.

“I have heard from many users that our current system is not that user-friendly,” Surgeon General Celeste Philip, who serves as secretary of the Florida Department of Health, told the doctors at last week’s meeting.

Philip said the department is working on updating the system and the revamped program “will be a lot less work.”

Law enforcement officials such as Bondi and some treatment providers view the PDMP as a critical tool.

Mary Lynn Ulrey, a nurse practitioner and CEO of Tampa-based Drug Abuse Comprehensive Coordinating Office, called the plan released Friday “the beginning of the beginning.”

“I do think the problem is on multi-levels. If people can’t get prescription drugs for pain management, they will turn to other drugs, like heroin. So, it’s a start,” Ulrey told The News Service of Florida in a telephone interview. “I am glad to see discussion around the bill. I’m hopeful that they’re paying attention. They know it’s a crisis. And they’re trying to do something.”

The proposal would also require pharmacists to check photo identification of patients before handing over controlled substances. A Senate panel heard complaints this week about patients who use aliases as a way of avoiding being tracked in the PDMP.

The bill drew praise from Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson, the president of the Florida Sheriffs Association, who noted that Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O’ Lakes, were also quoted in Scott’s news release Friday.

“I think that tells you that they understand what we’re all dealing with here. It’s that serious,” he said.

Republished with permission of The News Service of Florida.

Mike Pence to keynote Republicans’ conference in Orlando

Vice President Mike Pence is slated to be the keynote speaker at the Republican Party of Florida’s annual Statesman Dinner during their November state conference in Orlando.

Pence – with “special guest” U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio –  is to highlight the dinner set for Thursday, Nov. 2 at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, kicking off the two-day conference.

Also billed for the kickoff dinner to the quarterly party meeting are three of the four members of the Florida Cabinet, though not Gov. Rick Scott. The other advertised guests include Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Attorney General Pam Bondi,  Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, Florida Senate President Joe Negron, and Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

General tickets are $200 for the dinner, with executive committee members and College Republicans getting discounts.

Joe Negron: ‘Nothing nefarious’ in Gary Farmer’s reassignment

State Sen. Gary Farmer was taken off the chamber’s Banking and Insurance Committee, but Senate President Joe Negron told Florida Politics there was “nothing nefarious” about the removal.

Capitol insiders buzzed that Senate leadership was looking to exact revenge on the trial bar because of its financial support of Annette Taddeo, the Democratic opponent of popular Republican Jose Felix Diaz, in a special election. Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, is  a trial lawyer.

Negron says that’s not the case.

Indeed, newly elected Sen. Taddeo made a “compelling” case that she should be added to the committee, Negron said.

Committee chair Anitere Flores, also the Senate President pro tempore, said B&I “is one of the top committees in the Senate.”

“Sen. Taddeo’s district has a history of being hard hit by hurricanes and other insurance issues in her community,” said Flores, a Miami-Dade Republican. “I understand she made a compelling case (but) when a new senator joins the Senate, some of the committee have to be shuffled.”

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