Joe Negron Archives - Page 2 of 46 - Florida Politics

Bill criminalizing unpermitted access to electronic devices moves forward

Law enforcement officers in Florida could soon need probable cause and warrants to access a suspect’s mobile location tracking device.

Those potential new restrictions are provided in a Senate bill (SB 1256) that cleared its first committee stop on Tuesday. The proposal, sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, would also make it a crime to read a text message, email or other communication on a person’s cell phone without their permission, or without a warrant.

“We need to make sure Florida laws keep pace with changes in technology,” Brandes said. “With more and more families utilizing microphone-enabled communications tools to aid in daily household activities, this legislation makes sure our laws are clear with regard to when and how these devices can be subject to search,” Brandes said.

The measure cleared the Senate Criminal Justice Committee without debate. It also drew the backing of social media giant Facebook.

Under Brandes’ bill, an individual would not face criminal punishment in cases where an electronic device was accessed for business purposes and the information accessed is not “personally identifiable” or is collected in a way that “prevents identification of the user of the device.”

Following its passage, Senate President Joe Negron praised the proposal. He said it would address “current ambiguities” and protect Floridians from unconstitutional property searches.

Under Brandes’ bill, a law enforcement officer who wants to get the exact location of a suspect through their cell phone location tracker would be required to get a court-issued warrant.

Once a warrant is issued, the period of time that the data may be accessed may not exceed 45 days unless the court grants an extension to the warrant.

A House companion (HB 1249) sponsored by Tampa Republican Rep. Jamie Grant is moving ahead in the chamber and has two more committees before it hits the full floor.

Grant’s bill does not offer protections to businesses that gather information that is not personally identifiable.

Joe Negron and a reckoning (or not) on gambling

You’d think Joe Negron would have learned by now that when it comes to gambling and the Legislature, you can’t always get what you want.

Actually, you can’t even get what you need. But when it comes to what’s fair for voters, shouldn’t you fight like hell?

In a media availability after Thursday’s floor session, the Senate President and Stuart Republican was asked about the absence of opportunity for new slots and the ban on designated player games in the House’s bill touted by Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“Nothing has changed,” he said. “I think that we owe it to the hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens who live in the eight counties that have approved (slot machine) referendums, including St. Lucie County, which I represent … They decided they wanted additional slots … I think that needs to be given great weight.”

True, he’s said the same thing for over a year.

“So it’s hard for me to envision a gaming bill that would get to 21 votes in the Senate and at the same time ignore the clear direction and mandate of the voters,” he went on. (Mind you, we’re trying hard to hear where the pressure points are for compromise.)

“We look at the Senate bill as reflective of the majority of the priorities of senators and making sure that businesses that have been involved in gaming in Florida for, in some cases, generations, that those businesses should be treated fairly and equitably while we negotiate with the Seminole Tribe.”

How much does the proposed “Voter Control of Gambling” constitutional amendment, which will be on the November ballot, play into it, he was asked. It would require voter approval for any new or added gaming in the state.

“If that amendment passes, and that’s a big if, it would severely restrict the ability of the Legislature to make decisions on how we move forward in gaming,” Negron said. “It certainly gives a sense of timeliness to our discussions.

“… It remains to be seen if there is enough time to reach a decision on gaming. We’re going into week five. We’re all focused on the budget, as we should be. We’ll just have to see how it plays out.”

So we essentially come to the same divide as last year: A Senate President that believes in expanding slots to counties that want them, and a House Speaker who’s looking for “a contraction of gaming.”

And the clock ticks.

So what’s it going to be? A fair deal for the counties that voted to have slots, or another year of stasis on gaming? And after November, the door may well close on legislative intervention.

On Wednesday, Corcoran said he wanted his legacy to be gambling reform “so all the people who come after us don’t have to have this constant, perpetual fight over a massive expansion of gaming. I’d love to have that happen.”

When it comes to gambling and the will of the people: Mr. President, your legacy is calling.

Seminole Tribe ‘insulted,’ doesn’t need gambling deal, lawyer says

A lawyer for the Seminole Tribe of Florida on Friday said his client is offended over gambling that violates its exclusive agreement with the state and won’t agree to a new deal unless “the games end.”

Barry Richard, the Tribe’s outside counsel, and tribal leaders met with Sen. Bill Galvano and Rep. Jose Oliva this week on a grand bargain for future gambling that includes a renewed deal guaranteeing the state $3 billion over seven years from the Seminoles’ revenue. The Tribe’s casinos include the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa.

The two lawmakers, set to respectively become Senate President and House Speaker after the 2018 elections, are the Legislature’s lead negotiators for an expected conference committee to hammer out legislation this Session. No offers were made at this week’s meeting, Richard said. The Tribe has paid well over $200 million yearly into state coffers.

The Seminoles fare better under the House position, which would ban designated player games, a hybrid of poker and blackjack offered in pari-mutuel card rooms. It also freezes any chance of expanding slot machines.

The Senate would allow continued play of designated player games. And Senate President Joe Negron said as recently as this week that lawmakers “owe it to the hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens who live in the eight counties that have approved (slot machine) referendums, including St. Lucie County, which I represent … They decided they wanted additional slots … I think that needs to be given great weight.”

Nope, said Richard: “Those things are non-starters for the Tribe. It’s insulting to the Tribe to say, ‘yeah, pay us more and by the way, we’re going to increase your competition.’

“… I’m not saying Sen. Galvano or Rep. Oliva did anything to insult the Tribe. But they’re constantly having to fight these brushfires where there are always people, usually pari-mutuels, trying to find ways to infringe on the Tribe’s exclusivity.

“That’s what designated player games are, that’s what (pre-reveal games) are, that’s what these (slots) referenda are. The Tribe’s position is, you want to make a deal? Close down all this other stuff. And don’t make us be constantly fighting to protect what we have.”

The Tribe is in the catbird seat, however.

In 2016, a federal judge ruled the state had broken the exclusivity deal, called the Seminole Compact, by allowing designated player games that played too much like blackjack. That allowed it to keep its blackjack tables until 2030 and not have to share money with the state.

Moreover, a proposed “Voter Control of Gambling” constitutional amendment will be on the November ballot, requiring voter approval for any new or added gaming in the state. If it gets 60 percent approval, lawmakers will be indefinitely shut out from influencing gambling.

The Tribe’s lawsuit over card games was settled during appeal, and the Tribe and state agreed to a “forbearance period”—think of it as each eyeing the other warily—while the state agreed to “aggressively enforce” the Compact. That period ends March 31.

At this week’s meeting, Galvano and Oliva “wanted to explore whether there was a basis to extend that forbearance and the possibility of a bigger agreement on a compact,” Richard said. “(It was) agreed to talk about that further but there were no specifics. Just to exchange some proposals if anybody came up with anything.”

Richard also challenged Negron’s and other lawmakers’ desire to honor the will of voters in areas that want slots. A unanimous state Supreme Court last May decided “nothing in (state gambling law) grants any authority to regulate slot machine gaming to any county,” meaning the law would have to be changed to add slots.

“Maybe somebody needs to explain it to me, but I don’t understand what ‘do right by these counties’ means,” Richard said. “If someone does something illegal, we need to go back and say it’s OK now? That makes no sense at all, and it’s not fair to the Tribe.”

In sum, Richard suggested a hard road to all sides agreeing on a grand gambling bargain before the clock runs out. Jim Shore, the Tribe’s general counsel who was at this week’s meeting, also has said fantasy sports legislation, if passed, would be a deal-breaker.

“The Tribe will never agree to anything that allows other counties to have Class III gaming, like slot machines and these so-called designated player games, and they will never agree to anything that infringes upon their exclusivity,” he said.

“They fought a lawsuit over that, they won, and they have the right to stop making payments, and if they have any willingness to extend the forbearance period, it’s because the state offers something in return.

“… Remember, the Tribe doesn’t have to do anything,” Richard added. “They don’t need to make a deal with the state anymore. They’re willing to make a deal, but only if it makes economic sense. Right now, nobody’s talking about doing anything that makes economic sense.”

Senate budget pits hospitals against each other

There’s a fight brewing in the Capitol over how the state should pay hospitals for providing care to the poor, elderly and disabled.

A move by the Florida Senate to redistribute more than $300 million in Medicaid “automatic rate enhancements” and provide $50 million in new funding for hospitals could result in reductions for some of the state’s largest community-owned facilities but yield a windfall for some for-profit hospital chains.

A preliminary analysis of the Senate’s proposed health care budget shows that Jackson Memorial Hospital could have its Medicaid payments reduced by as much as $58 million and Orlando Health by nearly $9 million, while HCA Healthcare, a for-profit chain which owns 43 facilities in the state, could see nearly $40.5 million in Medicaid increases.

Tenet, which owns nine hospitals in Florida, would see a nearly $4 million increase in Medicaid payments under the Senate plan, and Community Health Systems, which owns 23 hospitals in Florida, would see as much as a $7.7 million bump in Medicaid payments.

Meanwhile, the House’s proposed spending plan for hospitals essentially remains unchanged for the upcoming year. Under the House proposal, Jackson Memorial would have its Medicaid rates reduced by $8 million in the coming year, instead of the $58 million reduction floated by the Senate.

And, instead of a $40.5 million bump in its rates, HCA’s rates would be pared back by $14.6 million under the House proposal. Similarly, the House’s proposed spending plan would result in rate reductions, not increases, for CHS and Tenet.

The enhanced payments currently are provided to 28 hospitals that in 2015 had Medicaid utilization rates of 24.75 percent or greater.

The automatic rate enhancements are payments made to hospitals in addition to the base rates. Critics of the enhancements argue that the automatic rate enhancements are no longer necessary because the state now uses diagnostic-related groups, or DRGs, to pay hospitals.

The list of providers that no longer will have their rates automatically increased includes Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando, Shriner’s Hospital in Tampa, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Orlando Health, and Miami-based Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Instead of giving those facilities additional payments, the Senate budget redirects the money to increase the base Medicaid rates paid to all hospitals. The Senate plan would increase from $3,426 to $4,049 Medicaid base rates paid to hospitals for each admission.

Because the base rates are increased, the Senate plan benefits any system that owns more than one hospital, such as HCA and Tenet. But it also benefits large not-for-profit providers, such as BayCare, which owns 10 facilities, and Adventist Health System, which owns 15 hospitals.

The proposed changes have the support of Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, who told reporters last week that “it’s time” to make sure the distribution of Medicaid funds is “fair to all hospitals.”

“I think that you will see the Senate take a very comprehensive look at how hospitals are paid,” Negron said.

In addition to redistributing the Medicaid payments among the providers, the proposed Senate budget includes $50 million to help offset reductions the Legislature made to hospital payments last year. Because the cuts are “recurring,” they will continue annually unless lawmakers agree to put in additional money. The $50 million the Senate allocates would draw down a federal match and decrease the reductions by nearly $131 million.

The House’s proposed budget does not include any additional funding to offset the $520 million in recurring reductions the Legislature agreed to make last year.

House and Senate spending committees will vote on the proposed budgets this week, and the full chambers likely will consider the measures next week.

Rep. Jason Brodeur, a Sanford Republican who is in charge of the House’s health care budget, downplayed the differences between the two chambers’ spending plans. The differences in hospital funding and other issues will be hammered out during the budget conference process, Brodeur said, adding that “the House is happy with the current budget.”

Meanwhile, hospitals are divided about the House and Senate spending proposals.

“HCA likes the Senate plan,” longtime HCA lobbyist Bill Rubin told The News Service of Florida. “We think this model helps allow the dollar to follow the patient.”

Not surprisingly, Jackson Health System CEO Carlos Migoya thinks otherwise.

“This is certainly alarming for South Florida, however it is still early in the process. We trust that the Miami-Dade delegation will fight fiercely — as it always does — to protect the people who rely upon Jackson for world-class care,” he said in a statement.

The hospitals that no longer will receive automatic rate enhancements under the Senate budget include Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, Nicklaus Children’s Hospital; Nemours; Shriner’s Hospital; St. Mary’s Medical Center; Lakeside Medical Center; Homestead Hospital; Broward General; UF Health Jacksonville; Sacred Heart Hospital; Westchester General Hospital; North Shore Medical Center; Orlando Health; JFK Medical Center-North; Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center in Bay County; St. Joseph’s Hospital, Inc.; Jackson Memorial; Palms West Hospital; Plantation General Hospital; UF Health Shands; Coral Springs; Calhoun Liberty Hospital; Hialeah Hospital; Kendall Regional Medical Center; Palmetto General Hospital; Lee Memorial Hospital; Tampa General; and Memorial Regional in Hollywood.

 

Senate at odds with House, governor on proposal that limits tax hikes

A Senate panel on Monday pushed forward a bill that would make it harder for future lawmakers to raise taxes, but also put the upper chamber at odds with the House and Gov. Rick Scott.

The proposal by Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel is less stringent than the version passed by the House last week. Under Stargel’s proposal (SB 1742), the Legislature would require a three-fifths vote to pass any type of tax or fee hike.

“If there is an emergency, we are going to pass something easily,” the Lakeland Republican said.

In the House, the supermajority vote proposal (HJR 7001) is stricter and would require a two-thirds vote before any tax increase can pass through the Legislature.

Both proposals, if passed, would be a change to the state constitution, meaning it would need 60 percent voter approval in November.

Opponents of the measures say the Republican-controlled Legislature would “hamstring” the state if it faces any financial emergency in the future. Others slammed the proposal as a “campaign bumper sticker.”

Gov. Rick Scott, who will be pushed out of office this year by term limits and is expected to run for the U.S. Senate, has been a strong proponent of the fiscally-conservative proposal. He has pushed for the plan in both the Legislature and the Constitutional Revision Commission.

Scott is in favor of the House version and hopes the Senate will adopt it, said McKinley Lewis, a spokesman for the governor.

House eyes higher education budget cuts

Florida House leaders unveiled a proposed higher-education budget Tuesday that includes cuts designed to spur state universities and colleges to spend some of their reserve funds.

The proposal also would not expand the Bright Futures merit-scholarship program to cover 75 percent of the tuition and fees for “medallion scholars.”

House Higher Education Appropriations Chairman Larry Ahern, a Seminole Republican, said House leaders are looking to pass an “austere” state budget in the range of $85 billion, in contrast to Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed $87.4 billion overall spending plan.

To keep the 2018-2019 budget within expected revenue growth and to keep state reserves strong, Ahern said it will necessitate spending cuts.

Ahern said the higher-education budget has been targeted for cuts because of the “substantial growth” in state funding for the system over the past five years, including a $1.3 billion increase in general revenue support.

“In this budget we will be recommending that we start slowing that growth,” Ahern said.

While the House budget will include cuts in operating money for the colleges and universities, the reductions could be offset by the schools using reserve funds, Ahern said.

“Remember that unlike other state agencies, colleges and universities do not revert their general revenue back to the (state) treasury each year,” Ahern said. “They keep those taxpayer dollars, and their fund balance has grown.”

He said the 28 state colleges have about $350 million in unspent funds, while the 12 universities have more than $1 billion.

The House budget includes a $68.4 million cut for colleges, although it also has a $23.5 increase in operating funds to partially offset a $30 million cut in this year’s budget.

“The intent is to reduce operating funds, and thereby entice colleges to spend some of their fund balances,” Ahern said.

The House would cut the university system budget by some $217 million.

Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, has made a top priority of expanding the Bright Futures program. The Senate has already unanimously passed a bill (SB 4) that would increase the “medallion” scholarships to cover 75 percent of tuition and fees, up from currently covering about half of those costs.

The House has started moving forward with a bill (HB 423) with a 75 percent provision. But the House budget proposal Tuesday did not include such an increase.

Citing the $110 million cost of the medallion expansion, which also would include extending the scholarships to cover summer classes, Ahern said the House was “not there” yet, although the proposal is likely to be part of the House-Senate budget negotiations.

The House budget proposal would keep performance funding at the current level for state colleges, $60 million, and universities, $520 million.

It would increase funding for “preeminent” universities by $20 million, in anticipation that the University of South Florida is likely to join Florida State University and the University of Florida in that ranking and would share the preeminent funding pool.

The proposal, meanwhile, would cut operating funds for Broward College by $381,000, which is the same amount Broward President David Armstrong will be paid for a year-long sabbatical that will begin on June 30 when he steps down from the school’s presidency.

The House higher-education spending plan is just an early step in the annual state budget debate. The Senate is scheduled to reveal its higher-education budget, which is likely to be higher than the House’s, on Wednesday.

Lawmakers will try to negotiate a final budget before the Legislative Session is scheduled to end March 9. The new budget will take effect July 1.

It’ll be magic if Joe Negron succeeds with new Lake O reservoir land buy

On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations committee heard a presentation from South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Ernie Marks on the status report of the reservoir project authorized by Senate Bill 10.

Following the presentation, Appropriations Chair and Senate Bill 10 sponsor Rob Bradley expressed confidence in the district’s plans. But following the meeting, Senate President Joe Negron told reporters he is still planning to seek another 4,000 to 5,000 acres of land before the end of Session.

Why would the Senate president make these comments when the district says it has the land it needs, the chair is happy, and the project appears to be on schedule?

Negron’s comments come following a picture coming into focus that leaves little room for land buying, particularly taking more agricultural land out of production, which is a pillar of Florida’s economy.

In January of last year, Bradley first filed SB 10 — a bill that (at one point) called for the purchase of nearly 60,000 acres of working farmland south of Lake O.

It didn’t take long for questions to arise about how the state of Florida would buy this private farmland, warning it would adversely affect those living the region.

Among the first sounding the alarm about “eminent domain” was Marco Rubio.

“What about the people that live in those communities? What about Pahokee, what about those cities in the Glades communities that are going to get wiped out,” Florida’s junior senator told a blogger in April 2017. “If you buy up all that farmland, that means there’s no farming, that means these cities collapse, they basically turning ghost towns. Shouldn’t they be at the table? Shouldn’t they be part of this conversation as well?”

Soon afterward, an overwhelming bipartisan Senate majority revised SB 10, stripping the controversial provision that would have bought the 60K acres of privately-held farmland.

The last version of SB 10 — which Gov. Rick Scott signed into law that May, and was applauded by environmentalists such as the Everglades Foundation — prohibited the use of eminent domain.

According to comments today from Marks, more than 80 percent of the large landowners south of Lake Okeechobee are not selling. Glades farmers are steadfastly against losing valuable, productive agricultural land.

Also, the coming budget crunch following Hurricane Irma doesn’t lend itself to land grabs.

And there’s also the fact that this Florida Senate has little appetite for another bruising debate over land buying in an election year.

Finally, any deviation from the district’s schedule could delay the reservoir project — possibly for years.

Bottom line: this ship has sailed.

I have always maintained that President Negron is a true statesman, and this may be a moment showing the Stuart Republican cares more about the people in his district rather than the people in the Florida Senate — an admirable trait in any elected official.

But if Negron has any intentions of squeezing an acre of private land out under these circumstances, he’s more than a statesman. He’s a magician.

Senate announces new policy on sexual, workplace harassment

Prompted by a series of sex scandals that enveloped several senators, the Florida Senate on Thursday rolled out new guidelines on how to handle sexual harassment in the workplace.

The new employee code of conduct cites “patting, pinching, or intentionally brushing against an individual’s body,” unwelcome kissing or hugging as part of a greeting — including a peck on the cheek –, and sending emails, text messages or notes — whether it be a cartoon, a photo or a joke — of sexual nature, as examples that could violate the policy.

But any type of sexual harassment, whether verbal, nonverbal or physical, is prohibited. An employee found to be in violation of this policy could face immediate termination.

“The Senate has zero tolerance for sexual and workplace harassment and through these changes to our policies and rules we intend to make our commitment to a safe, professional work environment even clearer and even stronger,” Senate President Joe Negron said in a memo obtained by Florida Politics.

Any individual — including Senate staffers, visitors, senators, lobbyists and members of the media — who experiences sexual harassment in the Senate can log a complaint with numerous individuals, including human resources and their immediate supervisors.

Their identities will be kept confidential and exempt from public records.

Once a complaint is made, the first step is to investigate and try and resolve the issue informally. If no informal resolution is possible due to the severity of the allegations, the Senate may contact an outside professional service provider to conduct an investigation on the allegations. That includes interviewing witnesses.

Once a case is resolved, the Human Resources director will be tasked with provides resources to every complainant.

The new administrative policy takes effect immediately. And in the coming weeks, Negron said online anti-harassment training will be provided to all senators and staff.

The announcement comes as allegations of sexual harassment threatened to overshadow the 2018 Legislative Session since opening day. Gov. Rick Scott, Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran all addressed sexual harassment in their speeches on the first day of session.

But action on this issue became urgent after the conclusion of two separate Senate investigations late last year that said former Sen. Jack Latvala may have violated state corruption laws by trading legislative favor for a sexual encounter.

The reports contained testimony from several women in the legislative process who noted a pattern of sexual misconduct by the Clearwater Republican that stretched for years. No complaints were ever filed against Latvala in the Senate until POLITICO Florida reported the accounts of six unnamed women who accused the once powerful senator of sexual harassment.

Latvala resigned early this month and his misconduct is under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, said Rules Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers has worked to revise administrative policies regarding harassment in the Senate. The proposed change includes annual one-hour anti-harassment training for senators.

Negron said that rule change will be up for a vote on the full Senate floor next week. But Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez is concerned Senate Rules that governor senators have not changed are continue to be vague on sexual harassment.

“If we had another Latvala there are no new rules that would protect victims from the type of behavior his accuser went through,” Rodriguez said. “The rules are the same, very vague. When there are vague rules, the only ones that win are lawyers.”

The House addresses sexual harassment in its formal rules, unlike the Senate. But Negron says a violation of these administrative guidelines would be a violation of the rules.

Phil Ammann contributed to this report.

Major Lake O reservoir could take years to complete

After receiving legislative approval last spring, a massive reservoir intended to help shift water south from Lake Okeechobee remains years away from reality, the head of the South Florida Water Management District said Wednesday.

A big factor in the timeline for design and construction of the reservoir is waiting for federal-government approval of its half of the roughly $1.6 billion project, district Executive Director Ernie Marks told members of the House Natural Resources & Public Lands Subcommittee.

The federal money — needed to trigger two to three years of design work and five to six years of construction — could conservatively take two years to secure, Marks estimated based on past federal performance and authorizations.

“If we had the funding to do it, we could move forward tomorrow. But we need a commitment from our federal partners that they’re going to pay that half,” Marks said. “We need a commitment from the federal partners that they’re going to open the southern end of the system, because I don’t think it does any of the taxpayers any good to have a giant water resource project out there that we can’t operate.”

Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, last year made a top priority of passing a bill to create the reservoir. The idea is to move water south from Lake Okeechobee into the reservoir instead of releasing it into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries in Southeast and Southwest Florida.

The issue is high-profile in Negron’s Treasure Coast district, where residents blame releases from the lake for algae-tainted water in the St. Lucie Estuary.

While Wednesday’s state House meeting was underway, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, a Palm City Republican, announced he sent a letter to President Donald Trump seeking about $4 billion to provide money for the reservoir, along with projects within the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and the Central Everglades Planning Project, and to speed up completion of improvements to the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee.

“These congressionally authorized projects create a roadmap to ensure the survival of Florida’s ecosystem, which has been continually altered by the federal government over the past century,” Mast wrote. “Without restoration, Floridians from across the state will continue to combat life threatening events through rising waters, devastating storms and ecological destruction.”

The Negron-backed bill, signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott in May, allows Florida to bond up to $800 million for the reservoir.

The bill caps annual state funding at $64 million and places the reservoir on state-owned land rather than private farmland in the Everglades Agricultural Area.

To make the proposal more acceptable to farmers, residents and politicians south of the lake, the plan was redrawn to lower the costs and the bonding amounts. Also thrown in were a number of economic development projects in the Glades region, including an expansion at the Airglades Airport in Clewiston and an inland port in western Palm Beach County.

The water management district is looking at options such as a $1.34 billion proposal that would use 10,100 acres for a 23-foot-deep reservoir to handle 240,000 acre-feet of water. Another option is a $1.71 billion proposal that would include a 19,700-acre reservoir that would be 18 feet deep and hold 360,000 acre-feet of water.

Negron and a number of resident and conservation groups, have questioned the proposed size of the reservoir. Negron last month wrote to Marks that plans put forward “may be unnecessarily constrained by using a limited footprint.”

Marks called the district’s modeling “conservative.”

Thumbs down: Environmental constitutional amendment defeated

One of the state’s leading business lobbies is cheering the defeat of a proposed constitutional amendment that would have expanded the right to bring environmental-related lawsuits.

The Constitution Revision Commission‘s Judicial Committee on Friday unanimously voting against the measure (P23).

“This unnecessary proposal would have opened up not only Florida businesses, but private citizens as well, to endless litigation and harmful uncertainty,” said Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) Senior Vice President of State and Federal Affairs Brewster Bevis in a statement.

The language as filed said, “The natural resources of the state are the legacy of present and future generations. Every person has a right to a clean and healthful environment, including clean air and water; control of pollution; and the conservation and restoration of the natural, scenic, historic, and aesthetic values of the environment as provided by law.”

The last sentence caused the most consternation: “Any person may enforce this right against any party, public or private, subject to reasonable limitations, as provided by law.”

Its enforcement provision, however, was later amended to say that “a resident of this state, not including a corporation, may enforce this right.”

“With the Judicial Committee’s vote today, Florida’s comprehensive, thoughtfully crafted environmental policy will remain intact, continuing to protect the rights of Floridians and provide much-needed regulatory certainty and stability for businesses moving forward,” Bevis said. “(P)roposals such as this do not belong in the Florida Constitution.”

On Thursday, Sen. Denise Grimsley, a Lake Placid Republican, also opposed the proposal. She wrote a letter to the committee saying it would “undermine environmental gains and rolls out a red carpet to the court system for anyone with an ax to grind, regardless of legal standing or science.”

“Imagine the unintended consequences of freezing permitting processes and clogging the courts with challenges that could paralyze the ability of farms – and all small businesses for that matter – from operating with any shred of predictability,” said Grimsley, chair of the Senate’s Agriculture Committee and a candidate for state Agriculture Commissioner.

Commissioner Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, a CRC appointee of Senate President Joe Negron, filed the language. Both are from Martin County.

In a November meeting, Commissioner Arthenia Joyner – a former Senate Democratic Leader – noted there’s already a right to sue in the state’s Environmental Protection Act.

Aliki Moncrief, the executive director of Florida Conservation Voters, replied that that right has been “chipped away,” calling Thurlow-Lippisch’s proposal “a slight course correction.”

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