Joe Negron Archives - Page 4 of 32 - Florida Politics

House committee OK’s proposal to keep BP oil funds in Northwest Florida

A House panel has approved legislation to make sure settlement money from the 2010 BP oil spill stays in the Florida Panhandle.

The House Select Committee on Triumph Gulf Coast passed a proposed committee bill that, among other things, requires 75 percent of all payments that Florida receives from the settlement agreement between the five gulf states and BP be transferred from the general fund to the Triumph Gulf Coast Trust Fund.

Under the proposal, the Triumph Gulf Coast corporation can award funding for several things including:

— Public infrastructure projects to enhance economic recovery, diversification, and enhancement in the disproportionately affected counties;

— Grants to local governments in the counties to establish and maintain equipment and trained personnel for local action plans to respond to disasters;

— Early childhood development and educational programs; and

— Grants to support programs to prepare students for future occupations and careers at K-20 institutions that have campuses in the communities.

The proposal requires Triumph Gulf Coast to give 14 days’ notice its intent to make an award, and requires the corporation make sure each of the eight disproportionately affected counties directly benefit from the awards.

The committee also approved a bill establishing a trust fund.

Millions of barrels of oil surged into the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 after an oil well ruptured under BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling platform. Eleven workers died, and 17 others were injured.

In the weeks and months that followed, tarballs and oil washed up on 1,100 miles of coastline, keeping away the usual summer tourists. Hotels, restaurants and other tourism related businesses were the hardest hit. It took until July to cap the well.

The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee passed its bill tackling payments earlier this week. Senate President Joe Negron has said he’s committed to getting the settlement money to affected communities.

Florida prison chief: State losing corrections staff to ‘Wal-Mart,’ creating insecurity in system

More than three-quarters of Florida’s corrections officers have less than two years’ experience. In some state prisons, a single CO will be left alone to supervise 150-200 inmates in a jail block.

Contraband has become so bad, one random search of (just half) a Dade facility turned up $15,000 in street value of cocaine, seven knives, 46 cellphones and an array of other drugs and illicit materials, said Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones Thursday.

The state’s prisons chief was in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee, having to explain just how bad the situation was, even though the state’s inmate population dropped by 3,000 from the year before.

Three main problems, she said, were safety, recidivism, and operational deficiencies — all due to a lack of funding. Corrections officers are paid so little, and have such a high stress in a dangerous job, she can’t keep them on the payroll.

“I’m losing state and local officers to state and local businesses — even to Wal-Mart,” she told the committee. “We hire thousands of new corrections officers every year. We’re a hiring machine. The problem is we can’t keep them.”

She said turnover for COs has increased 95 percent since 2009.

Entry-level base pay for a corrections officer before completion of on-the-job training hovers around $29,000. It goes up, slightly, when a combination of certifications and on-the-job training are completed, but for working 12 hour shifts — sometimes doubles due to the lack of staffing, especially at correctional facilities specializing in mental health issues, Jones said — it’s no wonder why she can’t keep anyone on for more than a year or so.

That tempts some COs to earn a little extra money on the side.

Jones said, unfortunately, some of the ones securing the facility are the ones bringing in the contraband or are looking the other way in exchange for bribes. And with career field numbers so low — with a current vacancy rate of 13 percent statewide, she said — security issues become a factor. Drugs and weapons are stashed in trash cans or simply tossed over fences by friends or loved ones working in cahoots with inmates.

When a random search of a prison, or part of a prison, takes place, inmates caught with illegal materials, products or drugs face more charges, leading to high recidivism rates.

Since 2009, the introduction of contraband into the prisons system has increased more than 400 percent.

Inmate on inmate attacked have increased 68 percent during the same period, she cited.

To boot, she admitted, when questioned by Sen. Jeff Brandes, facilities are falling apart. Fencing at some prisons is so old, or dilapidated, the department doesn’t have a way to mend it without tearing it all down and rebuilding or renovating, and there simply isn’t the money to do that, she said.

Without a new and increased pay package, she said she doesn’t any change for the better coming. She’s requested more money and according to the chair of the appropriations committee, Jack Latvala, the cavalry is coming.

“I am pleased to report, in consultation with Sen. [Joe] Negron … help is on the way from the Florida Senate,” he said. “Our budget will include some substantial help on this issue. … Let’s go to work and make it happen.”

House committee OK’s bill requiring septic tank inspection during home sales

A bill that would require septic tanks to be inspected when a home sells advanced through its first House committee Tuesday.

HB 285, sponsored by Brevard County Republican Rep. Randy Fine, originally applied to all home sales, but was amended during the House Agriculture & Property Rights Subcommittee to apply only to regions listed as impaired watershed areas by the Department of Environmental Protection.

Fine contends that 10 percent, or 200,000 to 300,000 homes, are leaking septic wasted into Florida’s waterways. Fine’s view is shared by parties opposed to the Lake Okeechobee land buy being pushed by Senate President Joe Negron.

The first-term Republican compared the proposed inspection to other procedures during a typical home sale, such as a roof inspection, but said more than just the homebuyer can get burned by a bad septic system.

“If your roof leaks and you choose to buy the house that only affects you. But if your septic tank leaks, that not only affects you, it affects your neighbors,” he said.

The bill does not require sellers to fix a septic issue if one is uncovered during the inspection.

HB 285 now moves on to the Natural Resources & Public Lands Subcommittee.

Orlando Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart has filed similar legislation in the Senate. Her bill, SB 1748, would require homebuyers to make the necessary repairs within six months of the sale.

That bill, filed March 3, has yet to receive committee references.

Report: Senate could consider changing way nursing homes are paid

A change how the state’s nursing homes that accept Medicaid are paid is still being mulled in the Senate.

According to POLITICO Florida, Senate President Joe Negron said his chamber is still changing the system from a cost-based system to a prospective payment plan. Negron said the issue is still being discussed by senators, and he expects it’s “going to be considered in the Senate.”

The House Health Care Appropriations Committee Chairman Jason Brodeur said last month he wouldn’t move forward with recommendations in a report, saying they wouldn’t pursue it this session.

Under the plan, the state would pay nursing homes using a per diem rate calculated based on four components, of which patient care would account for the largest portion, 80 percent, of total reimbursement.

LeadingAge Florida, which represents about 400 senior communities throughout the state, is opposed the recommendations in the report, saying it will shift money from high-quality nursing homes to lower-quality nursing home, threatening the quality of the care offered in facilities across the state.

The Florida Health Care Association, which represents about 82 percent of all facilities, was generally supportive of the the Navigant study, but did request a few changes.

Can Florida universities and colleges rival rest of nation?

Setting up a debate over the future of Florida’s colleges and universities, the state Senate passed an ambitious proposal Thursday intended to lift schools in the Sunshine State into the ranks of elite counterparts nationwide.

For college students, the legislation means more financial aid and incentives designed to help them graduate faster. For universities, it includes more help to recruit and retain high-ranking faculty as they seek to join the ranks of more prominent universities elsewhere.

“We’re the number one destination in the world and our universities and college should be the number one destination in the nation and the world,” said Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican and sponsor of the bill, a top priority for Senate leaders.

But like many other items up for consideration during this year’s legislative session, it’s not clear if Republicans in both the House and Senate can reach a consensus. That’s because House Republicans have asserted that state schools may be wasting money and don’t need any more help from taxpayers. The Senate bill comes with a hefty price tag that could be nearly $300 million if it is fully paid for in the annual state budget.

The Senate voted 35-1 for a bill (SB 2) that would require the state to cover 100 percent of tuition costs for top performing high school students who attend a state university or college. Florida used to pay 100 percent of tuition for those eligible for the top level of the state’s Bright Futures scholarship, but it was scaled back during the Great Recession.

The legislation also includes boosts for several other financial aid programs. Some Democrats questioned why the bill does not call for increasing financial aid for needy students, but Senate President Joe Negron promised that the Senate would set aside additional money for the state’s existing nearly $150 million program.

“My goal is that every student regardless of her or his financial circumstances can attend the university in which he or she has been admitted,” Negron said. “It doesn’t mean they get a free education. They should have to work. Your family should contribute as able.”

But while the Senate leaders are championing a move to steer more money to state universities and colleges, House Republicans are sounding leery of the idea.

The House on Wednesday evening held a nearly four-hour meeting as legislators grilled officials from the state’s 12 public universities on spending by their foundations. Foundations seek private donations that are usually used to augment state spending, but many foundations have used state money to supplement their operations, including helping to pay for employees.

Rep. Carlos Trujillo, a Miami Republican and House budget chief, and other legislators questioned decisions by foundations to spend money on international travel, citing for example, a decision by the University of Florida Foundation to spend more than $61,000 on a trip to Paris. University officials explained that many of the trips abroad were usually done on behalf of students and faculty attending academic conferences and international meetings.

“Do we really think that the problem with higher education in this state is lack of funding or do we think it might be some misappropriation of money?” Trujillo asked.

Trujillo also was skeptical that universities were using a combination of private and public money to pay hundreds of employees more than $200,000. When it was pointed out that the list includes football and basketball coaches, he said it may be time to examine how much they are getting paid.

Negron said that he had no problem with House leaders asking questions about university expenses and said doing “routine oversight” and making sure that “students have an opportunity to go to the best university that they can.”

This story has been corrected to show the vote was 35-1, not unanimous.

Republish with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida Senate says yes to more help for college students

College students in Florida could soon get extra help under an ambitious proposal passed by the Florida Senate.

The Florida Senate voted 35-1 Thursday for an overhaul of the state’s higher education system that is a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron. It boosts financial aid and calls for new programs to help universities attract and keep faculty members.

The bill (SB 2) would require the state to cover 100 percent of tuition costs for top performing high school students who attend a state university or college.

Florida used to pay 100 percent of tuition for those eligible for the top Bright Futures scholarship, but it was scaled back during the Great Recession.

It’s not clear, however, if the Florida House will pass the bill. House leaders have started questioning university spending.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Scott, Corcoran, Negron play Rochambeau with picks to the Constitution Revision Commission

Rock breaks scissors, but scissors cut paper, which, of course, covers rock.

Neither Rick Scott, Richard Corcoran nor Joe Negron knew they were playing a game of Rochambeau when making their appointments to the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC).

But the way final picks played out, they may well have.

The CRC meets every 20 years to review and suggest changes to the state’s governing document. It has convened twice before, in 1977-78 and 1997-98, but this is the first to be selected by a majority of Republicans, virtually ensuring it will propose more conservative changes than previous panels.

Scott’s selections — just by the sheer fact that he had 6 more picks than either of the two legislative leaders — could trump Corcoran’s and Negron’s choices.

But if ideological allies join forces, they could overwhelm the Governor’s slate. That is unless some of Scott’s appointees create a bloc with some of Corcoran’s or Negron’s commissioners.

Rock breaks scissors. Scissors cuts paper. Paper covers rock.

Also certain to play roles are automatic appointee Pam Bondi (because she holds the office of Attorney General), and Chief Justice Jorge Labarga‘s three accomplished choices.

Of the three state leaders, it was, not surprisingly, Corcoran who made the boldest selections (although one pick is all but unjustifiable except for political reasons).

Corcoran understands the enormous potential the CRC has to shape the direction of the state for two decades, and his picks reflect that.

Of Negron’s nine picks, former Senate President Don Gaetz and former Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith are the most notable. Undoubtedly, the great orator Gaetz will be one of the most listened-to voices on the CRC.

Yet, for the most part, most of the capital crowd greeted Negron’s selections with shrugged shoulders. As the names were read, ‘Who?’ was asked more than once.

Scott, as his nature, tapped mostly loyalists for the Commission. He also made a disastrous decision by selecting Carlos Beruff as chair. Unless Scott’s not really interested in having the Commission accomplish much, that is.

So now that all 37 Commissioners have been identified, and Jeff Woodburn has been tapped as Executive Director, here are a few things I think about these selections.

— Again, Beruff chairing the Commission will likely end in disaster. Yes, he is a capable man with an extensive CV marked by selection to numerous blue ribbon panels. But all of that came before he decided to run for U.S. Senate. Now, he’s seen as the guy who was hoodwinked by political consultants into spending millions of dollars of his own money so he could finish just ahead of the margin of error. He’s also been exposed as a far-right ideologue who makes Marie Le Pen look soft on immigration. Even if he builds consensus and can get a majority of the alphas on the Commission to propose amendments to the Constitution, Beruff is one of the last people you’d want campaigning for passing initiatives. Sandy D’Alemberte or Dexter Douglass he ain’t.

— With Beruff as Chair and other Scott loyalists, including Tim Cerio and Brecht Heuchan, on board, the unnamed 38th member of the Commission is Scott’s former Chief of Staff, Melissa Sellers.

— If you are Joanne McCall, the president of the Florida Education Association, and you see this list, you should be panicking. A near supermajority of these Commissioners, from The Foundation for Excellence in Education’s Patricia Levesque to Democrat state Sen. Darryl Rouson, are school choice advocates. And they’d like nothing more than to see the repeal of the 132-year-old Blaine Amendment, which says state funds may not go to support religious institutions. Of course, an initiative to do just that was rejected by Florida voters in 2012. Still, with Marva JohnsonPam StewartErika DonaldsSherry Plymale, and so many other proponents of greater choice for students, you can expect the CRC to spend considerable time on education issues.

— In addition to education, expect the CRC to focus on overhauling the redistricting process created by the Fair Districts amendments, adding a (tiebreaking) member to the Florida Cabinet and strengthening private property rights.

— Back to the boldness of Corcoran’s selections; the ultimate power play was rewarding Tom Lee with a spot on the CRC. With that pick, he’s not playing checkers. He’s not playing chess. He’s playing three-dimensional chess. The move makes it clear that he has a powerful ally in Negron’s own house, even if he’s not in leadership. Clearly, all the Cabernet the two men enjoyed while serving as their respective chamber’s appropriations chairs led to a strong relationship.

— If there’s a downside to Lee being picked by Corcoran to sit on the CRC, it’s that he probably just took him out of the running to be appointed by Scott as chief financial officer. With tensions running as high as they are between Scott and Corcoran, there’s no way the Governor puts somebody now perceived as one of the Speaker’s allies on the Cabinet.

— Arthenia Joyner probably won’t win many important votes while serving on the CRC, but she gets a microphone and a soapbox to talk about the liberal issues she cares most about. Same goes for Sen. Smith. As for the other Democratic state Senator on the panel — Rouson — that guy is the Swiss Army Knife of appointees because he does so much: He’s African-American (check!) He’s a Democrat (check!) He’s from Tampa Bay (check!) But – and this certainly did not escape Corcoran – Rouson is an outspoken proponent of school choice and charter schools. During his Senate campaign, Rouson benefited from the support of the Florida Children’s Federation, the political arm of the Florida movement for private school tuition vouchers.

— Legislators know how to build coalitions. That’s why you should expect Jose Felix Diaz and Jeanette Nunez to star while on the CRC. For Diaz, it’s also a chance to audition before a statewide audience in the event he wants to run for Attorney General in 2018.

— It should not be overlooked that some really smart, good folks are on this Commission. Heuchan, Rich Newsome (one of the Speaker’s best friends and one of the best trial lawyers in the state), Jimmy Patronis … each have the potential to be consensus builders on this board.

— If there is one pick from any of the leaders that is meeting with derision, it’s Corcoran’s selection of John Stemberger, the self-appointed leader of Florida’s religious right. It’s not just progressives like Equality Florida and state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith who have a problem with Stemberger on the CRC, but also a rash of Republicans and conservatives who, albeit privately, think poorly of Stemberger. His selection by Corcoran is being described as a sop to the right wing of the GOP, particularly if Corcoran runs for Governor in 2018.

— Won’t it be interesting to see what Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco does on a statewide stage? I know many people who are hoping he does another news conference like this:

Proposals approved by the CRC will move forward as ballot issues in the November 2018 general election. Amendments need 60 percent of the vote to become part of the state Constitution.

In 1998, eight of the nine ballot proposals advanced by the Commission were approved by voters, although they only required a majority vote at that time.

Florida House faults universities over salaries and spending

A top Florida House Republican says that state universities are spending way too much money inappropriately and that they don’t need more help from taxpayers.

State Rep. Carlos Trujillo also suggested Wednesday that legislators may need to look at how much university presidents are paid, as well as even how much football and basketball coaches are paid. The Miami Republican and House budget chief said too many people work for universities or university foundations who earn more than $200,000 a year.

The House is scrutinizing university spending at the same time that the Florida Senate is poised to approve a major overhaul of colleges and universities that includes spending more. Senate President Joe Negron is pushing the proposal to put Florida schools on par with other well-known universities.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Senate considers Joe Negron’s higher education legislation

The Excellence in Higher Education Act, a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron, has been set up for a vote by the full Senate.

The bill (SB 2), carried by Bradenton Republican Bill Galvano, was discussed Wednesday on the floor.

Achieving many of the bill’s goals, which could cost up to $161 million, depend on funding getting approved in the 2017-18 state budget.

The legislation, among other things, increases certain scholarship benefits, overhauls how colleges and universities measure progress and attract top professors, and mandates block tuition—a flat rate per semester—rather than by credit hour.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat, unsuccessfully suggested adding a financial impact study to the bill for schools to see how block tuition would affect their bottom line. Florida State University had claimed a $40 million hit if block tuition was enacted, he said.

In his December 2015 speech accepting the nomination for the chamber’s presidency, Negron laid out a legislative plan that included boosting the state’s higher ed institutions, which he called “special, exceptional places.”

Last April, he went on a “state university listening tour,” barnstorming the state with fellow senators and other state officials, hitting 12 institutions of higher learning in four days.

One aim is to get more students to graduate college in four years.

Critics of the legislation, including Republican Sen. Tom Lee, earlier had raised concerns over “non-traditional students,” many of whom are lower-income and must work while they go to school, which can extend the time they take to graduate.

But Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon offered an amendment Wednesday, which was adopted, to help schools like Florida A&M University, rewarding them for “access rates at or above 50 percent.”

Bill to expand juvenile civil citations advances in Senate, law enforcement continues to resist

Legislation to create a statewide civil citation program for juveniles statewide advanced in a Florida Senate Committee Wednesday.

But members of the police and sheriffs association continue to resist the bill as currently drawn.

Miami Republican Senator Anitere Flores’ bill (SB 196) would mandate law enforcement officers to offer a civil citation for youths admitting to one of 11 separate misdemeanors: possession of alcohol beverages; battery; criminal mischief; trespassing; theft; retail and farm theft; riots; disorderly conduct; possession of cannabis or controlled substances; possession, manufacture, delivery, transportation, advertisement or retail sale of drug paraphernalia and resisting an officer without violence.

Flores amended her legislation to require that at least one diversion program must be countywide, but counties could still work together on other programs, as some smaller counties had raised objections. She also said that law enforcement officers would have discretion on whether to give the youth a citation for an offense if they have a previous felony already pending on their record.

The issue of mandating that law officers will otherwise not have discretion as to make an arrest or a civil citation continues to be an issue with law enforcement.

“We don’t want to criminalize youth,” insisted Matt Dunagan, the Florida Sheriffs Association’s assistance executive director of operations in testifying before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice. But he insisted that officers need the ability to have flexibility on what to charge a youth with, though the intent is that if they are arrested they are not saddled with that blot on their record.

“We believe the best way to move forward on that is to make sure that those records can be expunged and that when they go and apply for a job, for first-time misdemeanors, that they do not have to check that box if they’ve ever been arrested,” Dunagan said.

Shane Bennett with the Florida Police Chiefs Association concurred with his law enforcement colleague, saying specifically his group had an issue with the classification of battery as being listed in various misdemeanors specified for a civil citation in the bill.

But some members of the committee weren’t sympathetic.

“If law enforcement in this state had been a little bit better in adopting these programs and utilizing the way that they should be used, then perhaps we wouldn’t be in the situation of having to say we’re going to make you do it,” said Lake Worth Democrat Jeff Clemens.

In her summary before the committee, Flores said that misdemeanor battery is unwanted touching — not punching somebody in the face, which would be a felony. She did say she was open to creating a new definition of a misdemeanor battery to placate law enforcement.

Flores added that the reason for a statewide bill is that while some counties are more liberal about offering civil citations to wayward youth, others aren’t, and it’s just a draw of luck of your location that could affect a young person’s life.

To use an example, Flores praised the Pinellas County Sheriffs Dept., which has a 94 percent of eligible youths for civil citations receive it. However, the eligibility rate is much lower across the Howard Frankland Bridge, she notes.

“You’re in Hillsborough County, and if you’re a child in one of these situations, your chances just dropped to a third,” she said. “There’s a two-thirds chance that you’re at a wrong place at the wrong time.”

There are two bills closely tracking Flores’ legislation in the House, including legislation sponsored by Seminole Republican Larry Ahern.

Senate President Joe Negron is a big supporter of criminal justice reform. He issued a statement after the vote, saying,

“In too many cases, we have become a society where law enforcement officers are brought in to referee the day-to-day challenges of raising children. This legislation strikes an appropriate balance between public safety and decriminalizing the mistakes of adolescents.”


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