Joe Negron Archives - Page 6 of 55 - Florida Politics

Superintendents: Money may not cover school resource officers

A new report from Florida’s school superintendents warns that despite a nearly $100 million increase in funding, there may not be enough money to post an armed school resource officer at each school in the state.

In reacting to the shooting deaths of 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, the Legislature passed a new budget and related bills that boosted funding for resource officers by $97.5 million to $162 million in the upcoming academic year.

But a report from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents said school districts might not be able to meet the goal of posting at least one safety officer at each of Florida’s more than 3,500 elementary, middle and high schools. The report was part of a State Board of Education agenda for a meeting Tuesday in LaBelle but was not discussed.

“We appreciate the legislative appropriations, but many districts will have difficulty meeting the requirement to establish or assign one (or) more safe-school officers at each school facility,” the report said.

The superintendents also said a lack of funding for law-enforcement officers may put pressure on districts to use the “Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program,” which would allow school employees, including some teachers, to bring guns to school if they are specially trained and deputized by sheriffs.

But noting the opposition to the guardian program in many districts and communities, the superintendents said much of the $67 million for that initiative may go unspent. They asked the Board of Education for support in shifting some of those funds to the school resource officer program.

“Superintendents request that you support and recommend that these unspent dollars be used in districts for additional school resource officers or other school safety measures,” the report said.

In a recent interview with The News Service of Florida, Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, said lawmakers may considering using the Joint Legislative Budget Commission to shift some of the guardian funds into other safety measures if the money goes unspent, although it was too early to make that determination.

The superintendents also raised concerns about a provision in the new school-safety law that will require “active shooter” and “hostage situations” drills in the schools.

“Superintendents support these drills, but they must be accomplished with minimal disruption to teaching and learning and in a manner that does not unnecessarily frighten students, particularly elementary students,” the report said.

The superintendents said they would work with the Department of Education on other school-safety initiatives, including establishing a state Safe Schools Office, developing a school security-risk assessment tool and implementing the guardian program.

The report also offered some recommendations on implementing a new $69 million mental-health services program, which has been a top priority for the school superintendents for some time.

But the report warned that some school districts could face budget cuts in the coming year because the bulk of increased spending in the new education budget is targeted toward the school safety and mental health issues in the wake of the Broward County shooting.

The superintendents noted that the “base student allocation,” the primary source for general operational activities, only increased by 47 cents per student statewide, a fraction of the overall funding increase of $101.50 per student.

“With only a 47-cent increase in the BSA, superintendents will be forced to cut their budgets — cuts that will impact students, schools and communities that are served,” the report said.

If Joe Negron plans to resign, he should…

Joe Negron is making the rounds.

The outgoing Senate President is doing post-Session interviews and sit-downs with the News Service of Floridathe Palm Beach Post, his hometown TC PalmWPTV, and pretty much anyone else with a pen and notepad at the ready.

For the most part, Negron is focusing on policy, including offering his personal reaction to the “unfathomable” tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

However, as much as the button-down’ed Stuart Republican would like to stick to policy, the political is what has made the headlines.

Negron is, yes, mulling an early exit from the Legislature.

He’ll formally relinquish his leadership role to Sen. Bill Galvano after the November elections. After that, Negron says, he might just resign and not serve out the remainder of his four-year term.

While many lawmakers are term-limited after eight years, Negron can stay in the Senate until 2020 because certain quirks, including redistricting, give him more time.

“That’s an extra two years added on through the vagaries of litigation and reapportionment, so we have term limits for a reason,” Negron said. “That extra two years is an option. I literally just got home. I still haven’t unpacked everything.”

Negron’s probably right about wanting to give up the final two years of his term. Ex-Senate Presidents have the same shelf-life as fish and out-of-town visitors. Just look at how curmudgeon-y Don Gaetz and Tom Lee have been in the Senate after having wielded the gavel.

After all, what’s Negron gonna do? Chair an appropriations subcommittee?

Better to go out on top, Mr. President.

And if Negron is going to resign, it would be much better for all involved if he were to make a decision about his future plans BEFORE statewide qualifying in June.

He should announce his resignation plans in enough time for Gov. Rick Scott to call for a special election to coincide with the upcoming primary and general elections.

This way, not only is there no additional cost to taxpayers, but Negron’s Senate district won’t run the risk of going without representation during the run-up to the 2019 Session.

Negron is a considerate man who seems to pride himself on evaluating all options before deciding on a course of action.

He should be afforded enough time to make the right decision about his future political plans. But if he’s leaning toward an early exit, he should also do what’s best for his district and the state and announce those plans in a timely fashion.

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Background from the News Service of Florida was used in this post.

In twilight of their time in office, daylight emerges between Rick Scott, Adam Putnam

Governor Rick Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam are in the twilight of their current tenures.

Putnam wants to replace Scott and has been vocal in criticisms of Scott policy.

Putnam vowed to bring back the drug czar position that Scott eliminated after he took office in 2011, although the commissioner was quick to point out that Scott didn’t “drop the ball” on the drug war in the Sunshine State, opioid crisis notwithstanding.

Putnam said he couldn’t have signed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act as it was, though he added that if he were to be elected Governor, the self-proclaimed “NRA sellout” would enforce the law that has led to a lawsuit from the gun group, and a ritual defenestration of House Speaker Richard Corcoran for pushing the gun control bill through.

Florida Politics asked Scott about Putnam’s deviations from administration policy, including whether he regretted cutting the drug czar position (a question he sidestepped).

“With regard to the opioid crisis,” Scott said, “it’s horrible what happened. We have so many people who have lost their lives over it. I have a family member who has struggled with addiction.”

“I want to thank Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron because they stepped up. They made sure we had $65 million in the budget this year to deal with the opioid crisis. We passed a good bill that I was proud to sign, that’s hopefully going to stop as many people from being addicted and provide services,” Scott said.

“Last year we passed legislation that increased the penalties for those that are trafficking in these drugs,” Scott added.

Despite Putnam’s critiques of the “school safety bill,” Scott said (as he did last week when we asked him) that he was “proud of what [he] signed.”

“I told the Legislature to give me a bill that will provide for law enforcement officers. They did. I said give me a bill that will provide more mental health counselors in schools. They did. I said give me a bill that’s going to harden our schools. They did,” Scott said.

“I said give me a bill that will say that if you’re struggling with mental illness or you’re threatening yourself or others, that you don’t have access to a gun. They did,” Scott added.

“I’m proud to have signed that bill and I’m going to continue to fight to make sure it’s implemented,” Scott said.

Of course, the school safety bill has led to one potential candidate for Governor — House Speaker Richard Corcoran — being pilloried by the NRA.

FP asked Scott if the NRA should lay off of Corcoran, and whether he was worried that the gun lobby would come after him in potential future political endeavors.

“Well, I want to thank the Speaker, because the school safety bill wouldn’t have passed without the Speaker’s hard work. The money for the opioid crisis wouldn’t have been in there without the Speaker’s hard work,” Scott said.

“The bill that I got to sign to restrict the number of days that a doctor could prescribe opioids wouldn’t be there without Speaker Corcoran,” Scott continued. “I think that we had a great Session, and the Speaker and Senate President did a good job.”

Scott more or less sidestepped the question about the NRA targeting Corcoran, perhaps deliberately conflating NRA members with the NRA political operation.

“With regard to the NRA, I’m an NRA member. I was an NRA member before I became Governor, and will be an NRA member when I’m out of this job,” Scott said.

“Some NRA members like the bill. Maybe some don’t like the bill. I think it’s a good bill for our state, and responsive to what happened in our state,” Scott said.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri to lead Douglas High commission with Lauren Book, three fathers

Three fathers of murdered students, three sheriffs, and state Sen. Lauren Book are among the appointees to the newly created Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission established to investigate the Feb. 14 massacre and identify and address what could have been done differently.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri will chair the commission established through Senate Bill 7026, the Florida Legislature’s comprehensive response to the massacre in Parkland. The commission will include two fathers of slain students appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, and one appointed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

The 16-member commission also includes one lawmaker who helped craft SB 7026, Book, appointed by Senate President Joe Negron.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen will serve as a member, and four other state officials will serve as ex-oficio members: Florida Department of Education Commissioner Pam Stewart; Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll; Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Christina Daly; and Florida Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Justin Senior.

Scott’s appointments are: Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley; Brevard County Schools Superintendent Desmond Blackburn; Miami Shores Police Chief Kevin LystadRyan Petty of Parkland, father of Aliana Petty, who was murdered at Stoneman Douglas: and Andrew Pollack of Parkland, father of Meadow Pollack, who also was killed in the school shooting.

Negron’s appointments are: Book, who has a master’s degree in education and is an internationally renowned child advocate; Citrus County School Board Member Douglas Dodd; Indian River County Undersheriff James Harpring, who serves as general counsel to the department; Melissa Larkin-Skinner, a licensed mental health counselor who is chief executive officer at Centerstone Florida; and Martin County School Board Member Marsha Powers.

Corcoran’s appointments are: Gualtieri; Max Schachter, father of Alex Schacter, who was killed at Stoneman Douglas; Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd; Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett; and Auburndale Police Chief Chris Nelson.

“I’m proud to appoint five dedicated Floridians to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission including fathers of two of the victims who were critical in helping a bill get passed quickly,” Scott stated in a news release. “Since the shooting in Parkland, our number one focus has been to make our schools safer while doing everything possible to ensure a tragedy like this never happens again. I’m confident that these appointees will continue the work that has already started in our state to keep our students safe.”

“The Senate appointees include a former classroom teacher and nationally-recognized child advocate, a school board member, a law enforcement officer, a retired school resource officer, and a renowned mental health treatment clinician,” Negron stated. “This diverse cross-section of professional experience and subject matter expertise, will serve the state well as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission embarks on the critically important task before it. We can never replace the 17 lives lost, and we can never erase the traumatic experience that lives on in the memories of those who survived this horrific attack. However, this Commission will help ensure we do everything we can to reduce the possibility of a tragedy like this ever happening again.”

“I’m honored to appoint five members to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. The work and recommendations of this commission will, I believe, serve as a model for the nation in addressing school safety and protecting individual liberty,” Corcoran stated. “The appointees to the commission bring decades of experience in law enforcement, prosecution, and training civilians to handle firearms and protect a school. Most importantly, an appointee, Max Schachter, brings the tragic experience of being a father who lost his son in that day’s awful events and who is driven to ensure it never happens to another family ever again. I thank those willing to participate, I commend the courage of the family members who will take on this task, and pray that all the efforts of this commission will meet with success.”

 

The ‘policy wonk’ in winter: Joe Negron looks back on lawmaking

Senate President Joe Negron isn’t known for his wisecracks or snappy comebacks. The Stuart Republican, whose time leading the Senate will end after the November elections, instead has a reputation as a sometimes verbose — by his own admission — policy wonk with a methodical and deliberate approach to problem-solving as well as politics.

Negron, who was elected to the Florida House in 2000 before joining the upper chamber in 2009, hasn’t decided whether to stay for the last two years of his final term in the Senate. Negron, 56, will hand over the gavel to his roommate, Bradenton Republican Bill Galvano, in November.

In a wide-ranging interview last week, a relaxed version of the typically buttoned-down Negron spoke about his personal reaction to the “unfathomable” tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, growing up with seven brothers in what sounds like an austere household, and the significance of using fewer words and saying them slowly.

The News Service has five questions for Negron:

Q: You’ve been in politics a long time. What knowledge did you gain that you didn’t have when you started your term as president two sessions ago?

JN: The first is how valuable of a commodity legislators are who are prepared, who do the basic blocking and tackling of presenting their bills, who can be counted on to make persuasive arguments. … Before, I aspired to be one of those people. Now, though, in this position where I’m not doing that, I’m not in committees, the value of that, in my estimation, is very high, even higher than it was before. The value of someone you can rely on. Secondly, it’s the end of the day (during the interview). It’s like the Seinfeld episode. He says one thing funny, and then he tries to do something at the end, so maybe I’m doing that. So I’ll give you an honest one, which is the power of narrative in this town. And narrative is established in the first nine minutes of a circumstance or occurrence and, once established, nearly impossible to rebut. So those would be two things.

(Can you elaborate on that? What narratives do you think ran away from you?)

There was first the narrative that the House was ultraconservative and the Senate was not, was moderate. I think we showed there are a lot of issues where, on the Senate side, we took a more conservative position. Whether it was on stand your ground, whether it was on freedom of expression in public schools, I think some of our consumer positions are the more classically (conservative). So that was a narrative. Then the narrative that the House was getting everything and the Senate’s not doing well. That narrative. Those are sort of meta-narratives to contest. There are little narratives and issues that I would look at and say, “I didn’t even know we were fighting about that.” It could be just a policy area or it could be an industry fight. There is a constant battle to create and sustain narratives from large issues to small issues, from funding issues to … Everything that affects a legislative session, whether it’s a policy item, whether it’s a budget item, there is a constant, unremitting battle for narratives. The person or group who wins the battle to frame an issue on favorable terms, their success rate in achieving their goal goes substantially up. I knew that people try to tell a story. But the narrative that’s out there has a wide-ranging effect on the state of mind of legislators, their view of the world. People read something and even if they were part of it actually occurring, the narrative that’s out there will affect their interpretation of events they were actually a part of and saw. If I was going to give advice to a successor, I would say you should have a chief narrative officer in the president’s office.

Q: What advice have you given to Sen. Galvano?

JN: He doesn’t need my advice. I need advice from him. I wasn’t joking when I said we have a lot in common. His leadership race took 3 ½ weeks. Mine took 3 ½ years. He doesn’t need advice from me. We talk about ideas. He’s been alongside for most of this journey. I’ve probably learned more from him than he’s learned from me. One thing I’ve learned from him that’s practical, is to talk more slowly, and fewer words. Sen. Galvano’s very measured in his words. I tend to, when I get a question about something I feel strongly about, I tend to (say), I have three points, here’s point one, here’s point two. I’m still ridiculed in a playful way. … Playful’s not the right word. Friendly. In a friendly way by my colleagues for — remember I rolled out an amendment in Appropriations … an amendment that I lost — for the four privileges. There’s the husband-wife privilege. There’s the doctor-patient. I went through like all the different privileges and I was trying to get to a point and I was just like losing everybody. See, Galvano doesn’t do that. Galvano has another move, too, where he kind of answers the question and then just sort of stops, like, how’s this question still going on? Whereas I tend to go bop, bop, bop. So I’ve learned that from him. And we both have good preparation skills. That’s one reason why we get along so well. We both get books out and we spread them out on the kitchen table and work through things, and he’s known for his attention to detail, as I think I am. But I’ve learned that from him. Fewer words and delivered more slowly.

(Have you done that?)

I have. I don’t mind you asking. In meetings, especially. People that are talking aren’t necessarily interested in your opinion. They more want to tell you what they want you to hear, what they want to communicate to you. So in meetings, of course I’ll respond to questions if asked and I’m polite and respectful, but I think I’ve learned to listen more and to talk less. There’s a verse in Proverbs that is good for all this. This is the King James, because that’s how we were brought up. It says, “In the multitude of words, there wanteth not sin.” Which is an Elizabethan way of saying, if you keep talking, eventually you’ll say something that’s regretful. It’s true. So I’m going to start talking a little less in this interview.

Q: How did the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and meeting with the students and the parents, affect you on a personal level?

JN: It’s devastating. One reason I don’t talk a lot about it is because I get too emotional just talking about it. Sen. (Lauren) Book I thought was incredibly moving and powerful and persuasive on the Senate floor. The one young man she talked about, Kyle, I was with her when we saw Kyle. That was not an exaggeration. A third of his foot was blown off. The only reason he wasn’t killed was — and he volunteered to tell us this story, some people didn’t want to talk but he did — so he told us that he saw the killer and his instinct was to jump and get out of the way, so literally, he starts diving in mid-air and going through the air horizontally, and by the time the gun was fired, it hit his foot. So about a third of his foot, from the shot, was missing, and they’re trying to put his foot back together, having to get tendons and ligaments from his upper leg to basically rebuild his foot. Then we saw another young man in the hospital who also had injuries from being shot and was recovering. And then, and I don’t even know if I can talk about it, but the Peter Wang funeral that we went to, was … She mentioned it, and her words can speak for, but that — the family and the close Chinese community in that area and just hundreds and hundreds of people who came to walk by to pay their respects and the immense sense of loss the parents felt. I asked the mom, through an interpreter, because, to me, it was a morally correct position when someone is shooting that you would try to escape. There’s nothing immoral about that. Nothing unethical about that. Somebody’s shooting, everybody has a right to leave. And instead of leaving, he’s holding the door and letting multiple people go ahead of him, which resulted in him being killed. Then she told about how he was brought up to care for others. They have a large extended family of cousins. He looks after the younger ones and will even check in on the older ones. Then West Point came down and class of, I believe 2024, and in my head I’m thinking, just the enormity of the whole situation. Then, of course, seeing the school and seeing, there was a stool in one of the classrooms, because we could look through the windows of the classrooms. And there was a stool and there’s blood behind there. And you realize somebody was sitting there. And then there were carnations all over the school and all over the desks, and on one of them, you know how we all have the little Apple earbud things, just sitting there, someone’s Apple thing just sitting on their desk. Stuff strewn all over the campus. People running for their lives. You can see where the coach, Coach Feis that we included in the bill, where he was killed and what happened. I can’t really explain it. It’s overwhelming. There are certain places in our society that are sacred places, sacred spaces. To me, I include courthouses in there. Courthouses are where important things happen and people’s lives are changed. I’ve always considered that a sacred place. And then schools. I have three children. We’ve all waited in line at the pick-up line, and when you see an invasion of that and a temporary destruction of that — and ultimately, the school will prevail and the parents and the community will prevail — but to see the loss that was visited upon people that are just sitting in a classroom, it’s still unfathomable to me. All we can do is, we talked to the parents and we talked to law enforcement, and do our best to address it in a responsible way to try to reduce the risk of it happening again, but on a personal level it’s … It’s bad. Everyone feels safe at school. There’s a whole feeling you get at school — the backpacks, and the routine, and the lunches — and we’ve all spent a lot of time on campuses, volunteering for things, and just to see that turned into a horrible scene, it’s, it’s just devastating.

Q: What are you reading?

JN: My colleagues got me, “Letters from Prison,” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and I read that poem at my designation, the “Who am I?” poem which he wrote when he was in prison. … In my portrait, there’s a book called “The Cost of Discipleship,” that he wrote. My dad gave that to me when I was 12 or 13 years old. That’s one reason I’m the earnest person that I am. There was not a lot of frivolity in our family growing up. I hear about kids that are running around, there’s balloons. No. We’re reading. We’re going to church. We’re serious-minded people, and you guys need to work really, really hard if you want to move up. That was the whole theme of our house growing up. I’m not joking at all. My mother said, “You’re born to work. If you have any fun along the way, that’s great, but essentially you’re here to work.” No, I’m not making this up. It’s come full circle. That’s true.

(Negron’s spokeswoman, Katie Betta, says the other book in the portrait is “Little Women,” by Louisa May Alcott.)

Yeah, Little Women. My mom read that to us when we were kids. She read us “Little Men” and “Little Women.” For some reason I remember “Little Women” better so I picked that one. But yeah, we were readers. It was a serious operation, the nine of us, seven boys and two parents. On Saturdays, my mom would write a list. And you had to get all your jobs done on the list and when that was done, then we would do something, go to the park or play Monopoly, or get ready for church on Sunday. But we had a list of things and those things all had to get done. But, you know, list-making works good for appropriations. How do you think I got this job?

Q: What do you listen to on the 5 ½-hour drive home?

JN: I’m not listening to Hits 1 on my Sirius so much anymore. I listen to the comedy channel. There are so many comedy channels. I’m a huge fan. Oh, I went and saw Jim Gaffigan in Jacksonville. Do you guys know Jim Gaffigan? Hot pockets. He’s a comedian. So I listen to comedy, news and then the ‘70s channel. You can’t go wrong with rolling out a Supertramp song every now and then. “Take the Long Way Home.” It’s a classic.

Shifting money to school officers could be option

Legislative leaders on Friday said they would support allowing unused funds earmarked for a controversial school “guardian” program to be used for school resource officers.

Senate President Joe Negron told The News Service of Florida he believed the Joint Legislative Budget Commission could reappropriate leftover funds but said it’s too soon to say when that might happen.

Many school superintendents and school boards have said they will not implement the guardian program, which would allow school employees, including some teachers, to bring guns to school if they are specially trained and deputized by sheriffs.

The guardian program was part of a $400 million package legislators crafted in response to the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left 17 people dead.

The Legislature set aside $67 million for the “Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program,” named after an assistant football coach who died after using his body to shield students from a hail of bullets from the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle used by Nikolas Cruz in the slaying of 14 students and three faculty members.

The money for the program was included in the $88.7 billion state spending plan signed into law Friday by Gov. Rick Scott. The budget also includes $100 million for school resource officers, but school and law enforcement officials say that is not enough to pay for one officer at each of the state’s public schools.

“Let’s see how school boards evaluate, but there could be a circumstance where money is available,” Negron said during a lengthy interview Friday afternoon.

Superintendents of some large counties — including Broward, where the Parkland school is located — have said they will not participate in the guardian plan, which also requires the blessing of county sheriffs.

“Let’s see what happens. I hope school boards will consider it, but I accept the fact that many of them may not participate and I think … some of those surplus funds could be redeployed toward school resource officers,” Negron said. “That’s something I would support but I would encourage school boards to evaluate what they believe is best for their students, and that’s all we ask. This (the guardian program) is an option.”

It remains unknown how many of the state’s 67 school districts will apply for grants — which would cover training and a $500 equipment stipend for each school worker who participates — for the program. The Department of Education will administer the grants.

House Rules Chairman Jose Oliva, a Miami Lakes Republican who will take over as House Speaker after the November elections, said in a text Friday he would support allowing the Joint Legislative Budget Commission to redirect surplus funds “only after all counties had spoken on the question.” The commission includes House and Senate members and can make mid-year budget decisions.

The guardian program became a flashpoint for Democrats, students and teachers, many of whom opposed the plan.

For some, the legislation marked an important first step toward stricter gun regulations and a vital response to the Parkland community’s demand for action.

But for others, the guardian program was a deal-breaker.

Calling the program “scary,” black legislators objected that it would endanger minority children who are more likely to be punished at school. And the state teachers’ union asked Scott for a veto, saying the proposal allowing more than 200,000 school personnel to qualify to bring guns on campus would “do more harm than good.”

“We had to make a choice. Compromise is messy, especially when both chambers are controlled by Republicans,” Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat who graduated from the Parkland high school, told the News Service after Scott signed the school-safety measure March 9. Moskowitz was among the lawmakers and victims’ family members present for the bill signing.

Joe Negron reflects on past, looks to future

In a brief ‘exit interview’ last week with Florida Politics, outgoing Senate President Joe Negron said lawmakers over the last two Sessions “made tremendous progress” on goals he set out in his 2015 designation speech, “a blueprint of things I tried to accomplish.”

Among those, beefing up higher education “with world class faculties,” addressing pollution in Lake Okeechobee, and “decriminalizing adolescence” with pre-arrest diversion programs and making it easier to expunge juvenile arrest records.

In other highlights:

— What “didn’t get a lot of attention” last year, the Stuart Republican said, was reforming eyewitness identifications in criminal cases “to reduce the chance of wrongful convictions.”

— The Constitution Revision Commission, on which he has nine appointees, starts its Session Monday.

Negron, an attorney, said he favors proposals that would raise the retirement age for judges and help with K-12 education “flexibility.” He’s had “general conversations” with his appointees on his “guiding principles,” but added he trusts their “good judgment.”  

— Though redistricting has afforded him an extra two years in the Senate after his 2016-18 presidency, he said he hasn’t yet decided whether he’ll serve that bonus time.

Negron was elected to the House in 2000, serving for six years, including a term as Appropriations Committee chair in 2005-06 under then-House Speaker Allen Bense. He was first elected to the Senate in 2009, and also served as budget chair there in 2012-14.

“I’m going to take a few weeks to think about it,” he said. “Term limits are there for a reason.”

— Negron now is focusing on his business litigation work for the Akerman firm in its West Palm Beach office.

“I’m a lawyer first, a legislator second,” he said. “This was one part of my life that I greatly value … but my primary professional identity is as a lawyer. I’m back in the office. I enjoy what I do.”

— When asked what advice he’d give to future legislative candidates, he said he’d repeat the advice given him by Bense in 2000. 

“He told me in order to be strong in Tallahassee, be strong at home. (Candidates’) political efforts and philosophy should be grounded in their community.”

FHCA gives Rick Scott thumbs up on budget

Gov. Rick Scott got some praise from the Florida Health Care Association on Friday for signing the 2018-19 budget.

Shortly after Scott put pen to paper the group put out a statement lauding the $88.7 billion plan, specifically the funding bumps it will bring to nursing homes, nearly 600 of which are represented by FHCA.

“FHCA appreciates the Governor for signing a budget that makes the quality care of our frailest elders a priority. The nearly $130 million in increased Medicaid funding for nursing homes included in the budget will support facilities as they continue making measurable improvements to residents’ health and well-being,” FHCA said.

“The Budget will also help to continue improving the quality of life for nursing home residents by increasing their personal needs allowance which helps pay for personal items like beauty services, clothing, and other personal items.

“Florida is a national leader in providing long term care services and supports to its senior population. On behalf of the thousands of long term caregivers working in our member centers, we commend Governor Scott for signing a budget that ensure nursing homes can achieve their goals of providing exceptional care and services to our state’s seniors and people with disabilities.”

Last week, the group’s executive director, Emmett Reed, heaped praise on Senate President Joe Negron, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate budget chief Rob Bradley for their role in getting those measures through the Legislature.

Also lauded in last week’s statement was a $10 million appropriation to help support nursing centers as they transition to the Prospective Payment System in October.

That measure also made it through Scott, who vetoed $64 million worth of line items in the spending plan.

University money could help draw top researchers

Florida universities will share $151 million in funding next academic year that will allow them to recruit top-level researchers and improve professional and graduate schools.

The Legislature, in a budget passed Sunday, increased funding for the World Class Faculty and Scholar Program by $20 million to a total of $91 million and the State University Professional and Graduate Degree Excellence Program by $10 million to a total of $60 million.

At the same time, Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation (SB 4) that will make the world-class faculty and professional-degree programs a permanent part of the funding formula for the 12 state universities.

Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who made the “Excellence in Higher Education Act” one of his priorities, said codifying the new programs and other provisions in the law, including using four-year graduation rates to measure university performance, give “the universities tools they need to better serve students and increase their accountability.”

“I believe Florida taxpayers will see a return worthy of their investment as more Florida students attend our own universities, complete degree programs on-time and then graduate with job opportunities in high-demand fields needed in our growing communities,” Negron said in a statement when Scott signed the bill on Sunday.

Funding in the world-class faculty program is targeted toward the recruitment and retention of top professors and researchers, including making “cluster hires” of key research groups. The money can also be used to increase the commercialization of university research, support undergraduate research and pay for postdoctoral fellowships.

Under the law, universities must report annually on their use of the funding and its results.

The $20 million increase in the program will boost funding at each school, ranging from $3.45 million at the University of Florida to $201,000 at Florida Polytechnic University, the state’s newest school.

With the increase, funding for the schools is expected to total: UF, $16.8 million; Florida State University, $15 million; the University of Central Florida, $14.6 million; the University of South Florida, $13.45 million; Florida International University, $9.3 million; Florida Atlantic University, $5.7 million; the University of North Florida, $4.1 million; Florida Gulf Coast University, $3.2 million; New College of Florida, $2.7 million; Florida A&M University, $2.6 million; the University of West Florida, $2.6 million; and Florida Polytechnic, $860,000.

The professional degree program is aimed at boosting the quality of Florida’s medical, law and graduate business schools. The money can be used to hire faculty, recruit students, increase research and “other strategic endeavors to elevate the national and global prominence” of the schools.

The schools must also report on the use of the funds and the outcomes annually.

The $10 million increase in the professional degree program will boost funding for the schools next year, ranging from $2.8 million at UF to $125,000 at the University of West Florida. Florida Polytechnic and New College, which have limited graduate offerings, do not participate in the program.

With the increase, funding for the schools is expected to total: UF, $16.7 million; Florida State, $11.3 million; Florida International, $10.9 million; the University of South Florida, $6.9 million; the University of Central Florida, $5.2 million; Florida Atlantic, $2.7 million; Florida A&M, $2.3 million; the University of North Florida, $1.8 million; Florida Gulf Coast, $1.6 million; and the University of West Florida, $750,000.

Looking back at the 10 big issues of the 2018 Legislative Session

The Florida House and Senate ended the 2018 Legislative Session Sunday by passing a budget and a tax-cut package for the upcoming year. The Session became dominated in February by the aftermath of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County. That led to a massive debate about how to improve school safety and whether to revamp the state’s gun laws.

Here is a recap of 10 big issues from the 2018 Session:

Budget

Lawmakers passed an $88.7 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, though they were forced to extend the Session by two days to finish the spending plan. The budget includes increased funding for education, with per-student spending in the kindergarten through 12th-grade system going up $101.50. The Senate also pushed through increased funding for nursing homes, while the House blocked a Senate attempt to change the way some Medicaid money is distributed to hospitals.

Health care

After years of legal battles in the hospital industry, lawmakers approved a plan to revamp the approval of new trauma centers. They also approved a long-discussed proposal that could lead to the use of “direct primary care” agreements, which involve patients and doctors contracting directly for primary care, reducing the role of insurers. The House, however, was unable to convince the Senate to go along with eliminating the controversial “certificate of need” regulatory process for hospitals.

Higher education

Throughout his term as Senate president, Stuart Republican Joe Negron has made a top priority of revamping the higher-education system. Gov. Rick Scott on Sunday signed a wide-ranging bill that includes permanently expanding Bright Future scholarships. The bill also calls for expanding some need-based aid programs and would require the state university system to use a four-year graduation rate as part of its performance-funding formula, instead of the current six-year measure.

Hurricane Irma 

Lawmakers came into the Session still grappling with the effects of Hurricane Irma, which slammed into the state in September and caused billions of dollars in damage. The House and Senate took steps such as ratifying rules for nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have backup generators and fuel supplies to help keep the facilities cool. Scott’s administration issued the rules after residents of a sweltering Broward County nursing home died after Irma knocked out the building’s air-conditioning system.

Insurance

The two highest-profile insurance issues of the Session involved proposals to eliminate the no-fault auto insurance system and revamp a controversial practice known as “assignment of benefits.” In the end, however, both issues died. The House approved repealing no-fault, which includes a requirement that motorists carry personal-injury protection, or PIP, coverage. But the proposal couldn’t get through Senate committees. Similarly, the Senate did not approve changes sought by insurers in assignment of benefits.

K-12 education

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and other school-choice supporters got a victory Sunday when Scott signed a controversial bill that will expand voucher-like scholarship programs. The bill includes creating the “hope scholarships” program, which will help pay for children who have been bullied in public schools to transfer to private schools. The bill also includes a heavily debated change that targets teachers’ unions whose membership falls below 50 percent of the employees they represent.

Opioid epidemic

In one of the final issues decided during the Session, lawmakers late Friday approved a bill to stem the opioid epidemic that has caused a surge in overdoses across the state. A key part of the bill calls for placing limits on prescriptions for opioids. In most cases, the bill would place three- or seven-day limits on prescriptions, though it includes exemptions for people who are terminally ill, need palliative care or suffer from major trauma. The idea behind the limits is to prevent patients from getting addicted to painkillers.

Parkland aftermath

The Feb. 14 shooting deaths of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland forced lawmakers to quickly deal with school-safety issues and spurred a contentious debate about gun laws. Scott on Friday signed a $400 million package that includes improving mental-health services and allowing trained employees to bring guns to schools. The package also raises the minimum age to 21 and imposes a three-day waiting period for people buying rifles and other long guns. The National Rifle Association quickly filed a federal lawsuit challenging the age restriction.

Tax cuts

Getting ready to hit the campaign trail, lawmakers Sunday approved a bill that includes about $170 million in tax breaks. The measure includes holding a three-day tax “holiday” in early August to allow back-to-school shoppers to buy clothes and school supplies without paying sales taxes. A similar seven-day “holiday” will be held in early June for residents to buy hurricane supplies. The bill also includes tax breaks for farmers and ranchers who suffered damage in Hurricane Irma and would trim a lease tax paid by many businesses.

Texting while driving

With support from Corcoran, it appeared lawmakers this year could approve a long-discussed idea to toughen Florida’s ban on texting while driving. But the proposal did not make it through the Senate, at least in part because of concerns about racial profiling of minority drivers. Currently, texting while driving is a “secondary” offense, meaning motorists can only be cited if they are pulled over for other reasons. The proposal would have made it a primary offense, with police able to pull over motorists for texting behind the wheel.

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