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Dorothy Hukill files ‘college competitiveness’ bill

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

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

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

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

Here are excerpts from the rest of the release:

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Galvano brings policy skills to top Senate post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweeping measure addresses prescription pills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Republished with permission of The News Service of Florida.

Mike Pence to keynote Republicans’ conference in Orlando

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Negron says that’s not the case.

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

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

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

Joe Negron’s class act: ‘Here, Dorothy Hukill, take my spot’

Session hasn’t even started, and we already have a winner for “Legislative Nice Guy of 2018″—Senate President Joe Negron.

Negron, who we’ve already reported as having found a new gear as he enters his last year in leadership, gave up his primo parking spot in the Capitol garage so that his colleague, Dorothy Hukill, can use it.

Hukill missed the entire 2017 Legislative Session due to cancer treatments. But she returned this week to a round of applause from her colleagues during roll call in the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee.

The Port Orange Republican spent the 2017 Session watching the session on a pair of screens — a home computer and an iPad — at her home while recovering from cervical cancer. Radiation treatments ended just as the 2017 Session was coming to a close.

“It’s very exciting to be in the (committee) room,” Hukill told Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida. “It’s lovely to watch it on the wonderful Florida Channel, which I was very, very happy to have. But I’d rather be here.”

Undoubtedly, Hukill still is recovering from her treatments. And because every extra step walked can be a chore, a few hundred feet saved by having the Senate President’s parking spot has to be a relief.

Still, Hukill told reporters she expects the welcome-backs and hugs from her colleagues to quickly give way to legislative normalcy.

“It’s exciting to be back,” she said. “People are giving give me a breather for a day or two.”

Bill Galvano leads Senate campaign arm to record-breaking Q3 haul

The main committee supporting GOP state Senate campaigns went into overdrive last quarter according to new fundraising reports filed with the Florida Division of Elections.

The Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee raised more than $3.2 million from July through the end of September.

Those numbers are way up from the April to June reporting period when FRSCC took in $720,000.

Putting the new numbers side by side with the past three off-cycle Q3 reports, however, shows there is a bit more pep in the committee’s step of late.

Over the same three month stretch in 2011, FRSCC brought in a little over $2.1 million. Two years later, the committee had a $1.85 million third quarter, while Q3 2015 saw a little more than $2 million head to the committee’s coffers.

The special election in Miami-Dade’s SD 40 can claim credit for the some of that boost, same as the 2015 special in SD 6 and the 2011 contest for the old SD 1, but those quarters still fall short of Q3 2017.

The only other difference maker is Bradenton Sen. Bill Galvano, who took over fundraising duties for the committee in the summer.

His own committee, “Innovate Florida,” brought in about $650,000 over the past few months, including $218,500 in September alone, and handed $150,000 of that haul over to FRSCC.

The exceptional quarter hasn’t gone unnoticed by top Senate Republicans, either.

“The record fundraising levels reached over the last few months reflect the strength of our Republican leadership and the faith donors place in our commitment to proven and effective policy that benefits all Floridians,” said Majority Leader Wilton Simpson.

Simpson is set to take over the Senate presidency after the 2020 elections, and his committee, “Jobs for Florida” also handed over quite a bit to FRSCC this summer. It sent over $160,000 in August and threw in another $100,000 last month.

Expanding Bright Futures makes good policy, better politics

Florida families by the millions are aspiring to a new American dream – debt-free college education for their children.

Considering the myriad challenges facing the Sunshine State, Senate President Joe Negron believes nearly everyone can agree that improving opportunities for Florida students must be placed at the top of the list.

That is why the Stuart Republican has become a driving force behind the effort to expand scholarships for 44,000 Bright Futures Scholars under SB 4, a bill approved Monday by the Senate Education Committee.

Sponsored by Bradenton state Sen. Bill Galvanothe “Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act” – one of Negron’s top priorities – is set for the 2018 Legislative Session.

SB 4 seeks to increase the scholarship available for “medallion scholars” attending state universities, raising it from the current $77 per credit hour to $159, about 75 percent of tuition cost and fees. The legislation will also extend need-based aid programs, doubling the state’s matching funds for “first generation” students in the college scholarship program.

Currently, Florida offers a 1-to-1 match for private donations, providing an average scholarship of $1,270 for the 8,361 participating students during the 2016-17 academic year.

Negron calls the expansion of Bright Futures part of Florida’s commitment to ensuring children have access to “world-class education opportunities” where “no student who earns entry to one of our state colleges or universities is denied that opportunity simply because they can’t afford the cost of tuition.”

If passed, the bill will make permanent Bright Futures Scholarships for approximately 94,000 students, which Negron said will lead to a significant boost in the number of productive individuals entering the workforce to contribute to Florida’s economy.

Expanding Bright Futures also makes good political sense, regardless of party. With some luck, Negron hopes SB 4 can avoid becoming a political pawn, held hostage during the upcoming 60-day legislative work session set to begin in January.

Let’s not forget, politics is an art of connecting not only based on similarities, but also aspirations. It’s the aspirational part that so many seem to forget.

To that end, Negron is challenging a bipartisan group of lawmakers who will soon face Florida voters – namely Republican 2018 gubernatorial candidates Adam Putnam and Jack Latvala, Democrats Chris King and Gwen Graham, as well as a few undeclared names like John Morgan, Richard Corcoran, and potential U.S. Senate hopeful Rick Scott – to take a stand and fight for Florida Bright Futures Scholars.

 

Wilton Simpson’s committee raised $209K in September

Future Senate President Wilton Simpson brought in more than $200,000 through his political committee last month, and forked over half that sum to the committee supporting GOP candidates for state senate.

The Trilby Republican’s committee, Jobs for Florida, raised $209,500 in September, with a good chunk of that money coming in through a handful of large checks.

Heritage Property & Casualty Insurance gave $50,000, while the Florida Medical Association, Mosaic Global Sales and a political committee tied to former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, Growing Florida’s Future, chipped in $25,000 each. Florida Blue and the Florida Hospital Association also made the donor roll with $20,000 contributions.

The committee’s spending clocked in at $204,700 for September, but $100,000 of that money went directly into the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, chaired by Senate President Joe Negron and used to help Republican senate campaigns statewide.

Citizens Alliance for Florida’s Economy, chaired by uber political consultant Anthony Pedicini, got a $20,000 contribution from Simpson’s committee.

Also on the expense report were Capital Finance Consulting, which received $50,500 for fundraising and consulting work, and Meteoric Media Strategies, which was paid $22,500 for consulting.

With September in the books, Jobs for Florida has about $1.63 million in cash on hand. Simpson, who is almost certain to take over as Senate president in 2020, has another $280,000 on hand for his 2018 re-election bid.

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