Joe Negron Archives - Page 7 of 54 - Florida Politics

Post-Parkland Senate bill primed for floor vote

The Florida Senate took the better part of eight hours during a rare Saturday session to work through 128 amendments — only one of which passed the floor — on a single bill.

And even with the amendment’s approval, partisan spirits haven’t changed on the proposal designed to address issues unearthed in the wake of the recent school shooting in Broward County.

Dubbed the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act,” or SB 7026, the sweeping proposal provides for stricter gun control laws, including a three-day waiting period to buy any firearm, and a new age limit — 21 (up from 18) —  for firearms purchases, along with an all-out ban on bump stocks.

It also creates a commission to make recommendations on school safety and invests millions in mental-health and school safety initiatives, which include a program that would train and arm teachers on a voluntary basis.

Of course, not everyone is happy.

Democrats, along with Parkland survivors and victims’ families have criticized the proposal for its lack of an assault-weapons ban. The charged Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter, Nikolas Cruz, was equipped with an assault rifle when he killed 17 people at the school on Feb. 14. Gov. Rick Scott also has come out strongly against the idea of arming teachers.

These points of criticism set the stage for the Senate’s eight-hour floor session on Saturday. Members of both parties filed hundreds of amendments, withdrawing some and heavily debating others. Arguments over an outright ban on assault weapons took an entire hour in the chamber. Other Democratic-backed amendments lent to lengthy discussions, but the Senate refrained from adopting anything that would fundamentally change the legislation. 

At one point, Democrats experienced something particularly Sisyphean. Senate President Joe Negron had approved through a voice vote the adoption of an amendment providing a two-year moratorium on assault weapons sales. After a few minutes, a motion to reconsider brought the language to a failing board vote.

Pro-gun Republicans filed their fair share of amendments, too.

Sen. David Simmons of Altamonte Springs argued for an amendment that would’ve changed the firearms age requirement to only apply to assault weapons sales. In other words, the age limit for purchasing rifles would remain at its current level, 18. 

“It’s a rational solution to a significant problem,” Simmons said. He said he feared that raising the age limit on gun purchases could bring constitutional challenges in court.

Galvano, who sponsored the strike-all amendment approved by the chamber on Saturday, often had to explain to members that law enforcement would iron out the details of the plan to arm teachers. At one point it was asked whether teachers would be able to carry assault rifles and display them in classrooms, to which Galvano said would be up to the sheriff’s design of the plan.

“The sheriffs will describe the protocols,” Galvano said. Referencing the possibility of teachers having assault rifles, he added: “That’s, in my opinion, a far-fetched hypothetical.” He said someone from the Office of School Safety likely would not approve such a policy, as they can exert judgment on program designs.

The Senate will vote on SB 7026 on Monday. 

Final budget items start getting ‘bumped’

Budget conference chairs are now ironing out funding differences between the House and Senate dealing with a wide-range of policy issues.

Chairs Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Carlos Trujillo are figuring out funding for beach restoration, land acquisition and water projects. Currently, the state Legislature is split over nearly $172 million on appropriations for programs funded through Florida Forever.

In the higher education arena, most of the issues sent to budget chairs relate to member projects and implementing bill issues that amount to about $70 million. There are also other money differences revolving around PreK-12 bills that are tied to the budget.

In criminal justice, some issues that have yet to sail through deal with private prison operations and whether a reentry program at the Broward County Sheriff’s Office should get $200,000 in funding.

Bradley and Trujillo have until 10:30 a.m. Sunday to resolve the ‘bumped’ issues before they head to Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Ethics reform in peril

There is “zero tolerance” for sexual harassment in the Legislature, leaders say, but an ethics reform package that would create new rules and penalties for sexual harassment may not become law this year.

The Florida House unanimously passed the proposal this week, but Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley is blocking the bill in the Senate because he wants to discuss the issue in more detail.

Dennis Baxley is blocking new sexual harassment policies, calling for more discussion ‘in detail.’

“I think we need more time and contemplation of what to do with this issue because it is so sensitive,” Baxley said. “I don’t want to rush on something that serious.”

The proposals were filed with the Legislature right before the start of the 2018 legislative session after back-to-back sex scandals rocked the state Capitol — the most prominent ones in the Senate.

The bills filed in the Legislature had the early backing of Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who said the legislation passed in the House is “the strongest in the nation.”

If approved, HB 7007 would require Florida government agencies to set new policies preventing, prohibiting and punishing sexual harassment, which includes language that would keep the identities of accusers confidential to protect them from retaliation.

Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat leading the effort in the Senate, added language to her bill that incorporates any type of sexual contact — whether engaging in it or directing others to do it — into the state’s gift ban.

Baxley said he is concerned the bill would affect too many people in the state and that there is too little time to discuss the consequences.

“When you address all employees in the state, that is a lot of people you are affecting, and I wanted to be more cautious when dealing with that,” Baxley said.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Ana Ceballos, Jim Rosica, Danny McAuliffe, Andrew Wilson and Peter Schorsch.

But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Senate calls rare Saturday Session — In a rare move, the Senate will meet Saturday to consider school safety legislation. With the Session clock ticking down, Senate President Negron announced the weekend sitting Friday morning in a memo to fellow senators. The 2018 Legislative Session is scheduled to end Friday. A floor session is planned for 10 a.m.-1 p.m. to hear the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.

Budget conference kicks off The House and Senate formally kicked off final budget negotiations this week and on Friday all unresolved issues were bumped to Budget Chairs Rob Bradley and Carlos Trujillo. If they don’t resolve the issues in question before 10:30 a.m. Sunday, those items will go to House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron to decide. Still in question is how to fully fund the school safety initiatives. Other lingering issues include a $172 million difference over Florida Forever funding and $4 million over private prison operations.

Gaming bills brought back to life — With a week left in session, the House and the Senate heard their gambling proposals on Friday. A strike-all amendment has been OK’d on the Senate’s legislation (SB 840) which is ready for the floor. Later Friday and the House bill (HB 7067) was discussed and rolled to third reading. Senate President-designate Bill Galvano has said he hopes to get the bills into conference next week. The two chambers—as is usually the case in gambling—are still far apart on policy. That includes differences on one provision that authorizes slot machines at pari-mutuels in counties where voters previously OK’d them in local referendums. That was added to the Senate bill Friday; it’s not in the House’s bill.

Scott makes rare plea to Legislature — In a rare political move, Gov. Scott and the father of a 14-year-old Parkland shooting victim jointly addressed the House and Senate floors Thursday and asked legislators to set aside differences and ensure schools are safe sans armed teachers. “I want to make sure there is law enforcement in our schools,” Scott told reporters upon exiting the chambers. “I don’t believe in arming teachers.” While talking to each chamber, Ryan Petty, the father of Alaina Petty, who was gunned down on Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, told legislators he is in support of the governor’s proposal, which does not include arming teachers. Petty said he supports Scott’s proposal without the assault weapon ban because he wants action now.

Omnibus education bill gets bigger — The Florida Senate sent House Speaker Richard Corcoran back his priority education bill with a bunch more language added into it on Friday. The Senate included a provision that would make financial literacy courses a high school graduation requirement and increase the amount someone can give to the Hope Scholarship program meant to give vouchers to bullied students. Negotiations happened behind closed doors, according to the Times/Herald. HB 7055 will now go back to the Florida House for final approval before it can go to Gov. Scott.

Scott urged to veto crisis pregnancy center bill

More than a dozen organizations including Planned Parenthood signed on to a letter this week urging Gov. Scott to veto HB 41, which was passed by the Legislature in early February.

The bill, sponsored by Tampa Republican Rep. Jackie Toledo, would require the Department of Health to work with the Florida Pregnancy Care Network to up the availability of pregnancy and wellness care by subcontracting out to centers that “solely promote and support childbirth.”

Jackie Toledo (l) is behind a crisis pregnancy bill that Planned Parenthood wants to be vetoed.

“This bill attempts to establish Pregnancy Support Services (also referred to as Crisis Pregnancy Centers or CPC’s) as legitimate wellness centers and codify permanent taxpayer funding for what are in reality, fake women’s health centers,” the letter says.

“These anti-abortion, often faith-based centers are not required to be staffed by licensed, qualified medical personnel. Furthermore, CPCs have a documented history of imitating legitimate women’s health clinics, falsely posing as medical providers, and purposely leading women away from accessing the full range of reproductive health care services.”

The following organizations signed onto the letter: Broward County National Organization for Women, Broward Women’s Emergency Fund, Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, Florida Interfaith Coalition for Reproductive Health, Florida NOW, League of Women Voters of Florida, National Abortion Federation, National Council of Jewish Women, Organize Florida, Pro-Choice Coalition of Broward County, Progress Florida and the Space Coast Progressive Alliance.

Cabinet considering $660K conservation plan for Spanish mission site

Gov. Scott and the Cabinet will decide next week whether to shell out $660,060 to conserve a Madison County site that is home to a 15th-century Spanish mission.

The plan would have the state purchase a conservation easement on the property, owned by R.N. and Charlene Koblegard, which allows the land to continue being used for certain activities, such as agriculture, but blocks new development.

The Koblegard project is part of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Rural & Family Lands Protection Program. According to the meeting agenda, the project’s approval would mark 42,276 acres preserved under the RFLPP.

The 772-acre site is situated on the south of Interstate 10 on the southern edge of Sampala Lake. The Spanish mission, San Pedro y San Pablo de Protohiriba, is one five missions established by the Spanish in the 1600s.

The week in appointments

Florida Real Estate Appraisal BoardDawn Warren is a property manager for Altamonte Heights Condos and Lake Tyler Condos and will succeed Tamara McKee.

He will serve a term ending Oct. 31, 2020, and is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority Toni Appell of Marathon, is a retired paraprofessional for the Monroe County School District, is reappointed for a term ending Dec. 30, 2020.

David Ritz, of Key Largo, is the president of Ocean Reef Community Association and is reappointed for a term ending Dec. 30, 2020.

Robert Dean, of Key West, is the owner of Dean Lopez Funeral Home and is reappointed for a term ending Dec. 30, 2020.

All three appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

DOH doles out $16 million to research smoking-related diseases

The Florida Department of Health announced this week that it is handing out $16.2 million to fund 20 research projects focused on developing treatments and cures for cancer and other smoking-related diseases.

The money was awarded through the Bankhead-Coley Cancer Research Program and the James and Esther King Biomedical Research Program. DOH said the selections were made based on “rigorous peer review” and the application process included 224 researchers seeking funding.

Florida Department of Health is coughing up $16.2 million for smoking-related disease research.

“Florida is at the forefront of cancer research and innovation, and I am proud to announce the recipients of more than $16.2 million for cancer research grants,” Gov. Scott said. “These 20 new projects will assist Florida’s world-class researchers in discovering more about how to prevent and treat these terrible diseases. Cancer impacts so many lives, and I am proud of the work of our incredible research institutes as we fight to find a cure.”

The University of Miami topped the list with $5.5 million in grants for seven projects plus another $57,000 for a joint project with the Miami Veterans Affairs. The H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute followed with $4.5 million for five projects. UF will receive $3 million for three projects; UCF, USF and the Mayo Clinic will each get a single project funded at $815,000; and FAU will receive $708,000 for one project.

FWC law enforcement division reaccredited

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said this week that its Division of Law Enforcement was reaccredited.

“The FWC Division of Law Enforcement continues to maintain the highest standards of credibility, effectiveness and professionalism,” FWC director Eric Sutton said. “Our staff worked diligently to uphold these important standards each and every day. Reaccreditation by the Commission validates the hard work they do, and provides a strong vote of confidence in their ability to protect the public and conserve Florida’s natural resources.”

The division has held accreditation through the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation since 2009 and has now gone through the reaccreditation process four times.

Florida Wildlife Commission director Eric Sutton.

Accredited law enforcement agencies must consistently meet or exceed 240 prescribed standards over a three-year period to maintain their status.

“Accreditation is a voluntary but important process intended to hold an agency to a higher level of accountability by an external source,” said Col. Curtis Brown, who heads up the division. “We are very pleased with the CFA’s determination that reaccreditation of the Division was earned.”

Florida Lottery celebrates 30 years

It’s been 30 years since the Florida Lottery began and it’s celebrating the milestone with a heap of new scratch-off games.

At the $30 level is “FLORIDA 100X THE CASH,” which features eight top prizes of $15 million. The Florida Lottery said 100X was only the second $30 game it’s put out.

Florida Lottery marks three decades of cash prizes.

The $5 game, “MONEY MACHINE,” features 16 top prizes of $250,000 and over $58 million in total cash prizes; the $2 game, “$30,000 LUCKY WIN,” has a total prize pool of $32 million; and for a buck, players can pick up “TRIPLE PAYOUT” which features 84 $3,000 prizes and a total prize pool of $12 million.

The lotto said the new games would start hitting retailers by the end of the week.

Voters approved the constitutional amendment creating the lottery in November 1986 by a 2-to-1 margin. The Florida Lottery started operating a little over a year later in January 1988.

Reinsurance surcharge repeal advances in Senate

Legislation to repeal a reinsurance surcharge on consumers is advancing in the Florida Senate. St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes’ SB 1454 has cleared the Banking and Insurance Committee and is headed for the Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government.

“This is a welcomed development for Florida’s insurance consumers,” said Jay Neal, President and CEO of FAIR, The Florida Association for Insurance Reform. “This bill would offer a significant 8 percent to 10 percent rate reduction for homeowner’s insurance consumers.”

The surtax was designed to replenish the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund following bad storm seasons in 2004 and 2005, but the account now has enough money to cover similar losses twice over.

Senate celebrates Military Appreciation and National Guard Day

The Florida Senate considered a string of bills helping active duty military, veterans and their families this week in honor of Military Appreciation and National Guard Day at the Capitol.

“My Senate colleagues and I are committed to enacting policies that keep Florida the No. 1 state for active duty members of our armed forces, veterans and their families,” said Senate President Negron. “The legislation we discussed today sends a clear message that Florida is truly the Welcome Home State.”

Audrey Gibson is honoring the Florida National Guard for their service during last year’s hurricane season.

Among the bills heard by the chamber were SB 100, which waves driver’s license fees for veterans; SB 460, which allows Florida colleges to waive fees for students who are active duty military and using military tuition assistance; SB 440, which would establish the Florida Veterans Care Program, an alternative to Veterans Affairs; and SB 330, which would rename a portion of State Road 10 in Walton County as the “Lieutenant Ewart T. Sconiers Highway.”

Also on the docket was a resolution by Jacksonville Democratic Sen. Audrey Gibson to honor the Florida National Guard for their service during the 2017 hurricane season.

“When Floridians are facing some of the most challenging times, the Florida National Guard is at its best springing into action at a moment’s notice to help Floridians in need,” she said. “We are so grateful for their courageous service to our state during the recent hurricane season.”

Coastal management bill clears Senate

A bill aimed at helping preserve and maintain Florida coasts cleared the Senate this week with a unanimous vote.

SB 174, by Port Orange Republican Sen. Dorothy Hukill, revises the criteria used to help the Florida Department of Environmental Protection prioritize coastal restoration projects based on need and importance.

Dorothy Hukill is pushing coastal preservation. 

“This is a bill for all Floridians, and the millions of visitors to our state annually, to preserve and maintain our state’s most unique, natural assets — our beaches,” Hukill said. “Coastal management is beneficial for conservation, recreation and tourism.

“I would like to thank my Senate colleagues and all of the support we’ve received from around the state. This legislation will ensure that our beautiful state and its unique natural resources are properly maintained and protected.”

SB 174 now moves to the House where a similar bill, HB 7063, is also prepped for a floor vote.

Loomis named FTC member of the year

The Florida Technology Council this week presented ISF CEO Cyndy Loomis with its “2018 FTC Member of the Year” award.

“I’m honored to receive the FTC Member of the Year Award, and I’m proud to advance FTC’s mission to champion the priorities of the technology industry in the State of Florida to our state government leaders,” Loomis said.

Florida Technology Council Member of the Year Cyndy Loomis.

In addition to running the Jacksonville-based software company, Loomis has served as the FTC board chair since 2016.

The award was presented by James Taylor, the executive director of the tech company trade association, at the FTC Legislative Reception in Tallahassee.

FTC said Loomis was “recognized specifically for her outstanding service in driving the effectiveness, reach, and membership growth of the Council.” A half-dozen others were presented with awards at the event.

Applications open for AmeriCorps funding

Volunteer Florida this week announced the 2018-19 criteria for getting proposals funded through AmeriCorps.

AmeriCorps funding is granted to address critical community needs including education, disaster services, economic opportunity, environmental stewardship, healthy futures, and veterans and military families.

Sample activities include tutoring and mentoring youth, response to local disasters, restoring natural habitats and job training/placement. AmeriCorps members also mobilize community volunteers and strengthen the capacity of the organizations where they serve.

Funding requests can be sent in through April 5. Those who have a proposal but don’t know the ins and outs of the application process can log in to the “AmeriCorps Budget 101 Webinar” March 15. Technical assistance conference calls are also available for new and continuing applicants.

To register for a call or the webinar, fill out the RSVP form online. More information on the formula funding rules is available through the Volunteer Florida website.

Detzner announces March of Museums round two

Secretary of State Ken Detzner kicked off the new month by announcing the second annual “March of Museums,” a celebration of the variety and versatility of Florida’s museums.

“As Florida’s Chief Cultural Officer, I am proud of the success of last year’s ‘March of Museums’ and I am excited to expand this initiative statewide Detzner said. “From art to animals, from sports to science, and from history to horticulture, Florida has an incredible array of museums that encourage exploration and learning.”

Secretary of State Ken Detzner kicks off the ‘March of Museums.’

The Department of State encouraged Floridians — and visitors — to use “March of Museums” as an opportunity to spend some time at a Florida museum, whether nearby or off the beaten path.

To help facilitate, the department is hosting a website that lists museums by region and highlights the mission and collections of the institutions, as well the events each is holding this month.

Instagram of the Week

Volunteer Florida, Uber collect 3,540 items for #SuitsForSession

Volunteer Florida and Uber said the third annual #SuitsForSession at the Capitol collected 3,540 donations of professional attire for job-seekers statewide. Also, Uber drivers picked up items across Leon County for free this past Tuesday.

Here are the highlights:

— Number of suits collected: 373 (237 women’s, 136 men’s).

— Number of women’s items collected: 2,270.

— Number of men’s items collected: 743.

— Other items (shoes, belts, etc.) collected: 527.

— Number of bags of clothing donated through the Uber app: 27.

— Number of participating organizations that collected clothing: 26.

Volunteer Florida CEO Vivian Myrtetus said in a statement, “The people of Tallahassee matched these donations by bringing and sending in their own business apparel. Uber has been a tremendous partner to Volunteer Florida and we are so thankful for their participation in another successful year of #SuitsForSession.”

Added Senate Republican Leader Wilton Simpson, “It was great participating in another #SuitsForSession clothing drive. My staff and I are always proud to support this service project that helps job seekers throughout our state.”

Donated items will be delivered to Chapman Partnership in Miami, Dress for Success Tampa Bay, ECHO Outreach Ministries in Tallahassee, Bridges of America (statewide locations), and the Florida State University Unconquered Scholars program in Tallahassee throughout the coming days.

Capitol halls lined with Florida student art

The lower level of the Florida Capitol got a bit of a makeover this week as it began hosting the second annual Art in the Capitol Competition.

The competition, hosted jointly by the Department of Management Services and Department of Education, is aimed at encouraging middle school students to try their hand at art. The only rules are the art has to be 2D and original.

Then-Florida DMS Secretary Chad Poppell views the 2017 Art in the Capitol Competition artwork with Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

“As the custodian of the Capitol complex, DMS is proud to host this event and share these inspiring works with Capitol visitors,” said DMS Secretary Erin Rock. “These are our future leaders, and that is what makes it such a joy to be able to get a glimpse at the soul and spirit of these kids through their art.”

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart added that the competition wonderful way to recognize Florida students’ creativity.

Making it to the walls this year were 35 middle schoolers, each of whom was paired up with a lawmaker to sponsor the artwork. The artwork is viewable online via the Art in the Capital webpage.

Tallahassee airport aces FAA inspection

Tallahassee International Airport said it landed a perfect score during its annual Federal Aviation Administration airport certification and safety inspection.

“The Airport is extremely proud of this accomplishment and remains committed to ensuring the highest levels of safety and security for our patrons, visitors and tenants,” said David Pollard, interim director of aviation at TLH.

Tallahassee International is aces with the FAA.

All airports that offer commercial service go through the test yearly. The multiday inspection covers everything from airport safety to firefighting to the markings on the tarmac.

TLH said acing the FAA inspection is icing on the cake after a string of victories over the past month, including the maiden flight of between TLH and Reagan Washington Airport in D.C. and the successful opening of a Transportation Security Administration pre-check enrollment center.

Now for Capitol Directions:

Tom Lee ‘fed up’ with Joe Negron, top down leadership

An embittered Sen. Tom Lee on Friday said the Legislature’s rank and file is “getting crumbs” from leadership and “they’re fed up about it.”

Senate President Joe Negron later countered he’s “proud of the process,” saying “everyone is entitled to their opinion.”

Lee had disagreed with a provision in the House’s big education bill (HB 7055) and offered an amendment to soften union decertification language that critics have called union-busting. The amendment went down on a 19-19 tie.

After the floor session, Lee – a Thonotosassa Republican expected to run for Chief Financial Officer this year – vented with reporters, bemoaning the top-down leadership on both sides of the Capitol rotunda.

“I’ve never seen this place get so transactional, where people are getting locked down on votes, and we’re just getting going here,” said Lee, who was Senate President in 2004-06. “You’re going to have a gun bill that law enforcement’s against, the NRA’s against … members from rural districts are in a headlock because they’re being instructed to vote for it.

“I’ve just had enough … I’ve struggled to get things out of this institution … and it’s petty and I am fed up,” he said. “I didn’t come up here to get bullied; I didn’t come up here to ‘follow directions.’ I came to represent my constituents.”

“It was entertaining political theater,” Senate budget chairman Rob Bradley told POLITICO after Lee’s outburst. “It was totally devoid of facts and detached from reality, but it was entertaining.”

Lee is an ally of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, but earlier on the floor had said the union-related provision was “punitive.”

Naples Republican Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, the sponsor of the Senate bill, told POLITICO she took “umbrage with being called ‘mean-spirited and ‘punitive.'”

“What’s broken about this process? Is it term limits? Is it political committees? I am just done with these people and the way they run this institution. It’s like a third world country,” Lee told reporters.

Negron, a Stuart Republican, also met with reporters later Friday, growing increasingly piqued when asked about Lee’s concerns.

“I’m spending my time” on considering good legislation “as opposed to getting all caught up in home and away football analogies,” he said. “Who’s winning, who’s losing, who has more bills. I’m interested in (the question): Are we making life better for Floridians?

“… There are two competing narratives, and they both can’t be true,” Negron said. “One is that I’m not tough enough on people, I’m not aggressive enough, and the other is I’m running everything from the top down. I’ll actually take that all as a compliment that I’m right in the middle.

“I’m proud of the way the Senate is running right now,” he added. “Bills are being considered; the budget is being put together in a timely way. It’s refreshing to hear criticism that I run things with too heavy a hand because I’ve had criticism the other way.”

The 2018 Legislative Session is scheduled to end next Friday.

Senate will meet Saturday to consider school safety bill

In a rare move, the Senate will meet on Saturday to consider school safety legislation.

With the Session clock ticking down, Senate President Joe Negron announced the weekend sitting on Friday morning in a memo to fellow senators. The 2018 Legislative Session is scheduled to end next Friday.

A floor session is planned for 10 a.m.-1 p.m. to hear the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act (SB 7026).

Senate President-designate Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican working on the bill, “informed me that he would like to temporarily postpone consideration of Senate Bill 7026 today to allow additional time to work on this important issue,” Negron wrote.

“As you may be aware, after the 58th day of Session (March 7), the House may only consider returning messages, conference reports and concurrent resolutions,” Negron said. “I do not want to delay consideration of Senate Bill 7026 until next week, possibly affecting the House’s ability to hear the Senate Bill.

“Holding a sitting on Saturday is the best option for both working within our existing rules and affording this legislation the serious time and consideration it deserves,” he added.

“As previously planned, the bill would be heard on Third Reading and available for a final vote on Monday, March 5, 2018.

“My goal is to ensure the Senate has ample time to consider this important bill.”

Asked the last time the body met on a Saturday, Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta said she checked with the chamber’s longest-serving staff member, Deputy Secretary of the Senate Gary McKenzie.

“He did not immediately recall a Saturday sitting scheduled during a Regular Session,” she said. “There have, however, been many cases where session extended into Saturday, and also when a sitting during a special session occurred on a Saturday. There have also been committee meetings scheduled for Saturdays.”

Senate, House at odds over $4m to pay for private prison operations

Private-prison giant GEO Group wants $4 million in taxpayer money to pay for correctional officers’ salaries at seven of its state-contracted facilities — but the House won’t budge.

The House’s top criminal justice budget-writer, state Rep. Bill Hager, said his chamber has taken the stance to zero out the private prison’s request because the Florida-based company decided to enter into contracts and therefore, it should have that money in place.

For the Senate, however, it is a “fairness issue.”

“The issue here is that a couple of years ago we raised salaries for correctional officers in our public facilities, but we never extended that pay increase to correctional officers in private facilities,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, who is the Senate’s criminal justice budget chair.

The one-time payment request by the private prison falls under HB 3745, sponsored by state Rep. Ben Albritton, a Wauchula Republican. Because the allocation is non-recurring, the prison company would have to lobby for the money again next year.

According to the appropriations project request, The Geo Group will be seeking $10 million over the next three years for the project.

In 2016, the private prison group gave nearly $2 million in political contributions, most notably $40,000 to Senate President Joe Negron and $100,000 to the Florida Republican Senatorial Committee. The company also gave $43,000 to the failed congressional bid of his wife, Rebecca.

As the Legislature began final budget negotiations this week, the House and Senate are only $238,422 apart in the criminal justice arena as of Thursday, a big improvement from a day before when they were more than $20 million apart.

Reanimated: Senate gambling bill, with changes, back in play

A strike-all amendment planned for the Senate’s 2018 gambling bill will add an authorization for slot machines in counties where voters OK’d them in local referendums, Senate President-designate Bill Galvano said Thursday.

The Senate bill (SB 840) is now slated for consideration before the Appropriations Committee Friday. Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, is the Senate’s lead negotiator on gambling for the Legislative Session.

“We’ll also have some contraction of (gambling) licenses,” he said. “And then some limitation on the number of slots, contracting from what is already authorized, so that there’s a balance. We’re still talking about a number, but it will be a contraction.”

Speaker Richard Corcoran has previously said this year that any legislation the House agrees to must be “an absolute contraction” of gambling in the state—though he hasn’t specifically defined that term.

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

The latest proposal also would satisfy Senate President Joe Negron, who favors granting slots to pari-mutuels in “referendum” counties,” saying the Legislature should respect the will of the people.

Those extra slots weren’t in the previous versions of the Senate bill and are not in the House measure (HB 7067).

“I have always been clear those referendums that took place were not done pursuant to state law; in fact, they were done in spite of state law,” Galvano said. “Nonetheless, he (Negron) has been a proponent of that, so we are putting that issue in play.”

The Seminole Tribe also may be softening its position on games that it feels threaten its exclusivity to offer certain games in the state, he added.

“They continue to have an interest in getting something together,” Galvano said. “Their last offer was really not very impressive.”

A draft agreement that the Tribe reportedly shared with legislators suggests it would be willing to back down on its opposition to the state expressly allowing fantasy sports play and continued play of designated-player games, a hybrid of poker and blackjack offered in pari-mutuel cardrooms.

The Seminoles’ current deal with the state allows it to reduce or cut off payments to the state, expected to reach over $300 million next year, if other games are played that it believes impinges on any of its exclusive gambling rights.

The House will next consider its bill on the floor Friday. Galvano said he hopes the two chambers can get into conference over gaming legislation no later than next Wednesday. The Session ends next Friday.

“Chair (José) Oliva and I continue to have conversations,” Galvano said. “We are, in concept, together on the idea that we need to solidify our relationship with the Tribe.” Oliva, the Speaker-designate and a Miami Lakes Republican, is the House gaming negotiator.

Both chambers now are behind a renewed 20-year deal with the Tribe for $3 billion in revenue over seven years in return for exclusive rights to blackjack, and to slot machines outside South Florida.

Galvano said future money from the Seminoles could be used to “backfill” recurring costs for public school safety and campus ‘hardening’ being considered in the wake of the deadly school shooting at Broward County’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The Senate also exempts thoroughbred horse tracks and jai alai frontons from decoupling, which allows a pari-mutuel to stop live racing but keep offering other gambling, such as slots. The bill still allows for greyhound-racing decoupling, however.

Joe Henderson: Maybe Senate should have asked Adam Putnam first

Say this for Adam Putnam: he knows how to get attention.

He put out a terse news release Wednesday, ripping a state Senate proposal to use $10 million from the concealed weapons license fee to reimburse trauma centers for costs related to the Parkland murders.

It was kind of a “get off my lawn” moment for the normally affable Agriculture Commissioner, who also is running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

“I oppose taxing law-abiding concealed weapon licensees for atrocities carried out by criminals. If anyone should be taxed for those heinous acts, it should be criminals,” the release read.

“The monster who murdered 17 people in Parkland wasn’t even eligible to have a concealed weapon license.”

Putnam’s objection about taxpayers is a bit of a reach, starting with the fact that law-abiding citizens he referred to aren’t being taxed. They voluntarily paid a fee for the right to carry a concealed weapon.

And while we all agree what happened in Parkland qualifies as an atrocity, it’s not like the reimbursement would be going to some wild-eyed anti-gun lobby. It would be going to help cover costs of treating victims of the aforementioned atrocity.

It is true, though, that the confessed shooter in Parkland isn’t old enough to have the license. In Florida, the minimum age is 21 for the permit. He was old enough to legally purchase the AR-15 assault-style rifle used in the attack, but I digress.

The point is, the horror unleashed that day – 17 dead, 14 wounded – pushed local hospitals to the limit. That’s what led Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens to propose the reimbursement fund, which would be administered by Attorney General’s office.

Senate President Joe Negron supported the idea, and SB 1876 was born. It passed an appropriations committee vote 17-3.

On the surface, using a portion of that gun fee in this way seemed reasonable. First-time Florida applicants pay $97 for the permit, which includes $55 for fingerprinting. Renewals cost $45.

It is good for seven years.

However, Jennifer Meale, communications director for the agriculture department, said in an email, “The primary purpose of the licensing fees is to mange and operate the concealed weapon license program. All application and renewal fees are dedicated to the licensing trust fund.”

Translation: That money already has a purpose.

In fairness, the right thing to do for those pushing for this bill would have been to check with Putnam before going public.

This sounds like the Agriculture Commissioner is telling the Senate to keep its mitts out of his money pot without talking to him first, no matter how well-meaning the proposal might be.

He has a point.

House, Senate agree on major school funding issue

Lawmakers continued negotiations Wednesday on a new $87 billion-plus state budget, after reaching agreement on several major issues, including a funding plan for public schools.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, said the Senate has agreed with the House on how to use local property taxes to help fund the 67 school districts. The House had objected to using an increase in the local taxes, known as the “required local effort,” that came as a result of higher property values.

Under the agreement, the Senate and House will use increases in local tax collections related to newly constructed homes and businesses. But they will lower the tax rate on existing properties to offset potential tax increases caused by higher values of those properties.

The net effect will be a funding plan close to what the House originally advanced, using $192 million in local taxes combined with $315 million in state funding for a $507 million overall increase in the school funding formula. It resulted in a $100 increase in per-student funding in a statewide system that includes 2.8 million students.

Bradley and House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo, a Miami Republican, said the fatal shootings this month of 17 students and staff members at a Parkland high school have changed the dynamic of reaching an agreement on a state budget for 2018-2019.

One direct result is that lawmakers have agreed to put $400 million toward helping Florida schools with issues such as mental-health services and more security. That financial priority, coupled with a decline in projected corporate income-tax collections and a higher demand for Medicaid services, has tightened the budget process.

Trujillo and Bradley said it will mean fewer projects for House and Senate members in the annual budget bill.

“It’s necessary, because there are more important things at stake,” Bradley said. “There is no price we can put on the safety of our children.”

The new dynamic has also resulted in the Senate moving toward the House on using unspent money in various trust funds to pay for other programs and initiatives.

The original House proposal shifted, or “swept,” nearly $400 million out of the trust funds, including $182 million out of affordable housing programs. The Senate’s budget bill only swept $124 million and did not touch the housing funds.

Bradley said the new budget demands have changed the Senate’s position.

“Because of Parkland, we’ve swept a lot of trust funds,” Bradley said. “And affordable housing, there just isn’t enough money there to maintain the Senate’s position of not sweeping that fund.”

The new budget reality will also impact Gov. Rick Scott’s priorities, including his call for $180 million in tax and fee cuts.

“We’re willing to help and deliver as much as we can, but I think all of our priorities have refocused (after Parkland),” Trujillo said.

Lawmakers have tentatively agreed on an $80 million tax-cut package, which could include more sales-tax “holidays” and few other measures.

Lawmakers are also moving toward agreement on $76 million for Visit Florida, the state’s main tourism promotion agency, although Scott has asked for $100 million.

The final budget is expected to include Scott’s request for $85 million to replenish the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, an economic development program initially approved last year.

“Several months ago, I had some concerns about the governor’s fund,” Bradley said. “But he’s demonstrated, (Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director) Cissy Proctor, they’ve demonstrated those funds are being spent wisely. The state taxpayers are getting a greater (return on investment) on it. We couldn’t be happier as a Senate. It’s going to get funded this year.”

The fund has attracted more than 225 applications seeking more than $821 million. Scott has allocated a little more than $35 million, including $6 million for a 1.5-mile access road at Cecil Commerce Center in Jacksonville and $8.25 million to expand access to the cruise and cargo terminals at Port Canaveral.

Over the next few days, House and Senate members will meet in a series of conference committees trying to work out the details of spending in education, health care, criminal justice, the environment and other areas of the state budget.

Unresolved issues will move to Trujillo and Bradley on Friday, with any issues unresolved by the chairmen eventually moving to House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’Lakes Republican, and Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican.

Lawmakers have until Tuesday to work out a budget if they hope to end the annual Session on time March 9. The state has a constitutional 72-hour waiting period before lawmakers can take final budget votes. The new budget will take effect July 1.

Dana Young withdraws from race for Senate President

Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, says she won’t be pursuing the presidency of the Florida Senate.

“As I’m completing my second session in the Senate, I’ve realized the commitment of pursuing and ultimately serving as presiding officer requires more time than I am willing to spend away from my family and my constituents,” she said in a text message.

The story was first reported Wednesday by POLITICO Florida’s Matt Dixon.

With Young out, the race for president for 2022-24 leaves Republicans Travis Hutson of St. Augustine and Kathleen Passidomo of Naples as the remaining contenders.

Young added she is not backing any other senator’s bid “at this point.”

Bradenton Republican Bill Galvano has already been designated president to succeed Stuart Republican Joe Negron after the 2018 elections, assuming the GOP retains control of the chamber.

Trilby Republican Wilton Simpson is expected to succeed Galvano as president after the 2020 elections.

Young, an attorney, was elected to the Senate in 2016, after serving six years in the House, where she rose to Republican Leader.

Her decision means she won’t be following in her grandfather’s footsteps: Randolph Hodges served 10 years in the Senate, including as President in 1961-63.

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