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Senate President Wilton Simpson speaks to the press during the Florida Legislature's Organization Session at the Florida Capitol Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. Image via the Tallahassee Democrat/Tori Lynn Schneider.

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Wilton Simpson reaches across the political aisle to name committee chairs

Unlike in the House, the Senate leadership team includes top Democrats.

Senate President Wilton Simpson has selected committee chairs for the next two years, drafting a leadership team that crosses the political aisle.

In a memo to Senators, the Trilby Republican who was formally elected last month to lead the Senate for the 2020-2022 legislative term called committee work “a critical component of the legislative process.”

“In my view, the tremendous responsibility to chair a Senate committee is the most significant and impactful leadership role Senators have during their tenure,” the President wrote. “With this in mind, over the last several weeks, I have been considering our committee structure, and which Senators I believe can best serve the Senate in various committee leadership positions.”

Unlike his House counterpart, Speaker Chris Sprowls who announced his leadership team ahead of the election, Simpson put Democrats in key positions.

In the Criminal Justice Committee, which in recent years has leaned in favor of criminal justice reform while the House remains cold on the issue, the Senate President tapped Sen. Jason Pizzo, a North Miami Beach Democrat who has been floated as a possible gubernatorial challenger to Ron DeSantis. Tampa Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson will lead the Agriculture Committee and Plantation Democratic Sen. Lauren Book will repeat atop the Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee.

Zephyrhills Republican Sen. Danny Burgess will lead the new Select Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and Response.

“The select committee will review all facets of the state response to the ongoing pandemic, and identify, as necessary, areas where there may be a specific role for the Legislature to make improvements to benefit our state moving forward,” Burgess said.

Sprowls made similar comments last month when he put Ormond Beach Republican Tom Leek in charge of a new House Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee.

Clearwater Republican Sen. Ed Hooper will chair the Commerce and Tourism Committee, another critical panel as the state looks to emerge from the pandemic recession.

As previously announced, Senate President-designate Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican, will lead the Rules Committee. Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel will be the Senate budget chief at the helm of the Appropriations Committee, also previously announced.

For appropriations subcommittees, Wauchula Republican Sen. Ben Albritton will chair the Agriculture, Environment, and General Government Subcommittee. Sen. Keith Perry, a Gainesville Republican who opened the door to criminal justice reform as the previous Criminal Justice Committee Chair, will lead the Criminal and Civil Justice Subcommittee. Gulf Breeze Republican Sen. Doug Broxson will chair the Education Subcommittee and President Pro Tempore Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican, will lead the Health and Human Services Subcommittee.

St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, who was previously the Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee Chair and another criminal justice reform advocate, will step into the vice chair role on that committee and repeat as vice chair of the Criminal Justice Committee. Brandes will also chair the Judiciary Committee.

The Senate President also tapped freshmen lawmakers to leadership roles, including Fleming Island Republican Sen. Jennifer Bradley as Community Affairs Committee Chair and Miami Republican Sen. Ileana Garcia, who defeated former Sen. José Javier Rodríguez in a recount last month, as the committee’s vice chair.

Simpson will assign committee members in the coming days. He will assign the chair and members of the Committee on Reapportionment, responsible for redistricting after the results of the 2020 census, as the committee’s tasks approach.

In the memo,  Simpson wrote that he expects chairs and vice chairs to begin setting schedules by the end of this week for pre-session committee weeks that start Jan. 11. The 2021 Session will start in March.

The remaining committee assignments are available online.

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The News Service of Florida contributed to this post. Republished with permission.

Written By

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

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