Joe Negron Archives - Florida Politics

Richard Corcoran releases new committee assignments

House Speaker Richard Corcoran released his committee assignments for the 2018 Legislative Session Thursday with just a few changes from 2017, notably some freshmen getting vice chairmanships and new chairs for the Ways and Means and Commerce Committees.

Corcoran’s changes in committees look more like mid-term adjustments for the two-year term, rather than the wholesale reshuffling that Senate President Joe Negron announced earlier this week for that chamber’s committees.

“Your preference requests were accommodated to the extent possible, including the recommendations of (Democratic) Leader (Janet) Cruz,” the Land O’ Lakes Republican wrote in a memo to members.

“One notable change addresses the status of the Public Integrity & Ethics Committee, which because of workload and the nature of the work, will be treated as a procedural committee, much like Rules & Policy,” he added. “In order to ensure all members have at least one substantive committee, we increased the size of the Education, Judiciary, Health & Human Services, and Ways & Means committees to accommodate freshmen members from Public Integrity & Ethics.”

With the departure of former Commerce Committee chairman Jose Felix Diaz, who is running in a special election for the Senate, state Rep. Jim Boyd of Bradenton will slide over from chairing the House Ways and Means Committee to chair Commerce, with Paul Renner of Palm Coast taking the chair of Ways and Means.

Otherwise, the committee assignments reward a handful of freshmen with new vice chairmanships of committees and subcommittees, and give Rep. James Grant of Tampa with a chairmanship, that of the Health Quality Subcommittee of the House Health & Human Services Committee.

Among freshmen getting vice chairs:

Randy Fine of Brevard County, Careers & Competition Subcommittee of the Commerce Committee.

Jason Fischer of Jacksonville, PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee of the Education Committee.

Erin Grall of Vero Beach, Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee.

Michael Grant of Port Charlotte, Transportation and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee.

Twenty-one of the 27 freshmen lawmakers now have vice chairs.

Corcoran also opened bill filing for House members: “The bill request submission deadline for all bills (substantive and Appropriations Project bills) is now on the same day, Nov. 14. The filing deadline for your first two bills is Nov. 21.

“The filing deadline for remaining bills is the first day of Session, Jan. 9,” he said.

For the full list, go here.

Top Senate Republicans holding Big Apple fundraiser Thursday

If you’ve ever dreamed of slurping spaghetti with state senators, top Florida Republicans have an offer you can’t refuse, so long as you can snag a flight to the Big Apple pronto.

Senate President Joe Negron will make a fundraising trip to New York Thursday with the two senators set to succeed him in his role, Bill Galvano and Wilton Simpson. Also attending are Senate budget chief and gubernatorial candidate Jack Latvala as well as Lizbeth Benacquisto, Rob Bradley and Anitere Flores.

Don’t worry about accommodations, either – the last minute invitation to the fundraiser says the powerful cadre of politicians has organized a discounted rate at the Ritz Carlton. It’s not home, but it’ll do for a night.

Whoever manages to get to New York by 6:30 p.m. Thursday will have the opportunity to sit down with the Tallahassee elite at the city’s “Quality Italian” restaurant which, for whatever reason, is a steakhouse. Don’t worry, the menu includes a handful of classics from the old country.

Those fortunate enough to be able to spend a Friday evening in the city can also drop by a cocktail hour at the posh Ascent Lounge. A drink will set you back about $20, and you better be a fan of vodka.

To RSVP, call Kelly Schmidt at 407-415-2879. You might need to call her from the plane.

The invitation is below:

Debbie Wasserman Schultz calls for special session to replace Confederate statue

(UPDATED) South Florida Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz wants the Florida Legislature to convene for a special session to deal with a Confederate monument that represents the state in the U.S. Capitol.

A bronze statue of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith continues to sit in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall, despite legislation passed during the 2016 Legislative Session that approved removing it.

“While the events in Charlottesville represent our nation’s original sin, we know these hateful acts do not define who we are as a country. We must denounce white supremacy and domestic terrorism and stand up for love and compassion – not just with our words, but with our deeds,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.

Momentum to remove Smith from the congressional collection began in 2015 shortly after the South Carolina Legislature voted to remove the Confederate battle flag from its statehouse grounds. That seminal event took place after Dylann Roof went on a shooting spree in a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine black men and women. Roof had posed with a Confederate flag in photos.

Two competing bills regarding a statue that would have taken the place of Smith died in this year’s Legislative Session. One called for a likeness of educator and civil-rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune, while another proposed a statue of environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, author of “The Everglades: River of GrassNeither passed.

“Next year, we expect movement in the House and we’ll pass it in the Senate,” said state Sen. Perry Thurston, who sponsored the Bethune measure. “I am encouraged we will get it done next year.”

Each state has two statues on display in the Capitol. Florida’s other statue, a marble rendering of scientist-inventor Dr. John Gorrie of Apalachicola, a pivotal figure in the invention of air conditioning, is unaffected.

Wasserman Schultz says that leaving Smith’s statue in a place of honor “symbolizes a painful, disgraceful legacy.”

“It’s time to stop playing games,” she said on Tuesday. “No family visiting our nation’s Capitol should have to explain to their child that the statue representing our state honors someone who fought for a philosophy built on hatred and oppression.”

Wasserman Schultz says Governor Rick Scott and the Legislature must take immediate action by calling a one-day special session during their upcoming interim committee meetings to pass a bill with one of the three recommendations from the committee established by law: Douglas, Bethune or George Washington Jenkins, a philanthropist and the founder of Publix Super Markets.

“These three Floridians represent the best of the history of our state,” she said. “The removal of the Confederate statue must be made an urgent priority.”

“Like most politicians in Washington, the congresswoman is out of touch,” said House Speaker Richard Corcoran. “We’ve already made this decision and are now having a conversation about which great Floridian we should honor. The congresswoman should stop grandstanding and focus on balancing the Federal budget.”

Senate President Joe Negron did not respond to a request for comment.

Preparation is key as Joe Negron remains a force heading into 2018 Session

Halfway between legislative sessions, Florida Senate President Joe Negron is not standing still.

There he is joining Gov. Rick Scott at a ceremonial bill signing in the fight against opioid abuse in Palm Beach County July 11, along with Wellington Democrat Matt Willette and a group of Palm Beach County Sheriff deputies.

About a week later, both Negron and Scott turned up again at a job-growth news conference July 19 at Orangetheory Fitness, the Boca Raton-based national fitness franchise chain.

“I enjoy the opportunity to take classes at Orangetheory Fitness studios, both at home and in Tallahassee,” Negron said. Orangetheory Fitness, which was recently ranked as the No. 1 fastest growing women-owned business in the U.S., has created more than 1300 Florida jobs.

Later, the Stuart Republican was spotted smiling alongside Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala in a tweet from United Way Broward applauding the two for “leadership in finding solutions to the opioid epidemic.”

While it is nice to know the President has the energy to exercise regularly, what exactly is Joe Negron up to?

The answer is in a quote by Alexander Graham Bell: “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”

Busy meeting with various colleagues, Negron is intent on advancing their top issues, especially since his own priority – a $1.5 billion storage reservoir of 240,000-360,000 acre-feet of water south of Lake Okeechobee – successfully passed in 2017.

Negron is also mentoring the incoming leadership team, specifically Bill Galvano and Wilton Simpson, the nexts-in-line for the Senate presidency. While Galvano takes the lead on the special election in Senate District 40, Negron brainstorms on planning, issues, strategy and other adjustments ahead of the quickly approaching committee schedule and the Legislative Session beginning Jan. 9.

As with most of his accomplishments, it may not have been a sure bet that Negron would succeed, at least at first. But invariably, the President has won more than he lost..

And as proved by his frequent appearances with Scott – who turned down Negron’s wide-ranging higher education bill in June, but preserved the oh-so-important Bright Futures scholarships for now – all is good post-veto.

With that, a man who needs nothing, and holds his cards close to the vest, Negron remains a force heading into the 2018 Session.

Lawmakers take aim at opioid crisis

Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala held a roundtable discussion Tuesday in Palm Beach County with lawmakers, local leaders and public-safety officials to address Florida’s opioid crisis.

Palm Beach County is one of the epicenters of the epidemic. From January through May of this year, the county had 311 opioid overdoses, compared to 258 over the same period in 2016, according to numbers from Latvala’s office. The county totaled 592 opioid-related deaths in 2016.

“This is obviously an issue that is on all of our minds,” Latvala, R-Clearwater, said during the discussion at Palm Beach State College’s Lake Worth Campus. “Everybody can make proclamations and declarations, but it’s when rubber hits road, that’s when things get going. I am here to listen and learn about this crisis.”

Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the country, with 52,404 fatal overdoses reported in 2015, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Opioid addiction drove the epidemic with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers and 12,990 deaths related to heroin.

Palm Beach County has taken $1 million out of reserves to address the epidemic on a local level. During this spring’s legislative session, state lawmakers passed bills to address what are known as “sober homes” — a major issue in Palm Beach County — and to crack down on people who traffic in fentanyl, a deadly painkiller sometimes mixed with heroin.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Palm Beach County Vice Mayor Melissa McKinlay presented statistics about the opioid crisis and said the county had spent more than $200,000 on Narcan, an opiate antidote used in emergency situations.

“The epidemic is impacting the manufacturing industry and business communities,” McKinlay said. “People cannot pass drug tests because of this. The bigger picture is that addiction is a disease. We want to break the stigma of addicts because nobody wakes up one day and chooses to become an addict.”

Gabrielle Finley-Hazle, CEO of St. Mary’s Medical Center, described newborns being treated in hospitals for drug withdrawal. The newborns experience the same symptoms that an addict would experience, including tremors, fever, seizures and pain.

“This is concerning for our community,” Finley-Hazle said. “What will happen when these babies are older? We need prevention programs to help addictive moms, treat patients for detox and for educating children.”

Emilio Benitez, president and CEO of ChildNet, a community-based care agency that contracts with the state, said the opioid crisis also is having an impact on the child-welfare system. Benitez said 45 percent of Palm Beach County children removed from their homes since January were a result of parents abusing opioids. The number was 31 percent in Broward County.

Solutions proposed during Tuesday’s discussion included more beds and centers for treatment and recovery, funding for medical and emergency personnel, education programs and counseling programs to assist families of addicts.

Among the participants in the meeting was Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican whose district includes part of Palm Beach County. Negron and Latvala, the Senate’s chief budget writer who is widely expected to run for governor in 2018, are two of the most influential political figures in the state.

“The purpose of this discussion was for President Negron and Senator Latvala to provide resources to use,” McKinlay said. “It’s for them to hear the problem to create ideas and projects for local action plans.”

Republish with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Army Corps needs more time on Joe Negron reservoir

Federal assistance may be on the way for the state’s latest Everglades restoration effort.

But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it will need another month to figure out how to join in Senate President Joe Negron‘s plan for a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

Col. Jason Kirk, the Florida commander for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, advised the South Florida Water Management District this week that a review is underway of options for working together on changes to what is known as the Central Everglades Planning Project. The changes were outlined in a measure (SB 10) that Negron pushed through the Legislature this year.

“We are currently working through multiple options for the next steps to address your request,” Kirk wrote.

Supporters of the reservoir, a priority of Negron, R-Stuart, anticipate the federal government covering half the cost of the work.

Part of the bill requires the water management district to request the Army Corps participate — by next Tuesday — in helping to develop a report on revisions needed to increase water storage south of Lake Okeechobee.

District Executive Director Pete Antonacci, who is leaving the district Tuesday to head Enterprise Florida, asked the Army Corps in a letter to participate on the report on June 26.

Kirk responded Monday that the Army Corps expects to have a full response by the end of August.

District spokesman Randy Smith said Wednesday the “district is working with the Corps to push the plan along as fast as possible.”

Katie Betta, a Negron spokeswoman, said the president is pleased the Army Corps provided an update as he continues to “closely monitor the implementation of Senate Bill 10.”

The Senate bill allows Florida to bond up to $800 million as a way to speed construction of the reservoir, which is intended to help clean South Florida waterways and potentially reduce the recurrence of toxic algae outbreaks that have impacted Negron’s Treasure Coast district in past years.

Treasure Coast residents blame polluted water releases from Lake Okeechobee for the algae outbreaks.

The proposal seeks to accelerate plans for a reservoir — part of a larger ongoing Everglades project effort called the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, or CERP — to clean water that can be sent through the Everglades toward Florida Bay.

Under the state proposal, the reservoir, initially using 14,460-acres of state-owned land within the Everglades Agriculture Area, will need to be deeper than originally planned.

Julie Hill-Gabriel, deputy director of Audubon Florida, called Kirk’s letter a positive sign.

“We look forward to the agencies working together to implement Senate Bill 10, reduce discharges to the sensitive coastal estuaries, and send needed freshwater south to the Everglades,” Hill-Gabriel said.

Republished with permission of The News Service of Florida.

Personnel note: Ken Kahn named to EFI board

Ken Kahn was appointed to the Enterprise Florida (EFI) Board of Directors, Senate President Joe Negron announced Monday.

The appointment begins immediately and expires July 5, 2021.

“Ken understands firsthand the opportunities available to businesses seeking to locate or expand here in Florida,” Negron said.

“He has a strong educational background and the diverse business and community service experiences needed to excel in this position. I am confident Ken will be a strong advocate for Florida businesses, and I am grateful that he has agreed to join the Enterprise Florida Team in this important capacity.”

Kahn is president of LRP Publications, a legal and professional publishing company. He also serves on the Palm Beach County Education Commission and the Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness.

Kahn is on the executive committees of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, Economic Council of Palm Beach County, and Kravis Center Corporate Partners. He is an active member of the Florida Council of 100.

He graduated from Cornell University and Harvard Law School. He has five children and currently lives in Palm Beach Gardens with his wife and two daughters.

Now cancer-free, Dorothy Hukill says, ‘I’m back’

After being pronounced cancer-free earlier this year, state Sen. Dorothy Hukill says she “feel(s) great” and already is “excited” to return to Tallahassee for next year’s Legislative Session.

She’s also back in the saddle in her district. The Port Orange Republican’s schedule is packed this week: There’s a grand-opening event for a Titusville space-supplies firm, a speech at the Titusville Chamber of Commerce, and post-Legislative Session round-ups before the Lake Helen City Commission and at the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce.

And as early as next week, the Port Orange City Council could vote on a proposal to rename the city’s old police department to the “Dorothy Hukill Annex” to honor Hukill, a former Port Orange mayor.

“I am back,” she said Monday. “Through the grace of God, friends and family, a great medical team, and a great Senate family, I am feeling wonderful.” 

In November, Hukill disclosed that she had been diagnosed with cervical cancer. She missed the 2017 Legislative Session while she was undergoing treatment.

“I am fortunate that it (is) in the early stages and my medical team advises that my prognosis for full recovery is good,” she wrote in a letter to Senate President Joe Negron.

In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, “if detected early, cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable cancers.”

Not being in Tallahassee didn’t mean she stopped working, Hukill added, saying she continued to oversee her district offices, Capitol staff and committee responsibilities remotely.

Finally, this March, Hukill told Negron that “tests show no remaining cancer” and her doctors were “optimistic for a cancer-free full recovery.”

Hukill said she was surprised at the support she got, not only from those she knew, but from strangers who also dealt with cancer.

“It’s amazing to hear from people who have gone through what I have, to offer to talk about their own experience, or even just to say, ‘Let me know how I can help,’ ” she said.  

“Being a survivor transcends your background, your politics,” Hukill added. “One of the things you learn is that it’s a very special community.”

Joe Negron’s personal wealth nears $1 million

Senate President Joe Negron‘s net worth is now over $950,000, according to a financial disclosure filed last week with the Florida Commission on Ethics.

Negron’s net worth as of Dec. 31, 2016 was $952,634, his filing shows. That’s up 15 percent from his 2015 reported worth of $828,646.

As income, he listed $278,887 from the Gunster law firm and his $28,502 pay as a state lawmaker.

In January, Negron—a Stuart Republican—quit Gunster, saying his decision was spurred by its representation of U.S. Sugar, which was named in a land acquisition provision.

That was included in a Senate measure (SB 10) aimed at protecting Lake Okeechobee from toxic runoff.

Negron joined the Akerman firm’s West Palm Beach office last month as a commercial litigator.

As liabilities, he listed a $51,807 loan from Chase Bank and $23,163 owed to Ally Financial.

His largest asset is his Stuart home, valued at $618,000. Other assets include more than $212,000 in retirement savings and a bond worth about $5,200.

Negron was first elected to the Senate in August 2009, after serving in the House 2000-06.

Florida Bar will focus on ‘protecting the courts’ during constitutional revision process

The new president of The Florida Bar says the organization is standing by to offer “technical legal” support to the Constitution Revision Commission as it readies to amend the state’s governing document, which could include changes affecting the judicial branch. 

Higer

But Michael J. Higer, a partner in Berger Singerman’s Miami office, won’t say which public proposals already filed he favors—or fears. He assumed the Bar presidency on June 23. 

“It is too early in the process to focus on any one idea proposed by Florida’s citizens,” he said in an email interview. “But changing our Constitution should be done with caution, because once something is added, it is very difficult to repeal.

“That is why it is critical that we as a bar educate our members and the public so that they are fully informed and engaged in the CRC process.”

But a recent poll by Florida TaxWatch showed “77 percent of Florida voters said they haven’t heard about recent Constitution Revision Commission meetings.” Another 13 percent said they only saw, read or heard “a little” about the commission’s activities.

Higer said the Bar will be “working with its members statewide to educate their communities and encourage engagement in the process,” including a public education program in the fall.

My hope is that, if Florida’s citizens understand the issues, the work of the CRC will be beneficial to our state,” he said.

The 37-member commission meets every 20 years to review and offer changes to the state’s constitution. Gov. Rick Scott appointed the bulk of its current board, including chair Carlos Beruff, along with picks by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Senate President Joe Negron and Chief Justice Jorge Labarga. Attorney General Pam Bondi also is a member.

This is the first commission to be appointed by a Republican majority, leading some to fear that amendments it offers will veer too far to the right. Any amendments it offers go straight to the 2018 statewide ballot, but still must pass with 60 percent approval.

The commission’s “focus will not be on strengthening” the judiciary, said Martha Barnett, a former president of the American Bar Association and 1997-98 member of the CRC.

Barnett said she instead expects an effort to “restrict, narrow and weaken the judicial branch.” She spoke at a panel discussion at The Associated Press’ annual Legislative Session planning meeting this January. “And if that happens, it is to the peril of the life and liberty of the people of this state.”

Lawmakers this year filed but did not pass several bills, including ones setting appellate-level judicial term limits and requiring the Supreme Court to report regularly on case delays.

The Florida Bar’s focus will be on protecting the courts, to make sure that they are fair, impartial, adequately funded and preserved as the third, separate branch of government,” Higer said. “Anything that impedes the operation of the courts would be a major concern.”

He added Bar leaders already have met with the CRC executive director Jeff Woodburn and general counsel William Spicola—both former members of Scott’s administration.

“The Bar has offered to assist the commission by providing legal subject matter experts on the various issues coming before the commission who may answer questions or provide analysis,” Higer said.

The CRC already has held nine public hearings across the state; the next hearing has not yet been set.

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