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Five questions with Senate President-to-be Joe Negron

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

With the 2016 Legislative Session right around the corner, Sen. Joe Negron is in his element. The Treasure Coast lawmaker is known as a workhorse (although he might have to be more of a show horse now that he is Senate President Designate), and in Tallahassee is where he does some of his best work.

Riding high after prevailing at long last in a years-long tussle with Sen. Jack Latvala over who will lead the Senate after 2018 elections, Negron comes to the 2016 Session with more juice than ever before. He has already filed bills relating to fantasy sports, water policy, taxes for disabled first responders, recreational safety, and state support for Israel — and Negron is confident he can accomplish progress on all of these issues this year.

Before he headed to Tallahassee, Negron took time to speak with FloridaPolitics.com.

  1. Do you have a top local bill this session?
Boater safety. Floridians and visitors alike enjoy our state’s waterways every day, but we must do what we can to ensure they are safe and secure while doing so. Emergency Position Indicator Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) and Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) can help emergency personnel locate vessels or boaters in distress.
Senate Bill 746 encourages boaters to purchase and utilize these emergency locator devices by reducing the annual boating registration fees for vessels equipped with this critical safety equipment. This legislation institutes a completely voluntary incentive for boaters to take advantage of a technology that has the potential to be lifesaving, as it drastically increases the chance for survival when someone is in danger.
The bill has the support of Carly Black and Blu Stephanos, the parents of Austin Stephanos, a young man our community lost earlier this year. They are using the story of their own personal tragedy to raise awareness about boater safety technologies that can help prevent other families from suffering such a tremendous loss. 
  1. You are usually very active in environmental legislation and bills, do you have a top environmental priority this session?
Senate Bill 1168, the Legacy Florida proposal, is my top priority heading into the 2016 Legislative Session. This bill directs Amendment 1 funds from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF) to various Everglades projects that aim to restore the Everglades and that are a part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).  The Legacy Florida bill will help state agencies better sequence and finish CERP projects. I am particularly pleased with the provision that gives priority to projects that decrease the need for discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.
  1. There has been a lot of press on your university funding priority linking the funding to cutting social services. Is this an accurate portrayal?
I believe government has a responsibility to assist citizens and families who are overcoming physical and intellectual disabilities. I also believe that mental health is equally important to physical health. In fact, it is medically inaccurate to separate these two complementary aspects of the human condition. That is why I have always supported parity for mental health coverage in insurance plans.
In order to redeploy $1 billion over two years to Florida’s universities, the Legislature will have to reevaluate all spending to make sure we are funding the priorities of today and not simply rubber-stamping the decisions of previous Legislatures. Soft social services will not be juxtaposed against university funding increases; that is a false dichotomy. Soft social services such as advice and guidance programs simply comprise one example of hundreds of funding initiatives in the state budget that will be carefully reviewed.
When I served as the Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee under President Gaetz, the appropriations subcommittee chairs and I conducted an intensive budget review process that closely scrutinized every area of the base budget. As Senate President, I will appoint appropriations subcommittee chairs who are committed to this budget redeployment process. With this process in place, we can make our good universities great to compete with elite national destination universities like the University of Virginia and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 
  1. You filed legislation that relates to fantasy sports. What was your motivation behind that?
Currently, an estimated 3 million Floridians participate in fantasy sports contests, from traditional leagues with friends or coworkers, to the newer, daily fantasy sports contests.  I do not believe that these Floridians should be at risk of criminal prosecution for doing nothing more than participating in the fantasy sports contests they enjoy.
However, due to a dated Attorney General opinion, there is a need to clarify in Florida law that fantasy sports are legal, as well as institute commonsense regulations that protect consumers.  I believe the legislation that Representative Matt Gaetz and I filed will do just that – keeps fantasy sports legal and protects consumers. 
  1. Last session was a bit rocky, do you anticipate both chambers working together more this year?
Both chambers stand ready to start the 2016 Legislative Session and work together on behalf of the people of Florida. In fact, President Gardiner’s priority legislation to create a pathway to economic independence for people with disabilities and the statewide water and natural resources policy legislation Speaker Crisafulli has championed are scheduled to be taken up by both the House and Senate during the first week of session. These important bills have been a work in progress for several years and seeing their passage during the first week will set the right tone as we head into the budget process.

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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