Andy Gardiner Archives - Page 7 of 22 - SaintPetersBlog

Jim Rosica’s Top 10 stories of 2015 in state government

From palace intrigues to pot, 2015 brought a plethora of material to the Capitol Press Corps. Trying to pick the top 10 state government stories is a subjective pursuit, to say the least, but here are the FloridaPolitics.com picks for the passing year:

No. 1: The “firing” of Gerald Bailey

Gov. Rick Scott actually forced out the state’s top cop in December 2014 but the repercussions of that move spilled well over into the new year.

Scott originally announced Bailey’s departure as voluntary at a Florida Cabinet meeting. As head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Bailey was one of a handful of top state officials whose position required the governor to consult with the rest of Cabinet before a firing.

Bailey himself soon contradicted Scott’s account, saying the governor’s staff had told him to “retire or resign.” He also said Scott’s staff asked him to state falsely that acting Orange County Clerk of Court Colleen Reilly was under investigation for a high-profile prison break that embarrassed the state’s corrections department.

News organizations and open government advocates soon filed a lawsuit, since settled, alleging that Scott staff members violated the state’s open meetings law by acting as back-channel “conduits.” That led to a weeks-long round robin of finger-pointing and question-raising as to whether Scott had orchestrated an end-run.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam told The Tampa Tribune “what we were told and what happened were not the same” regarding Bailey’s leaving, adding that the governor’s staff “were not forthcoming about their timeline and intentions regarding Commissioner Bailey.” Finally, at a February Cabinet meeting in Tampa, Scott said, “I could have handled it better … The buck stops here.”

Scott, Putnam, CFO Jeff Atwater and Attorney General Pam Bondi then agreed to overhaul the way state agency heads are hired, evaluated and fired.

No. 2: Health care funding disputes sink session

The Florida Senate bet nearly all its political capital on Medicaid expansion during the 2015 Legislative Session, then lost big to the Florida House. The disagreement over taking federal dollars to expand Medicaid eventually contributed to a $5 billion budget divide between the two chambers.

The Senate wanted to help about 800,000 working poor Floridians, who make too much for traditional Medicaid but not enough to take advantage of tax credits under the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 federal health care law championed by President Barack Obama. House leadership opposed the plan, saying the state would be on the hook should the feds fail to follow through.

Also at issue was how much to pay for hospitals’ charity care through a joint federal-state fund known as the Low Income Pool, or LIP. The disagreement at one point caused controversy when  House Republicans held a closed-door caucus meeting to rally their side against expansion. Associated Press reporter Gary Fineout pressed his ear against the meeting room door to overhear snippets of conversation, during which Speaker Steve Crisafulli told members to “stand like a rock” in opposing the Senate.

Finally, an exasperated House quit three days before the scheduled end of session and went home, forcing Senate Democrats to rush to the Supreme Court in an unsuccessful attempt to coerce the other chamber back into session. Five justices, however, agreed that the House’s move was unconstitutional. The Legislature had to reconvene in Special Session in June to complete the state budget.

No. 3: Florida becomes last state to legalize growlers

Not all was lost that session, as lawmakers approved and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a measure legalizing the half-gallon size of beer container known as a “growler.” Previous efforts to legalize that size had failed, making Florida the last state that outlawed such containers. Craft beer aficionados now can fill up 64-ounce growlers, the most favored size to take home tap-drawn beer.

No. 4: Court says online travel sites don’t have to charge tax

Ending a decade-long court case, the Florida Supreme Court in June ruled that Expedia and other travel websites don’t have to charge hotel tax on the fees they charge when customers use them to book rooms.

Alachua and 16 other Florida counties had argued that they were losing millions in tax money. The court said in a 5-2 decision that the tourism development tax counties get from hotel guests should apply only to the amount actually paid for the stay, not for the service used to book it. Furthermore, the majority opinion slammed state lawmakers for knowing about the taxing dispute for years and choosing to do nothing about it.

The issue isn’t unique to Florida: The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington-based think tank, estimated in a 2011 study that local and state governments were taking in $275 million to $400 million less in tax revenue yearly. Florida was losing out on $31 million to $45 million a year.

No. 5: Economic development czar starts war of words with lawmakers

It was the shot heard ’round the Capitol when Bill Johnson, CEO of Enterprise Florida, the state’s public-private economic development agency, teed off during a conference call this summer.

Johnson was steamed that lawmakers had brushed off his request for $85 million more in business incentive funding during the Special Session for the budget. Senate President Andy Gardiner in particular said the organization was asking for more money than it was likely to dole out.

An audibly irate Johnson told his board members, “For the third most-populous state in the nation, and a leader in economic development, that’s shameful … There’s no need for (Enterprise Florida) to exist if we cannot garner the support of our Florida Legislature.”

Johnson told them to call legislators on their mobile phones, if necessary, to convince them of the need for funding. “This is not the time to back down,” he said.

The outburst stuck in the craw of key senators months later, and had Johnson eating crow: He apologized for the comments when he appeared before a Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee meeting in September. Johnson may yet have the last laugh, though. His boss, Gov. Rick Scott, is pressing for a new $250 million incentive fund and may threaten his veto pen on members’ favored projects as leverage.

No. 6: Court redraws Florida’s congressional districts

The Florida Supreme Court in December finally OK’d a redrawn version of the state’s 27 congressional districts three years after a court challenge said they were unconstitutional.

The League of Women Voters of Florida, Common Cause and others had sued over the current congressional lines, redrawn after the 2010 census, saying the existing map violates a state constitutional prohibition against gerrymandering, the manipulation of political boundaries to favor a particular incumbent or party. Voters in 2010 had passed the “Fair Districts” constitutional amendments to prohibit such gerrymandering.

The case worked its way to the high court, which ruled that the current map was “tainted by unconstitutional intent to favor the Republican Party and incumbents” and ordered a do-over. The Legislature tried but failed to agree on a redrawn congressional map in a Special Session this summer, and the matter bounced back to Circuit Judge Terry Lewis.

Lewis was charged to take evidence and figure out a new map. He recommended the plaintiffs’ plan. The justices agreed with Lewis in a 5-2 decision.

Among the big changes, the court agreed with shifting Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown‘s current Jacksonville-to-Sanford district “in an east-west manner,” stretching it into what is now Gwen Graham’s territory in the Big Bend and Panhandle. That eviscerates Graham’s Democratic base in Gadsden and Leon counties. Brown reportedly had been mulling a move to Orlando to run for Republican icon Daniel Webster’s district, redrawn to become a virtual Democratic lock. She’s since decided to make a stand in her own redrawn district. 

No. 7: Judge to recommend State Senate redistricting

Later in December, Circuit Judge George Reynolds began a week-long trial to work out the makeup of the state’s 40 senatorial districts.

Similar to the congressional case, the League of Women Voters of Florida, Common Cause and others had sued the Legislature, alleging the current Senate district map was rigged to favor Republicans and incumbents. The Senate settled the case by admitting fault – a rarity – and agreeing to redraw the lines with the House. Both chambers, however, came to an impasse over the best way to do that during a recent Special Session, ensuring that the courts would have to figure it out.

Reynolds now must figure out a configuration that also abides by the state constitution’s Fair Districts amendments. He has said he will likely pick one of five suggested maps, one submitted by the Senate and four from the plaintiffs, rather than combine elements or try to draw his own. Whatever Reynolds picks, it will have to go back to the Florida Supreme Court for final approval.

The judge also allowed the state’s elections supervisors to intervene in the case. Their attorney told him elections officials need to know the new Senate district map by mid-March 2016: Qualifying for state Senate seats begins June 20, and candidates have to know what district they’re in to run.

No. 8: Negron overcomes Latvala for Senate presidency

In November, the long, bitter race between Jack Latvala and Joe Negron for the 2016-18 Florida Senate presidency came to an end. Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, withdrew his name from consideration, deferring to Negron, a Stuart Republican.

Republicans control the 40-member chamber by 26-14. Latvala’s consolation prize was a promise that Negron would name him the Senate Appropriations committee chair. Negron had said in August that he had captured a majority of votes from the Senate’s Republican caucus to become head of his chamber for 2016-18, succeeding current President Andy Gardiner of Orlando. Latvala’s move, though, finally put a definitive end to the neck-and-neck and often contentious race.

No. 9: Scott clinches $3 billion blackjack deal with Seminole Tribe

After months of back and forth, Gov. Rick Scott announced in December a new deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida to allow it to continue offering blackjack at its casinos in return for a $3 billion cut of the take over seven years. Scott called the agreement the “largest revenue share guarantee in history.”

However, the new Seminole Compact must be reviewed and approved by federal officials and state lawmakers, some of whom blanched at the gambling expansion provisions tucked inside. The agreement would let the Seminoles add roulette and craps tables, as well as permit the Legislature to OK slot machines at the Palm Beach Kennel Club and allow blackjack at some South Florida racetracks “with some limitations.”

House Republican Leader Dana Young of Tampa tried pushing her own gambling overhaul legislation last Session that would have, among other things, allowed two destination resort casinos in South Florida. The legislation failed.

Young and other lawmakers soon gave mixed reviews on the compact’s chance of passage: “Any time you pick winners and losers, it is a very heavy lift in the Legislature,” she said.

No. 10: Medical marijuana finally gets moving in Florida

The state last year approved a mild strain of marijuana last year for children with severe epilepsy and patients with advanced  cancers. But bureaucratic and legal delays have held up the process of getting the drug to those who need it.

For instance, the awarding of licenses to nurseries that will grow the medicinal pot was challenged. Officials with the Department of Health first proposed awarding the licenses through a lottery. That was struck down by a judge.

A three-person committee was then established to screen applications and select the nurseries. But another hiccup struck that panel when one of its members picked for her financial background stepped down because her certified public accountant license was inactive. That board finally named the five nurseries on Nov. 23.

But by a December filing deadline, 13 challenges to the license awards had been lodged with the state Department of Health. Undeterred, Orlando trial attorney John Morgan is trying again for a constitutional amendment for medical marijuana. Also, bills have been filed for next Legislative Session that would allow stronger varieties of prescribed marijuana than the “Charlotte’s Web” strain.

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Cissy Proctor named new head of Dep’t of Economic Opportunity

Cissy Proctor, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity‘s chief of staff, will now lead the agency, Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday.

She takes over as the department’s executive director, succeeding Jesse Panuccio, on Jan. 9 — three days before the beginning of the 2016 Legislative Session.

FloridaPolitics.com first heard word of Proctor’s likely appointment earlier this month.

“Cissy has been a great member of the DEO team and has accomplished a lot during her time at the agency,” Scott said in a statement. “She has a strong background in legislative affairs, and I know she will be a great partner with the Florida Legislature to continue to diversify our economy.

“Her great work to support job growth for Florida families is a strong testament to the work she will do as executive director,” he added. “She will provide leadership and help make Florida first for jobs.”

Proctor, chief of staff since January, previously was DEO’s deputy legislative affairs director and director of the Division of Strategic Business Development.

Before that, she was an attorney at the Bryant Miller Olive firm from 2004-13. Proctor received her bachelor’s and law degrees from Florida State University.

Panuccio is departing for the private sector after the Florida Senate declined to confirm his appointment earlier this year. He likely faced another bruising confirmation process in the 2016 Legislative Session; Panuccio managed to earn the ire of key senators during his tenure.

Immediately after news of Proctor’s elevation, however, Senate President Andy Gardiner issued a news release praising her selection.

“With the beginning of the 2016 Legislative Session just a few weeks away, I am grateful to Gov. Scott for working to swiftly fill this critical position in his administration,” the Orlando Republican said. “Proctor has a long history with DEO …  I am certain this experience has prepared her well for the responsibility of leading this important agency and will aid in a smooth transition.

“My Senate colleagues and I look forward to working with Gov. Scott and Director Proctor on key policy and funding reforms that will make Florida first in the nation in job creation.”

A request for comment was sent to Proctor regarding her promotion; we’ll update when we hear back.

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The 5 most disappointing Florida politicians of 2015

As much as we would like to think otherwise, in politics, not everyone can be a winner.

To put it another way, as Judge Smails did in the eminently quotable Caddyshack: “The world needs ditch-diggers, too.”

Few will disagree that 2015 was a particularly fertile political year, one that produced a bumper crop of political disappointments – that’s what we get when the Legislature meets almost unceasingly in special session because it cannot agree on much of anything.

Of course, the key word in this analysis is “disappointing.” One cannot disappoint if they were not held in some regard beforehand.

So you won’t see U.S. Alan Grayson on this list, despite his year of bizarre statements and reports, such as the recent one that showed he profited from investing in a firm doing Iran oil deals while hitting Iran oil profiteers, revealing the “Senator with Guts” to be no more a gaping hypocrite.

Nor will you see state Rep. Frank Artiles, who by punching a college student, sponsoring discriminatory legislation targeting transgender Floridians, and boasting about wanting to kill bears, assembled a year of buffoonery seemingly designed to generate negative publicity.

Several other Florida pols could have made the list, especially two A-listers, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and U.S. Rep. Dan Webster; Atwater for his Hamletesque flirtation with running for the U.S. Senate and Webster for his quixotic pursuit of becoming Speaker of the U.S. House. But there was some nobility in both men’s ambitions, and both enjoyed otherwise strong years, so we’ll avoid, as Teddy Roosevelt warned against, pointing out where strong men stumbled.

So here is my list of the year’s most disappointing Florida politicians, in ascending order of disappointment.

Alvin Brown – Republican Lenny Curry is now so firmly in control of Jacksonville’s City Hall that it’s easy to forget that Brown, a Democrat with national cred and connections, entered 2015 with a double-digit lead in his re-election campaign. But Brown ran for a second term as he governed in the first, letting down too many of the moderate supporters who propelled him into office in 2011.

Don Gaetz – A case could be made for including the entire Florida Senate on this list. For so many reasons, Andy Gardiner‘s Senate has been so dysfunctional and inefficient, it’s made former Senate Mike Haridopolos‘ look like a modern-day Marcus Aemilius Scaurus. A case could also be made for specifically including Bill Galvano on this list as he has, step after step, bungled or stymied the court-ordered effort to redraw the state Senate districts. But it is Gaetz, a former Senate President, who best symbolizes the worst tendencies of the upper chamber. It’s because of Gaetz that the Legislature finds itself in court over those Senate districts. And when Gaetz took to the floor of the Senate, invoking a point of personal privilege, to personally attack another colleague, he plunged the Senate into one of its lowest points. In the past, we’ve held Senator Gaetz in high regard, but his actions this year remind us that legislative leaders are better off heading off into the sunset than sticking around after they’ve held the rostrum.

The Florida Cabinet – There may have been no sadder moment this year in Florida government than when the Florida Cabinet met at the state fair and did nothing to rebuke Governor Rick Scott for his illegal dismissal of FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey. A lawsuit alleging Scott and Cabinet members sidestepped the state’s Sunshine Law in the way they handled Bailey’s dismissal was settled, which led to one of the year’s best moments: Pat Gleason, the special counsel for open government in Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s office, giving Scott and Co. a 90-minute lecture on Florida’s broad public records and open meeting requirements.

Bob Buckhorn – The day after the 2014 elections, Hizzoner held an impromptu press conference and all but declared that he would run for governor in 2018. In fact, the Tampa mayor entered 2015 as the de facto frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. That was then; this is now. After a series of troubling scandals, including revelations that his police department disproportionately targeted black residents and that one of his chief political advisers, Beth Leytham, is nothing less than the Rasputin of Riverwalk, many Democrats now wonder if Buckhorn will even run in 2018. Meanwhile, his lackluster fundraising for his political committee, expected to be a vehicle for a 2018 run, isn’t inspiring much confidence.

Jeb Bush – Not since Willie Mays stumbled through the outfield during his last season of baseball as a New York Met have we witnessed a modern figure once so mighty laid low by the effects of time. Faced with higher expectations than the Uber IPO but with the financial resources of a small country, Bush went from presidential front-runner to cautionary tale in six months. His downward trajectory is not all his fault, as the GOP electorate appears more interested in electing a carnival barker than a president, but Bush is still mostly responsible for his single-digit standing. At times, the man who once bestrode Florida’s state government like a colossus, has struggled to assemble the most basic of responses, all while getting muscled out of the race by political neophytes (Donald Trump and Ben Carson) and his protege (Marco Rubio). Had Jeb Bush lived during the Elizabethan era, he certainly would have starred in one of Shakespeare’s tragedies.

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Andy Gardiner hopes to avoid health care funding dramas of last Session

Senate President Andy Gardiner says he expects a productive 2016 Legislative Session without the turmoil that fractured last session.

Gardiner, a Republican, spoke to FloridaPolitics.com Thursday in a pre-session interview. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli is scheduled to hold a similar question-and-answer session with news media next Friday.

But the issue that caused the last Session to implode without a state budget – health care funding – is still at play.

Florida uses a pot of local and federal cash, called the Low Income Pool (LIP), to give to hospitals as reimbursement for the unpaid care they provide to indigent patients.

But the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) cut its contribution by $1 billion this year, which forced lawmakers to use more than $400 million in state money to help “backfill” the decreases.

Next year CMS has promised to cut an additional $400 million as it follows through with a planned phaseout of the pool.

The feds want to nudge Florida into expanding Medicaid to more poor and working poor under the Affordable Care Act, a move staunchly opposed by the House’s GOP leadership.

“The question next is, do we put more general revenue in? Do we look at the (funding) formulas?” said Gardiner, an Orlando hospital executive.

He said he has asked state Sen. Rene Garcia, who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, to start running numbers early.

“You have to run all these models; it’s a very detailed, technical process to know what the reimbursements should be,” he said. “What we eventually do, I think it’s too early to tell. You have to look at what areas will have increased spending … We’re going to have to make some decisions.”

He also mentioned other health care topics, such as a move to eliminate “certificates of need” from the hospital construction and expansion process.

The process requires hospitals to show state regulators there’s a need in the community before they can build a new facility or expand an existing one.

It also applies to adding specialty treatment programs, such as organ transplants. Legislation for next year already has cleared some committees.

“We will take them very, very seriously,” Gardiner said. “The Senate will be very active on health care.”

The House and the Senate feuded with each other earlier this year about Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, with the Senate largely in favor.

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Is Rick Scott already getting cold feet on Seminole blackjack deal?

Gov. Rick Scott has told reporters he’ll “respect the decision” of the Legislature about the deal he struck with the Seminole Tribe of Florida renewing exclusive rights to offer blackjack at its casinos in return for $3 billion over seven years.

Scott briefly answered questions after this week’s Cabinet meeting in the Capitol on Tuesday morning.

He and others spent months going back and forth on the terms, heralding the details Monday night with a statement that the new agreement is the “largest revenue share guarantee in history.”

Less than 24 hours later, however, he largely deferred to lawmakers.

“I’m just the first part of the process,” Scott said. “Now it goes to the Legislature. I’ll respect the decision of President (Andy) Gardiner and Speaker (Steve) Crisafulli.

“It goes to them and they’ll make a decision if they want to look at the compact, if they want to bring it up for a vote, when they want to bring it up for a vote,” Scott said. “I took the time to do a historic compact. It’s good for the state. But the Legislature will decide whether they want to go forward.”

In fact, within hours of the deal’s release, lawmakers began sowing it with seeds of doubt.

House Republican Leader Dana Young of Tampa, for instance, told FloridaPolitics.com that “any time you pick winners and losers, it is a very heavy lift in the Legislature.”

Young, whose own gambling overhaul legislation died last session, said Scott’s deal favored tribal gambling at the expense of “the free market,” she said.

“You know that you need 61 votes” in the 120-member House, state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz told the Associated Press. The Miami Republican helped negotiate the deal. “How you get there is a matter of compromise and creativity.”

Blackjack has been big money for the tribe and for the state. In 2010, the tribe agreed to pay at least $1 billion into the state treasury for rights to offer the card game at seven of its casinos, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa.

The blackjack provision expired this year and had to be renewed, though not before both sides sued each other in federal court. The future of those cases is unclear.

At a holiday press breakfast Tuesday, Gardiner – an Orlando Republican – told reporters he doesn’t want to build the expected money from the new Seminole Compact into the 2016-17 state budget.

“I am not sure it would be responsible for us at this point to build a budget if you don’t know you are really going to get (the money),” Gardiner said, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

He did say the Senate will debate and vote on the agreement in the 2016 Legislative Session.

Florida Politics writer Ryan Ray contributed to this report. 

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Richard Corcoran promises blue skies with Joe Negron

Richard Corcoran, who will be speaker of the Florida House of Representatives at the same time Joe Negron is Senate president, called him a “good friend” and “an intelligent and principled leader.”

Corcoran sat in the front row at Negron’s designation ceremony Wednesday. The Land O’ Lakes Republican had his own designation ceremony in September.

“I know that, together, we can bring a new spirit of partnership to the Florida Legislature,” Corcoran said in a prepared statement.

Relations between the two chambers, both controlled by Republicans, have been following a sine-wave pattern in recent years.

For example, Senate President Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon, in charge during 2010-12, presided over the 2011 “midnight meltdown.”

Both chambers were virtually at each other’s throats over a potpourri of priorities, such as claims bills and tax breaks. They adjourned separately in the wee hours of the morning, eschewing the traditional joint “hanky drop” that marks the end of session.

Next were Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford, who, as The Tampa Tribune put it, “presented a united policy front for the two sessions over which they presided.

Lawmakers passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law overhauls of campaign finance, ethics and elections law, and expanded access to school vouchers.

“With most presidents and most speakers, when their two years are up, you’re lucky if they’re still talking to each other,” Weatherford told the Tribune. “Don Gaetz and I are better friends now than when we started two years ago.”

The pendulum swung back this past session, the first under Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.

The House went home three days early after the chambers deadlocked over health care funding, forcing a special session to finish the 2015-16 state budget.

Subsequent Special Sessions for congressional and state Senate district redistricting similarly ended in failure and acrimony, with lawmakers unable to agree on remedial maps, leaving it to the courts to decide.

At one point during the congressional redistricting Session, the Senate’s lead negotiator, Bill Galvano of Bradenton, even stormed out of a public meeting with his House counterpart, Jose Oliva of Miami Lakes, saying the Senate wasn’t going to budge.

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Now it’s official: Joe Negron designated next Senate President

The next president of the Florida Senate is calling for an extra billion dollars in spending on the state’s universities, calling them “special, exceptional places.”

State Sen. Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, was formally elected president for 2016-18 in a Wednesday designation ceremony of the chamber’s GOP caucus. Republicans outnumber Democrats 26-14. He will succeed current President Andy Gardiner after the 2016 Legislative Session.

His selection capped off a nearly 2-year-long neck-and-neck and often contentious race between him and Sen. Jack Latvala. The Clearwater Republican ended the race by conceding to Negron earlier this month and agreeing to become Senate budget chief during his term.

In his acceptance speech, the 54-year-old Negron laid out his leadership plan, including the billion-dollar spending boost in higher education. That would include money to recruit and retain faculty and refurbish or replace aging campus facilities.

Gov. Rick Scott has championed higher education as well, but also has desired significant tax cuts each year, including $1 billion in decreases for 2016-17.

Negron later told reporters he “talked to the governor” about his plan but didn’t say what his fellow Republican thought about it.

“I think we can do tax cuts that are reasonable and measured and also do some of the budget priorities,” Negron said.

“The governor believes strongly that our universities are an important part of our economic growth and development,” he added. “But I’m committed in ’17 and ’18 to adding an additional billion dollars to our universities.”

He also called for solving South Florida’s water pollution. The Indian River Lagoon estuary, along Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin counties, has long been tainted by agricultural-fertilizer runoff from nearby Lake Okeechobee.

But environmental advocates have been frustrated at the Legislature’s take on funding Amendment 1, the state’s constitutional provision passed last year that requires revenue from real estate taxes to be spent on the environment. This past session, lawmakers OK’d only $55 million to purchase property for conservation.

Negron said he was in favor of bonding, or borrowing money, to pay for conservation and remediation of the lake and its environs something House Republicans don’t want to do. “Land acquisition is not the only way to do it,” he said.

Negron, a lawyer in private practice, also said in his speech that Florida should stop “criminalizing adolescence.” He used the example of his pelting passing cars with water balloons as a teen.

“Today, we would have been arrested,” he said, adding that some juvenile matters can be handled outside traditional courtrooms. He mentioned civil citations for low-level offenses.

“We don’t want to stigmatize young people who made a poor judgment call,” he said, with the punishment “following them for the rest of their life.”

Negron concluded his speech with a reference to Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor who spoke against the Nazi regime in the 1940s and was executed near the end of the war.

“May his life of courage inspire us as we represent the people of Florida,” Negron said.

The ceremony was capped off by a video clip of well wishes from Negron’s boyhood hero, Atlanta Braves great Dale Murphy.

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This Thanksgiving, Florida politicians have much to be grateful for

From the diners and town halls of Iowa and New Hampshire to the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee and from … to Charlie Crist’s waterfront condominium in St. Petersburg, politicians across Florida will gather at Thanksgiving dinner tables to celebrate the most American of holidays.

Before they dig into dishes of stuffed Florida zucchini and yellow squash Parmesan and Florida snap beans with caramelized onions and mushrooms, and scalloped Florida potatoes (recipes courtesy of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam), these elected officials and candidates will share with their family and friends that for which they are most grateful.

Once God, country, family, and good fortune are given their due, here’s what some of the Florida’s politicians should be thankful for:

On the presidential level, the entire Republican field should be ecstatic about the flubbed foreign policy under the Obama administration and Hillary’s email woes. Yet, they’ve managed to completely offset that advantage in the general election by doubling down on the alienation strategy of demonizing minority groups that will likely decide who becomes president.

Fundamentally, Donald Trump is the single luckiest politician this year by becoming the personification of the unfocused rage and fear of white America as they see their paychecks stagnate, their debt climb, their culture erode, and America’s power (and with it, our security) decline across the globe. Whatever happened to a world where you could take a vacation without crushing credit card debt, it didn’t cost as much as a house to send your kid to college, your house was worth more than you paid for it, and men weren’t kissing men at our church altars? Middle America is frightened and pissed. And, of course, all of this is amplified as never before by an ever-shrinking news cycle and the unchecked cacophony of social media.

Jeb Bush should be thankful that his he was able to raise money for his super PAC before officially becoming a candidate for president. Were Bush limited to just what his campaign has raised, he’d probably be out of the race by now. Instead, he still has close to $100 million behind him — enough to keep him in the game until at least January.

Marco Rubio has to still be thanking his lucky stars for whoever it was who advised Bush to attempt to directly attack him during the candidate debate in Boulder, Colorado. He’s been a month-long tear since that Darth Vader vs. Obi-Wan clash and increasingly looks like the leading choice of the GOP establishment.

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has to be thankful for the FedEx driver or the mailman or whoever keeps losing the letter from Barack Obama firing her for job not well done.

On the state level, Rick Scott has benefited from the dysfunction between the House and Senate because, for once, our do-nothing governor doesn’t look ineffective by comparison. Scott can traverse the state and do ribbon cuttings at WaWa stores without fear of being upstaged by his legislative counterparts.

Adam Putnam has 3 million reasons to be grateful this year. That’s how many dollars he’s already raised for his expected 2018 gubernatorial bid.

Patrick Murphy owes Jeff Atwater a thank-you note for his Hamletesque flirtation with running for the U.S. Senate. While Atwater hemmed and hawed, the four Republicans looking to replace Rubio were frozen in place, as Murphy continued to raise money and consolidate the support of moderate Republicans.

John Morgan and other medical marijuana supporters owe a debt of gratitude to Attorney General Pam Bondi for not filing an opposition to their ballot initiative and to the Florida Supreme Court for subsequently canceling oral arguments.

Allison Tant and Florida Democrats had little to be thankful for after last November’s elections, but with redrawn congressional and state Senate maps, the Dems have their first chance at electoral relevance in more than a decade. They can thank the folks who sponsored the Fair Districts amendments, as well as Barbara Pariente and the rest of the Supreme Court justices who are making sure they are implemented, for this opportunity.

It’s crazy to think that Charlie Crist, having twice this decade lost statewide race, would have a political reason to be thankful, but, after the Florida Supreme Court ordered the state’s congressional districts redrawn with a seat all but hand-carved for Crist, the former governor has reason again to be grateful.

Senate President Andy Gardiner is both thankful and relieved that the two rivals to succeed him — Joe Negron and Jack Latvala — reached a deal where Negron will take the top spot while Latvala will be in appropriations chairman. Peace in your time, Mr. Senate President.

Gardiner’s counterpart, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, remains grateful session after session that he has the 40 state Senators — or Somalian warlords as one member described them — across the hall from him, all of whom seem to want to go out of their way to make the House look like the deliberate chamber and the Senate the raucous one.

Former House Speaker Will Weatherford is perhaps the luckiest politician in Florida because he ended his term on a high note (passing in-state tuition for the children of illegal aliens) and by and large avoided the protracted food fight over Medicaid expansion. Compared with the current cast of characters he looks like Winston Churchill.

For a presidential race featuring five candidates with ties to Florida, for a Legislature that would have difficulty organizing a two-car parade, and for a constant stream of zany “Florida Man” stories, count this and other political writers especially grateful. For there is no more interesting cast of characters or story lines than those found in the Sunshine State.

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Senate panel approves changes to Florida “Early Steps Program”

A Senate committee voted Thursday to introduce a bill that would improve state programs for infants and toddlers with developmental delays.

Proposed by the Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs, SB 7034 renames the Infants and Toddlers Early Intervention Program to the “Early Steps Program” and requires the Florida Department of Health to make information on early developmental conditions available to parents online and to train health care workers how to identify and respond to such conditions.

“The Early Steps program and the early intervention services it provides are critical to establishing Florida’s complete cradle to career pathway to economic independence for people with unique abilities,” Senate President Andy Gardiner said. “Last year, the Legislature significantly increased recurring funding for this important work. The key policy improvements in this legislation will make certain effective services are available for children in need at a time when it is going to make the biggest difference in their lives.”

The program is rooted in the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, passed in 1975 to ensure children with developmental disabilities equal access to public education. The Senate bill is one of many introduced in the 2016 session as part of “Cradle to Career,” which aims to increase financial independence among developmentally disabled Floridians.

All Florida newborns would be eligible for a developmental disability screening under the proposed law and, if one is found, Early Steps offices will coordinate program benefits with the family’s insurance benefit to best help the child. DOH would also be responsible for creating program standards for Early Steps offices reporting their performance to the governor and Legislature annually.

The four committee members in attendance voted unanimously to introduce the bill.

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