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Joe Negron announces Senate committee leadership, membership

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Florida Senate President Joe Negron on Tuesday released leadership posts, including four Democrats, and committee assignments for the 2017 and 2018 Legislative Sessions.

Wilton Simpson of Trilby is now Senate Republican Leader and Kelli Stargel of Lakeland is the deputy leader.

Simpson, a Pasco County farmer, is on track to assume the Senate presidency himself in 2020-22 as long as the GOP maintains its controlling majority.

As previously announced, Jack Latvala of Clearwater takes the reins of the Appropriations Committee, one of the most powerful positions in the Legislature.

His eight budget subcommittee heads will be:

Aaron Bean, Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice.

Rob Bradley, Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources.

Stargel, Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax.

Denise Grimsley, Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government.

Anitere Flores, Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services. She is also Senate president pro tempore.

Bill Galvano, Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education.

David Simmons, Appropriations Subcommittee on Pre-K – 12 Education.

Jeff Brandes, Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development.

The rest of the leadership picks for committees are:

Keith Perry chairs Agriculture. Perry recently was elected to the Senate after serving in the House since 2010.

Flores chairs Banking and Insurance. Flores is an ally and confidante of Negron; the Miami-Dade resident officially nominated him for president at his December designation ceremony.

Rene Garcia chairs Children, Families, and Elder Affairs. Garcia has been in the Senate since 2010.   

Bill Montford chairs Commerce and Tourism. The Tallahassee Democrat was Leon County superintendent of schools before being elected to the Senate. 

Frank Artiles chairs Communications, Energy, and Public Utilities. He’s another new senator elected this year after serving in the House.   

Tom Lee chairs Community Affairs. The Brandon Republican, who was Senate President in 2004-06, was most recently the Senate’s budget chief.   

Randolph Bracy chairs Criminal Justice. He’s another Democrat in leadership, and another new member, also coming from the House. 

Dorothy Hukill chairs Education. The Port Orange lawyer recently announced she was diagnosed with cervical cancer, is undergoing treatment, and is expected to fully recover. She previously chaired the Finance and Tax panel.

Lauren Book chairs Environmental Preservation and Conservation. She’s still another Democrat in leadership, a new member from South Florida, and daughter of legendary lobbyist Ron Book.   

Kathleen Passidomo chairs Ethics and Elections. She joined the Senate from the House this year, beating out former Speaker pro tem Matt Hudson to replace term-limited Sen. Garrett Richter in her GOP-heavy Southwest Florida district.   

Dennis Baxley chairs Governmental Oversight and Accountability. He’s yet another new crossover from the House to the Senate.   

Dana Young chairs Health Policy. The Tampa Republican won her seat after serving as House Republican Leader the last two years.   

Greg Steube chairs Judiciary. The Sarasota Republican was in the House before his election to the Senate in November. He’s a lawyer and Army veteran, having served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps

Audrey Gibson chairs Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security. The Jacksonville Democrat was elected in 2011 after serving in the House.

Travis Hutson chairs Regulated Industries. Hutson has been in the Senate since 2015, winning a special election after former Sen. John Thrasher stepped down to become president of Florida State University. The committee usually takes the lead on gambling issues, including the Seminole Compact.   

Lizbeth Benacquisto chairs Rules. She’s another ally of Negron’s and seconded his nomination as president at the designation ceremony.   

George Gainer chairs Transportation. He’s another brand new senator, filling the Panhandle seat vacated by term-limited Sen. Don Gaetz.  

A full list of committee membership is here.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at

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