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Joe Negron formally elected as Senate President

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Senate President Joe Negron can drop the “designate” from his title.

Florida senators voted unanimously to elect Negron as the 87th president of the Florida Senate during its organizational meeting.

“There’s one thing about Joe Negron, he’s always respectful and kind. He truly cares about those that he represents. While Joe is thoughtful and considerate, he’s also smart and not afraid to take on the tough issues,” said Sen. Denise Grimsley, a Sebring Republican, in her nominating speech. “Joe Negron will lead the Senate to a better tomorrow.”

Senate Republicans designated Negron as their leader in December 2015, ending a bitter battle between Negron and Sen. Jack Latvala for the presidency. Latvala will serve as chairman of the powerful appropriations committee.

Negron used a brief speech Tuesday to once again outline priorities for his presidency. Negron has vowed to focus on higher education and work toward stopping Lake Okeechobee discharges during his two years as president.

Cleaning up the waterways has long been a passion for Negron. During the 2014 legislative session, he was the chairman of the Senate’s Select Committee on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin. And he sponsored the Legacy Florida Act, which sets aside a portion of Amendment 1 dollars to be spent on Everglades restoration projects and springs restoration.

Negron said since Jan. 1, 225 billion gallons of water have been released from Lake Okeechobee east into Treasure Coast waterways. Another 549 billion gallons, Negron said, have been released west into Southwest Florida’s waterways.

“Is this really the best we can do in the United States of America in 2016? When Lake Okeechobee rises to 15.5 or 16 feet, with all the technology, all the brilliance we have, here’s our solution: We’re going to send (the water) east and west to communities where millions of people live,” said Negron. “I refuse to accept that. I think we can do a lot better.”

Negron said the state needs to expedite existing projects, insist the federal government complete strengthening of the Herbert Hoover Dam and increase water storage south of Lake Okeechobee.

But a push to buy more land to increase storage could be met with some pushback. The Legislature will have just $7.5 million in unallocated money to spend during the 2017 legislative session, and could face shortfalls worth $1.3 billion in 2018 and $1.9 billion the following year.

The iffy revenues likely weren’t on the minds of lawmakers, as they took a moment to celebrate their victories after a long election season. The Senate welcomed 20 new members Tuesday, one of the largest turnovers in the recent years.

Members also voted to elect Sen. Anitere Flores as Senate president pro tempore, marking the first time a Hispanic female has held the position in the Senate.

“Sen. Flores is a loyal friend and a trusted ally,” said Negron. “I know she will be a great leader for all of us in the Senate.”

On Monday, Senate Democrats elected Sen. Oscar Braynon to serve as Democratic leader and Sen. Lauren Book to serve as Democratic leader pro tempore. Book, the daughter of lobbyist Ron Book, was just elected for her first term in the Florida Senate.

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