Negron declares ‘zero tolerance for sexual harassment’ as Florida Senate opens

Florida Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, addresses the chamber at the start of the 2018 session. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

TALLAHASSEE — After two members resigned amid controversies over their sexual behavior, Florida Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, opened the Senate’s 2018 session this morning by declaring “zero tolerance” for sexual harassment or misconduct and pledging to update the Senate’s policies for addressing the issue.

Former Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens of Atlantis resigned in October after admitting to an extramarital affair with a lobbyist and Republican Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater resigned last month after an investigation found credible evidence of sexual misconduct.

“Let me be clear, the Florida Senate has zero tolerance for sexual harassment or misconduct of any kind against any employee or visitor,” Negron said at the beginning of his remarks to the Senate. “State government should lead by example in instituting policies that ensures employees feel safe when they come to work and comfortable to confidentially report inappropriate behavior by any person.”

Negron said that Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, is leading the Senate’s effort “to update its administrative policy on sexual and workplace harassment to make it even more abundantly clear to employees to anyone else that they can and should report sexual or workplace harassment to anyone they feel comfortable speaking with.”

Negron added: “I want every Senate employee to hear me when I say that as your president I am committed to ensuring that we all have a safe workplace environment to do the people’s business.”

Latvala on leave from committee post; Scott weighs in on allegations

State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, talks to reporters in August after launching his campaign for governor in Hialeah. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Facing a Florida Senate investigation of allegations he has groped and harassed women, state Sen. and Republican governor candidate Jack Latvala is taking a temporary leave of absence from his powerful perch as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The status of Latvala’s GOP bid for governor was not immediately clear. He has vehemently denied the allegations, which were initially reported by Politico based on accounts from six unnamed women who work in in the Capitol as lobbyists or legislative staff.

Gov. Rick Scott today weighed in on the matter for the first time, calling the allegations “disgusting.” The News Service of Florida quoted Scott as saying: “It’s very important that there’s an investigation and we know what happened. If anybody has done anything wrong, they need to be out of office.”

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, announced this morning that he has installed Sen. Rob Bradley as Appropriations chairman while Latvala is investigated. Negron’s announcement was accompanied by a letter from Latvala requesting temporary leave “until this matter is resolved.”

Latvala, in his letter, added: “I look forward to defending myself against these untruthful allegations and believe I will be fully exonerated.”

Politico reported that it spoke to six women who said Latvala “inappropriately touched them without their consent or uttered demeaning remarks about their bodies.” Politico said the women making the accusations did not want to be identified because they feared losing their jobs or other reprisals.

 

 

Hastings, Deutch, Frankel join Wasserman Schultz campaign against Confederate statue

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wassermann Schultz, D-Weston, has enlisted Florida’s entire Democratic House delegation in calling for speeding up the planned removal of Florida’s statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith from the U.S. Capitol.

Two weeks after U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, called for a special session of the Florida Legislature to speed up the replacement of a statue of a Confederate general, her effort has been joined by the three Democrats in Palm Beach County’s U.S. House delegation: Reps. Alcee Hastings, Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel.

Florida’s other U.S. Capitol statue honors air conditioning impresario John Gorrie

Wasserman Schultz sent a letter to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, asking for the legislature to accelerate the already-in-the-works replacement of the statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, which is one of two statues representing Florida in the U.S. Capitol.

(Florida’s other statue in the Capitol is of John Gorrie, considered the father of air conditioning.)

Scott signed a 2016 bill calling for the replacement of the Confederate statue. But legislators haven’t settled on a new Florida figure to honor. A committee has recommended three finalists: Educator and civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune; Everglades preservation icon Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Publix founder George Jenkins.

Wasserman Schultz says legislators can convene a special session and pick a replacement when they gather in Tallahassee for committee hearings in September. When she initially raised the matter, a Scott spokesman said no special session is warranted and the issue can be brought up when the legislature meets in its regular session in January. Corcoran accused Wasserman Schultz of “grandstanding.”

Wasserman Schultz’s letter has been signed by all 11 Democratic members of Florida’s U.S. House delegation.

Health care: Marco Rubio wants Florida input; Bill Nelson slams GOP bill

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, left, and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio will decide whether to support a Republican health care bill “on the basis of how it impacts Florida,” his office said this afternoon.

Rubio’s office characterized the just-unveiled legislation as a work in progress as four other Senate Republicans  — Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — issued a joint statement saying they are “not ready to vote for this bill, but we are open to negotiation and obtaining more information before it is brought to the floor.”

Overturning former President Barack Obama‘s signature health care law was a top campaign pledge of President Donald Trump and much of the GOP. The House has passed a version that Trump initially celebrated but later reportedly called “mean.”

Republicans hold a 52-seat majority in the Senate, so more than two GOP defections will doom the bill if Democrats are united against it.

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who’s up for re-election next year, blasted the GOP legislation and the way it was drafted.

“Now we know why they tried to keep this secret,” Nelson said in a statement released by his office. “This bill is just as bad as the House bill, taking coverage away from millions of people and making huge cuts to Medicaid. If that weren’t enough, it also allows insurance companies to hike rates for older Americans. Fixing our nation’s health care system shouldn’t be a partisan issue. We should be working together, not plotting behind closed doors to make it worse.”

Rubio has already spoken with Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, and invited their staffs to Washington “to help us formulate changes and amendments to this proposal,” said a statement released by Rubio’s office. Rubio also wants to hear from health care providers, insurers and patient advocates, his office said.

Here’s the full statement from Rubio’s office:

“Senator Rubio will decide how to vote on health care on the basis of how it impacts Florida. He has already spoken to Governor Scott, Senate President Negron and Speaker Corcoran about the first draft of this proposal. He has instructed his staff to share with state leaders the first draft and has asked them to run numbers and provide input on how this initial proposal would impact Florida’s Medicaid program and individual insurance marketplace. He has invited them to send staff to Washington next week to help us formulate changes and amendments to this proposal. He will continue to reach out for input and suggested changes from Florida providers, insurers and patient advocate groups.”

Rick Scott hails Donald Trump as ‘partner’ to fix Lake Okeechobee dike

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, and Gov. Rick Scott talk about the 2017-18 budget at the South Florida Water Management District headquarters today.

Transformed from fiscal foes to budget buddies, Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, stopped in Palm Beach County today to highlight the $83 billion budget lawmakers approved last week after months of disagreement.

Scott also saluted President Donald Trump as a “partner” in efforts to accelerate repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee.

Corcoran and Scott answer questions from reporters in West Palm Beach.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to spend $930 million in federal money on dike projects through 2025. Scott hopes to get the repairs done by 2022. Florida’s 2017-18 budget includes $50 million toward dike repairs, with Scott expressing hope the state will be reimbursed by the federal government.

“Under President Obama I kept asking for help with the dike and we didn’t get anywhere,” Scott told reporters at the South Florida Water Management District headquarters in unincorporated West Palm Beach. “President Trump has committed to being a partner. He’s going to make sure we get that dike finished. My goal is to get the dike finished by 2022.”

Asked how Florida will get reimbursed, Scott said, “We’re still working through how that would happen.”

Scott said Florida has made similar arrangements with the Corps for a Port of Miami dredging and a project in Jacksonville.

“We have to take care of our state. This is part of our state. It might be a federal project, but the dike’s important to everybody, especially in this part of the state,” Scott said.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Mack Bernard, left, joins House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Gov. Rick Scott at a lemonade stand outside the South Florida Water Management District headquarters.

Scott said part-time Palm Beach resident Trump understands the importance of Lake Okeechobee.

“I sat down with President Trump and I let him know the importance of the dike and he had some knowledge of the dike because he’s been down here in Palm Beach,” Scott said. “And so he is committed to making sure we get that done. Now, every dollar adds to, accelerates it. My goal is to get it done by 2022. In his case, he’s going to work through Congress getting it done. I’m going to continue to work through the speaker and the Senate to have funding every year to get this done.”

Scott and Corcoran are visiting five Florida cities today to promote the budget. Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, couldn’t make the tour because he and other Senate Republicans are attending a previously scheduled fundraising retreat in California.

Corcoran slammed business incentives favored by Scott as “corporate welfare,” but ended up agreeing to $85 million in incentive money after the program was changed to benefit public projects rather than specific private businesses. Corcoran also relented on tourist-promotion money after saying he was satisfied that additional accountability safeguards were added in.

Many Tallahassee insiders speculate that Corcoran agreed to some of Scott’s spending priorities in exchange for the governor’s agreement to sign a Corcoran-backed education bill, HB 7069, that promotes charter schools. Both Corcoran and Scott said no deal was struck. Scott said he is still “reviewing” the education bill before deciding whether to sign or veto it.

Mystery mailers from Illinois target Joe Negron as special session begins

Mailer from an Illinois address hits state Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, over an education bill.

As Florida lawmakers begin a special session in Tallahassee today to address a budget agreement between Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders, voters in state Senate President Joe Negron‘s Treasure Coast-Palm Beach district are getting mailers from a newly formed Illinois-based PAC criticizing Negron’s role in an education bill that’s closely identified with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes.

HB 7069 promotes charter schools and has drawn the wrath of teacher unions and others who say it will weaken traditional public schools. After passage by the House and Senate, it’s up to Scott to sign or veto the bill, which was a top priority of Corcoran.

Corcoran softened his hard-line opposition to funding business and tourism incentives and agreed to increase public school funding in the budget deal with Scott. Many Tallahassee watchers believe Corcoran moved toward Scott’s position on the budget in exchange for a pledge from the governor to sign HB 7069. Scott, however, said he’s still reviewing Corcoran’s bill.

Negron, a Republican from Stuart, also supports HB 7069.

The mailer from a group called SunshinePac from Evanston, Illinois, criticizes HB 7069 and focuses on Negron rather than Corcoran.

SunshinePac was formed May 25 as a federal committee, according to Federal Election Committee records. It is headed by John Hennelly, a former Florida director for the Service Employees International Union who’s now a consultant with the liberal Chicago-based firm Democracy Partners.

Donors to SunshinePac won’t be revealed until the organization files its first FEC report in July.

“What has politician Joe Negron been up to in Tallahassee this Session? Making backroom deals and our schools are paying the price,” says one side of the mailer, which shows a picture of Negron and Corcoran but doesn’t identify the House speaker.

“Behind closed doors, Joe Negron and his friends in Tallahassee passed HB 7069 which takes away much needed funding to our public schools,” the other side of the mailer says. It urges recipients to “Call Governor Rick Scott…and tell him to VETO Negron’s Deal (HB 7069) and stand up for our students!”

Negron is Senate president through 2018. He’s been mentioned as a potential candidate for attorney general (a position he briefly sought in 2006), but said Tuesday: “I’m completely focused on being Senate president right now.”

 

Rick Scott, top lawmakers agree on more money for schools, tourism, businesses

Gov. Rick Scott (left), Senate President Joe Negron (top) and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, have struck a budget deal that will put more money into schools, tourist promotion and business incentives — if legislators agree during a special session in Tallahassee next week.

Scott signed an $83 billion budget for 2017-18 and used his line-item veto authority to nix $410 million worth of specific projects to pay for the new spending. The governor ordered a special session to begin Wednesday and end Friday.

The governor’s veto list is to be released later today.

Scott’s office says the deal adds $215 million for K-12 education and puts $85 million into a new “Job Growth Grant Fund” to replace a business incentive program legislators killed over Scott’s objections. The deal also puts $76 million into the Visit Florida program that lawmakers slashed when they approved the budget last month.

Scott, unhappy that his priorities were ignored in their 2017-18 budget, had dangled the possibility of vetoing the entire budget. No governor has done that since 1992.

Corcoran, who pushed for slashing the tourism and business incentive money, appeared to be on board in a statement released by the governor’s office.

“I am proud to stand with Governor Scott as we fight for continued strong job creation, giving every child a competitive and world class education, ensuring Florida competes as a tourist destination, and faithfully stewarding taxpayer dollars — goals that unify us,” Corcoran said in the statement.

 

Today: Gov. Rick Scott in Palm Beach County to sign Lake Okeechobee reservoir bill

Algae bloom on Lake Okeechobee in 2016. A reservoir south of the lake is intended to reduce discharges that have harmed Treasure Coast waterways to the east.

Gov. Rick Scott will be in westernmost Palm Beach County this morning to sign a bill to create a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce the need for discharges that have polluted Treasure Coast waterways.

The legislation was a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who also plans to attend the bill signing.

The signing ceremony is set for 10 a.m. at John Stretch Park along State Road 80 between South Bay and Clewiston.

The legislation authorizes a 60,000-acre reservoir  “to maximize the reduction of high-volume Lake Okeechobee regulatory releases to the St. Lucie or Caloosahatchee estuaries, in addition to providing relief to the Lake Worth Lagoon.” It calls for $33 million in the year that begins July 1 and $64 million a year afterward to retire $800 million in bonds.

“This legislation provides a clear plan to address this plague on our communities in a manner that respects the interests of the agricultural community and private landowners,” Negron said last week as legislators gave final passage.

Senate panel to review challenge to Riviera Beach’s Powell

Newly elected Sen. Bobby Powell, D-Riviera Beach, faces  a Senate "contest" from his Republican opponent.
Newly elected Sen. Bobby Powell, D-Riviera Beach, faces a Senate “contest” from his Republican opponent.

Riviera Beach Democratic state Sen. Bobby Powell’s courtroom victory this week may not be the last word in whether he retains that seat.

A day after a judge dismissed a lawsuit seeking a re-do election for Powell’s seat, Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, appointed a credentials committee Tuesday to consider to whether the Democrat should continue serving.

Powell’s Republican challenger, Ron Berman, filed the “contest” a day before the Democrat was sworn-in on Nov. 22. Powell carried 54 percent of the vote on Nov. 8 in defeating Berman.

Berman, though, unsuccessfully sought to stop Powell’s swearing-in since Ruben Anderson, a Democrat who never made the primary ballot because of a bounced qualifying check, had filed a lawsuit that was dismissed Monday by Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis.

Lewis said he did not have jurisdiction to decide whether Powell should be seated. Instead, Lewis said it was up to the Senate to decide.

The five-member Senate credentials committee appointed by Negron is chaired by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, who formerly represented the Wellington-area. The panel is comprised of three Republicans and two Democrats and is not expected to meet until January.

Coming soon from Washington, Tallahassee? More charter, voucher schools

President-elect Donald Trump’s choice of Michigan school choice advocate Betsy DeVos as new education secretary is viewed as a clear signal he is serious about steering $20 billion to states to help children enroll in charters and private schools.

New Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, another choice proponent, also drew stark battle lines by condemning the state teachers union as “evil” last month in addressing the state House for the first time as its leader.

“Where there is competition, especially in the education arena, it’s shown that public schools actually get better,” Corcoran told The Palm Beach Post.

Full story:  http://bit.ly/2gX0U0F