Joe Negron

Sexual harassment allegations create “awkward” mood in Senate

Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, took over as the upper chamber’s powerful budget chief Monday after Senate President Joe Negron told Sen. Jack Latvala to step aside, at least for now.

Bradley’s no stranger to the budget process. The former prosecutor has chaired three budget subcommittees since joining the Senate five years ago.

Negron stripped Latvala of his post as Appropriations Committee chairman following allegations that the Clearwater Republican groped women and made unwelcome verbal comments about their bodies. Latvala, who is running for governor, is out of the post while an investigation, ordered by Negron, is pending, the Senate president said Monday.

Latvala has steadfastly denied the allegations, vowing to clear his name.

The investigation into the alleged misconduct by Latvala comes after a high-ranking Democrat, Jeff Clemens, resigned from his Senate seat after admitting he had an affair with a lobbyist.

Bradley said he’s “going to keep the trains moving on time” to make sure the budget process keeps on track in Latvala’s absence.

When asked about the mood of the Senate following Clemens’s exit and the accusations against Latvala, Bradley said it was “awkward.”

“It’s an awkward situation that we find ourselves in. Ever since the Harvey Weinstein story and the Roger Ailes story became national news, I think there’s been an appropriate focus on sexual mistreatment in the workplace. It’s no surprise that Tallahassee isn’t immune from those dynamics and those discussions,” Bradley said in an interview Monday afternoon. “My focus is on making sure that anyone who has been the victim of sexual misconduct while either working for the Senate or visiting the Senate feels completely comfortable coming forward and sharing their experiences.”

Bradley said he was sickened by the allegations.

“What I hear, in terms of how other people perceive they’ve been treated, how other people have been treated, and this concern about retribution going forward, all of that makes me sick to my stomach,” he said.

The spotlight on sexual harassment and sexually inappropriate behavior, as awkward and uncomfortable as it may be, could be a good thing, Bradley said.

“For too long, there was a discomfort in people sharing those experiences, and that’s wrong. I think in some ways, this is going to result in positive changes for how Tallahassee does business, just like I think there’s positive changes for how people to business in the private sector and government throughout our country,” he said.

Some female lobbyists are complaining that the scrutiny is making it harder for them to do their jobs: Some male lawmakers and aides  are refusing to meet after-hours or privately with the women.

Bradley said he treats everyone equally, and called on his colleagues and lashed out at anyone who’s excluding women.

“This concept that women feel like they’re going to be disadvantaged because men are less inclined to deal with females or work with females because they’re afraid of being misconstrued, I think that’s a bunch of hogwash,” he said. “I think it’s hogwash to say that you’re going to change your behavior and not allow women to interact with you under the same set of rules, I think that’s hogwash to make such a statement. Women and men need to be treated equally in this process. And whatever rules one has for dealing with men, they need to have the same rules for dealing with women. It should all be professional.”

UPDATE: Berman apologizes to Senate prez over sexual harassment email

State Rep. Lori Berman, a Lantana Democrat hoping to win an open Senate seat, called  Senate President Joe Negron to clear up an email issued by her campaign regarding Negron’s sexual harassment policy.

The email, issued earlier in the day, called Negron’s policy “shameful.”

The message — which wasn’t a fundraising message, Berman pointed out — to Negron was not intended “to make him an issue but rather to improve the policy,” Berman told us in a text message.

Berman is seeking to replace former state Sen. Jeff Clemens, who resigned from the Senate on Friday after admitting he had an extramarital affair with a lobbyist.

“I left the conversation feeling he his personally committed to ensuring a zero tolerance sexual sexual harassment policy. I am pleased he has taken the initiative to work with Senator Benacquisto to revisit the Senate Policy,” Berman said in a text message.

Berman didn’t exactly call it an apology, but the Senate president did.

Negron said Berman reached out to him “to apologize for her overzealous campaign” that had sent the letter in response to earlier news reports.

“I have accepted Rep. Berman’s apology. I have zero tolerance for sexual harassment in the workplace and urge anyone who has been a victim of sexual harassment to confidentially report it. Allegations of sexual harassment are taken very seriously and there will be appropriate consequences for any individual violating Senate rules in this regard,” Negron, R-Stuart, said.

Lawmakers bad for business? Nah, just so-so

We would have been in deep trouble for earning a ‘C’ average back in the day, but that’s the grade the Florida Chamber of Commerce gave the GOP-dominated Legislature for its work this session.

The Chamber, one of the most influential business lobbying outfits in Tallahassee, granted just a single ‘A’ grade to a member of the upper chamber: Former Senate President Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa (who actually pulled off an ‘A-‘ on the 10-point scale.

That’s a big contrast from last year, when 30 of the Senate’s 40 members received an ‘A’ on the Chamber’s annual legislative report cardannual legislative report card.
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The House didn’t fare much better this year, either.

Republican Reps. Joe Gruters of Sarasota and Dan Raulerson of Plant City were the only lawmakers to ace the finals with perfect scores.

Eleven other House members — all Republicans — earned A-grades.

The grades are based upon how each lawmaker voted on wide range of “pro-jobs issues,” according to the Chamber.

In 2016, 80 of the 120 members of the House got an ‘A.”

Both chambers received passing grades, on average. The Senate received a cumulative 70 GPA, while the House earned a 74 GPA.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, the Land O’ Lakes Republican who orchestrated drives to kill the business-recruitment agency Enterprise Florida and scale back tourism-marketing efforts out of Visit Florida, was among those picking up a ‘C.’

But the business lobbying group flunked Senate President Joe Negron, one of just three Republicans to be branded with an ‘F.’

The Senate president joined Tampa Rep. Shawn Harrison and former Sen. Frank Artiles of Miami — who resigned from the Senate mid-session after a racially loaded verbal tirade at a private club in Tallahassee — and 34 Democrats in getting the ultimate failing grade.

One of Negron’s key pieces of legislation this year was a bill designed to create a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee (SB 10).

The chamber opposed the controversial proposal that was initially crafted to directly impact existing farm land that included large, influential sugar growers.

The Chamber partly attributed the drop in the grades on the lawmakers’ failure to address workers’ comp or assignment of benefits.

Posted by Jim Turner.

Dorothy Hukill: “Very difficult” watching special session “fall apart”

Hukill
Sen. Dorothy Hukill wasn’t physically inside the Capitol during this year’s two legislative sessions.

But the Port Orange Republican was paying close attention to the hijinks in Tallahassee from afar, thanks to the Florida Channel.

Hukill will share her insights about the 2017 session with the Southeast Volusia Chamber of Commerce Thursday at noon at the Smyrna Yacht Club in New Smyra Beach.

Hukill said given the legislative recap to the group annually since she joined the Legislature more than a decade ago.

“I’m very excited because I love to talk,” Hukill said.

In a wide-ranging interview yesterday, Hukill offered some of her thoughts about the brutal legislative tug-of-war between (depending on what day it was) Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron.

Hukill, a veteran lawmaker who served in the House for eight years before being elected to the Senate in 2012, was unable to travel to Tallahassee this year because she was recovering from cancer.

Hukill, who said she’s received hundreds of cards from well-wishers, said it was hard to watch the sessions from afar, “even though it was probably more work for me this session because I was trying to watch very committee,” she said.

“But watching the special session fall apart and change at the very end — that was very difficult,” she said.

Hukill said she’s “going to try to be positive” about GOP legislative leaders’ ability to just get along in the future.

“People will be able to put those feelings aside,” she predicted. “The bigger picture is we have a job to do. … It was very disappointing.”

A major disappointment for Hukill, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, came when the House refused to sign off on a proposal that would require future high-school students to earn a half-credit in financial literacy before graduation.

The Senate unanimously passed the measure, pursued by Hukill for years, and honored her by naming the bill the “Dorothy L. Hukill Financial Literacy Education Act.” The House never took up the bill for a final vote.

But she’s not giving up.

“I’m filing it next year. It’s already in drafting. It’s something I feel very strongly about. I have supported this idea of financial literacy for students for years,” Hukill said.

It’s a deal: Scott expands special to include Lake O and higher ed

Hours before the special session is slated to wrap up, Gov. Rick Scott expanded the call to include repairs to Lake Okeechobee’s Herbert Hoover Dike and higher ed.

The addition of the subjects Friday comes after Scott expanded the three-day special session — focused originally on funding for K-12 education and economic development — to include medical marijuana.

The expansion of the session Friday indicates that, despite much consternation Thursday night prompted by Senate President Joe Negron’s lengthy press conference in which he said he had never agreed to a deal, a deal does indeed exist.

Here’s Scott’s press release:

Today, Governor Rick Scott issued a proclamation to expand the ongoing special session to include funding for repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike and higher education. Click HERE to view the proclamation.

Governor Scott said, “Today, at the request of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, I expanded the call of the ongoing special session so the Legislature can consider investing money for the repair of the Herbert Hoover Dike to help the communities surrounding Lake Okeechobee. For six years, I asked the Obama Administration to fund these important repairs with no results. During this legislative session, I called on the Florida Legislature to provide funding to kick start these repairs. I have also received a commitment from President Trump that the federal government will fix the dike.

 

“For more than thirty years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have identified areas of the dike that are prone to stability issues and water seepage, and now is the time to fix this problem once and for all. Along with SB 10, a major priority for Senate President Joe Negron, that I signed into law last month, repairing the Herbert Hoover Dike will ensure that future generations of Floridians will not be plagued with safety concerns during flooding events and problems with algae. I urge the Legislature to take up this call and fund these critical repairs.

 

“Also, today, I updated the call to include higher education funding. Last week, I signed a historic $4.9 billion budget for Florida’s universities, which is a $174 million increase over last year. By adding higher education to the topics that can be considered during the ongoing special session, the Legislature will have the opportunity to modify these issues for my consideration.”

 

Slouching toward special session on pot

IMG_0600Senate President Joe Negron said Thursday that House and Senate leaders are working toward a deal on the roll-out of a voter-approved constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana for patients with debilitating medical conditions.

Legislators will almost certainly deal with medical marijuana during a special session at some point this summer, even if Gov. Rick Scott’s handling of the budget doesn’t force the Legislature back to the Capitol anyway.

Negron told The News Service of Florida Thursday that “there are ongoing discussions” between the House and Senate focused on “trying to reach a middle ground on the licenses and dispensaries issues.”

The number of marijuana operators — now at seven — and how many retail outlets they can each run were the major sticking points between the two chambers during the regular session that ended last month.

The Senate favored more vendors but wanted to limit the number of storefronts they could operate. The House supported a plan with fewer marijuana operators who could each open up to 100 retail stores.

A potential deal went up in smoke on the final day of the session, prompting both critics and supporters of Amendment 2 to demand a special session to address the issue. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, has said he supports a special session on pot, as do Senate leaders, including Sen. Bill Galvano, who will take over as president late next year, and Negron.

The House and Senate are discussing “other ancillary issues” apart from the numbers of licenses and dispensaries, the Senate president said Thursday.

“But if we can reach a consensus on the regulatory framework for implementation of Amendment 2, I think the other issues will fall into place,” Negron, R-Stuart, said.

It’s unclear whether Scott’s line-item vetoes will require lawmakers to return to deal with the budget.

But Negron said lawmakers have “an obligation to implement medical marijuana” regardless of how the budget fares.

“Obviously, if a special session became necessary on the budget and medical marijuana, it would make sense to hold them simultaneously, but I don’t think we’re there yet,” he said.

 

Does pot stalemate give Morgan better reason to run?

IMG_0610The Republican-dominated Legislature may be inadvertently goading Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, the moneybags behind a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana,  into finalizing a decision about whether to run for governor next year.

Lawmakers are left with a black eye after bombing out on a deal to implement Amendment 2, overwhelmingly approved by more than 71 percent of voters in November.

The stalemate prompted Senate President Joe Negron to issue a memo to his members Thursday, seeking their input on reaching a compromise with the House, amid growing demands for a special session on the issue.

The key point separating House and Senate was the number of retail locations — disparagingly referred to as “pot shops” by many Republican legislators — licensed marijuana operators — disparagingly referred to as a “cartel” — should be able to run.

The Senate wanted a cap of up to 15 dispensaries for the operators, while the House established a cap of 100, but would have agreed to a limit of 50.

The two approaches caused a very-public rift between Morgan and Ben Pollara, his onetime right-hand man who, as campaign manager for United for Care, was instrumental in racking up a win for the amendment last fall.

Pollara favored the Senate caps, while Morgan said the caps would limit patient access.

Gov. Rick Scott stayed on the sidelines during the legislative stand-off, adopting, in the words of one legislative leader, the role of “absentee landlord.”

On Thursday, Morgan — referring to himself in the third person — weighed in on how he would have handled the situation, if he were in the governor’s mansion.

“I believe John Morgan compromising with Joe Negron and Richard Corcoran would be more effective than any form of government we have going on right now,” Morgan told The News Service in a wide-ranging interview.

Morgan — who said he would be “better suited than anybody I can think of for that role” — stepped in at the 11th hour before the session ended Friday to try to broker a deal, but was unable to establish a rapprochement between the two sides.

“So yeah, in one sense it makes me think, if I had been Rick Scott, I would have come out of my tree house and walked across the street,” Morgan said. “I believe that a governor has to govern. And you cannot govern in an Eiffel tower…You have to go out and meet the people…and then negotiate and cajole and compromise.”

Republicans have had control of the governor’s office and both the House and Senate “since Crist was a baby,” Morgan, a devout Catholic, said.

“Maybe it’s time that we saw what would divided government look like in Florida,” he said.

On the possibility of a special session, Morgan — who considers Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican lawyer, a close friend — is urging lawmakers to return to the Capitol and finalize a deal on pot.

“I want them to come back. I believe it’s better to be regulated legislatively than to rely on bureaucrats,” he said.

If lawmakers don’t set out the framework for implementation of Amendment 2, the responsibility will rest with the Department of Health, which took a lot of heat for its roll-out of the state’s first medical marijuana laws in 2014.

“The reason American and Florida has disdain for bureaucrats…You know how inept they are,” Morgan said.

___ Posted by Dara Kam

 

 

 

 

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