Florida Senate's committee leaders for 2016-18 announced
Senate President Joe Negron R-Stuart, announced his leadership team for the 2016-18 term on Tuesday, a list that includes some expected appointments but also some surprises and a few snubs.
Negron put many of his most trusted allies in key positions, such as naming Trilby Republican Sen. Wilton Simpson as majority leader. Simpson is in line to take over as Senate president in four years. Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel was named Simpson's deputy.
President Pro Tempore Anitere Flores, R-Miami -- Negron's No. 2 in the chamber -- will helm two committees: Banking and Insurance and the subcommittee in charge of the Health and Human Services budget. She'll also be vice-chairwoman of the full Appropriations Committee. Meanwhile, Bradenton Republican Sen. Bill Galvano -- last year's majority leader who is likely to succeed Negron as president in 2018 -- will be in charge of the higher education budget, a reflection of the emphasis Negron plans to put on the state's public colleges and universities during his tenure.
Because half of the Senate is new this term, many freshman senators landed key leadership spots -- including several recently former House members and two Democrats, Lauren Book and Randolph Bracy. Veteran Democrats Bill Montford, of Tallahassee, and Audrey Gibson, of Jacksonville, also were given committee chairmanships, affording the minority party's 15 members a level of influence in the chamber.
Of note, as well: The Senate's former steadfast firewall that last spring had halted a couple controversial measures to expand gun rights in Florida is gone, potentially giving such bills an easier route in the 2017 session.
Rather than keep a moderate lawmaker as chairman of the powerful Judiciary Committee, Negron named conservative Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, to the leadership post. The committee was previously led by Miami Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, who lost his re-election bid to now-Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami.
Steube, an ardent supporter of gun rights who last year was in the Florida House, told the Herald/Times last week that he's drafting comprehensive legislation for 2017 to reduce various types of restrictions on conceal-carry permit holders. Some of those same proposals were considered last year but failed to pass because of Diaz de la Portilla's decision to kill the bills. Diaz de la Portilla had said the proposals lacked support in the 40-member Senate, which is generally more moderate than the House and where Republicans hold a narrower majority.
In the absence of Diaz de la Portilla, though, Bracy could potentially be a different obstacle as head of the Criminal Justice Committee. The Orlando Democrat supported last year's campus-carry bill but opposed a measure to allow the open-carrying of firearms.
Here's the full list of chairmanships for main committees in 2016-18:
-- Agriculture: Keith Perry, R-Gainesville
-- Appropriations: Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater
-- Children, Families and Elder Affairs: René García, R-Hialeah
-- Commerce and Tourism: Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee
-- Criminal Justice: Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando
-- Education: Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange
-- Banking and Insurance: Anitere Flores, R-Miami
-- Community Affairs: Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa
-- Governmental Oversight and Accountability: Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala
-- Health Policy: Dana Young, R-Tampa
-- Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security: Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville
-- Communications, Energy and Public Utilities: Frank Artiles, R-Miami
-- Environmental Preservation and Conservation: Lauren Book, D-Plantation
-- Ethics and Elections: Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples
-- Judiciary: Greg Steube, R-Sarasota
-- Transportation: George Gainer, R-Panama City
-- Regulated Industries: Travis Hutson, R-Elkton
-- Rules: Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers
And here are the chairmenships for the appropriations subcommittees:
-- Appropriations, Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice: Aaron Bean, R-Fernindina Beach
-- Appropriations, Subcommittee on Finance and Tax: Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland
-- Appropriations, Subcommittee on Pre-K-12 Education: David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs
-- Appropriations, Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources: Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island
-- Appropriations, Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development: Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg
-- Appropriations, Subcommittee on General Government: Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring
-- Appropriations, Subcommittee on Health and Human Services: Anitere Flores, R-Miami
-- Appropriations, Subcommittee on Higher Education: Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton