Sunday, January 21, 2018
Politics

Florida House leadership assignments will test bipartisanship

The bipartisan spirit is already receding from last week's swearing-in ceremony and Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford looked more like a typical conservative Republican with the unveiling of his committee assignments on Monday.

Weatherford placed a reliable social conservative, Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, in charge of the Judiciary Committee. Baxley has helped write and sponsor some of the Legislature's more notorious pieces of legislation, including 2005's "stand your ground" law and 2011's HB 1355 (which reduced the number of early voting days from 14 to eight while making it more difficult to register voters).

And Weatherford left Rep. Bryan Nelson, R-Apopka, an insurance agent, as chairman of the Insurance & Banking Subcommittee.

Meanwhile, Weatherford denied one of the banking and insurance industry's most vocal critics, Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, from serving on the Insurance & Banking Subcomittee. Fasano listed it as his top preference along with the Transportation & Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee, where he was placed.

"Having Bryan Nelson chairing Banking & Insurance is one of the worst things to happen to the consumer," Fasano said. "It's the wolf guarding the henhouse. Bryan Nelson carries the water for the insurance industry."

Rep. Richard Corcoran, the Pasco Republican who is in line to be speaker in 2016, got two significant posts: chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee and chairman of a select committee that will oversee implementation of the health care law.

Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, will oversee nearly a third of the state budget as chairman of the Education Appropriations Subcommittee, which now is in charge of K-12, community college and university spending.

The Ethics & Elections Committee, revived after six years of dormancy in the House, will be led by Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton.

In the Senate, President Don Gaetz has designated Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, as majority leader. Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, is deputy leader and whip.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, will chair the new committee on ethics and elections.

Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, will remain chairman of the Rules Committee. Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, will become Appropriations Committee chairman.

Senators face 2014 rerun

For half of the members of the Florida Senate, it will soon be time to reload and run again. That's because 20 senators who received two-year terms in the new reapportionment plan face re-election in 2014. The two-year anomaly occurs only in a once-a-decade redistricting year, to maintain the constitutional requirement for staggered Senate terms.

Every senator in an even-numbered district received a two-year term in 2012. Those elected for the first time will be eligible to serve for 10 years, through 2022, if they subsequently win re-election to two additional four-year terms in 2014 and 2018.

The district numbers were randomly assigned to Senate districts in March. The Senate secretary drew balls from a basket in a drawing similar to a lottery.

Sixteen of the 20 senators who will face voters in 2014 are Republicans, including five from Tampa Bay: Wilton Simpson, Jeff Brandes, Bill Galvano, Lee and Latvala.

The new "dean" of the Legislature is Democratic Sen. Gwen Margolis, 78, of Coconut Grove, who served six years in the House and is starting her 21st year in the Senate, with one two-year break from 2008-2010.

Margolis was first elected to the House in 1974 — five years before Speaker Weatherford was born.

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