1. Florida Politics

March column: Negron's proposal puts locals in touchy positions

Negron has called for a $2.4 billion state and federal land-buying program to buy sugar land to store water south of Lake Okeechobee and repair the fragile Everglades ecosystem.
Negron has called for a $2.4 billion state and federal land-buying program to buy sugar land to store water south of Lake Okeechobee and repair the fragile Everglades ecosystem.
Published Aug. 12, 2016

A few local legislators find themselves in touchy positions with a proposal by incoming state Senate President Joe Negron to spend $2.4 billion to buy land south of the Everglades for water storage and cleaning.

First, there's Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who as incoming Senate appropriations chairman would have to find the money.

"I'm supportive of the concept, but I haven't looked at the numbers on any of this stuff yet," Latvala said. "It's good he has put something on the table for us to work on, but we need to look at the whole proposal and get with the financial people and figure out how to make it work."

Latvala and Negron fought a long, bitter battle for the presidency that ended when Latvala agreed to accept the powerful appropriations chair instead.

Meanwhile, Rep. Dana Young, in a tight race for the Senate District 18 seat, has been criticized by environmental groups for accepting large contributions from Big Sugar and, they contend, opposing a land purchase.

Two weeks ago, asked about a land purchase to help fix the Everglades, Young said the environmental groups "are absolutely off the point on this."

But, after Negron's proposal, she said she meant only that buying U.S. Sugar land the state had considered before was wrong because it's too far west. Buying land south of Lake Okeechobee, as Negron proposes, might be okay, she said.

Outgoing Senate appropriations chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, sounded optimistic but not 100 percent confident the money can be found for Negron's plan.

Lee said $100 million a year to service $1.2 billion in bonds to cover the state's half of the state-federal purchase may be available, depending on growth in document stamp tax revenue dedicated to environmental and purchases by 2014's Amendment 1.

Buckhorn for Narain in state Senate race

Add Mayor Bob Buckhorn to the list of big-name Tampa Democrats backing state Rep. Ed Narain in the state Senate District 19 race.

Narain faces Rep. Darryl Rouson and lawyer Augie Ribeiro of St. Petersburg and former Rep. Betty Reed in the Democratic primary that likely will decide the race. Most Democratic leaders in Pinellas County are backing Rouson.

Warren hits Ober on domestic violence

Democrat Andrew Warren, challenging Republican State Attorney Mark Ober, has accused Ober of a lax approach to domestic violence cases, saying this contributed to the death of 5-year-old Phoebe Jonchuck.

According to authorities, the girl was dropped from an approach bridge to the Sunshine Skyway by her father, John Jonchuck, who has been ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial.

Warren promises in a "Families First" news release to tighten policies on prosecuting domestic violence. He said local lawyers have told him Ober's policy is to require domestic abuse victims "to take the initiative and follow up on their own case," or the state attorney will drop the charges.

He said that allows victims to be intimidated into dropping charges: "That practice will change when I'm elected."

Ober called Warren's accusation "categorically untrue," saying the office frequently prosecutes cases in which victims won't come forward, using police testimony or 911 recordings.

"We're very aggressive even when victims don't cooperate. Many times we have to counsel victims who don't show up to court, who don't respond to subpoenas," he said.

He said the office has nearly 500 pending domestic violence cases in county court, and has one prosecutor in each of its eight felony divisions focusing on domestic violence.

Warren noted that John Jonchuck had a history of domestic violence arrests before his daughter's death. But Ober pointed out that Hillsborough deputies were called shortly before the killing by a lawyer worried about the father's behavior and interviewed him with his daughter. They chose not to arrest him.

Ober said Warren's accusations "demonstrate his inexperience and lack of understanding of domestic violence in state law. He's never stepped foot in state court … never prosecuted a domestic violence case."

Contact William March at