Excellence in higher education package, southern water storage expansion,
juvenile justice reforms, bills to protect constitutional freedoms
As the Florida Senate concludes the 2017 Legislative Session today with the passage of the 2017-18 General Appropriations Act, Senate President Joe Negron (R-Stuart), discussed progress on several key priorities. The Senate’s Excellence in Higher Education Act saw final passage today, while the President’s plan for a major expansion of water storage south of Lake Okeechobee and several pieces of legislation to protect freedoms guaranteed by our state and federal Constitutions passed last week. During the 2017 Legislative Session, the Senate also advanced the public discussion on key juvenile justice reforms.
“More than 18 months ago when I was designated by my Senate colleagues to serve as the Senate President for the 2016-2018 term, I discussed four key priorities. This session, we had significant movement in each of these policy and budget areas. This would not have been possible without the support and advocacy of my colleagues in the Senate, and the House, and thousands of constituents in my district and across the state who have played a role in developing this legislation.”
Major Expansion of Southern Storage
Senate Bill 10, Water Resources, sponsored by Senator Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island), authorizes a significant increase in southern water storage to further the goal of reducing and eventually eliminating, harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee. Senate Bill 10 expressly prohibits the use of eminent domain, leveraging land already owned by the State of Florida and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), land swaps, and purchases, to minimize impacts on agricultural workers while achieving 240,000 to 360,000 acre feet of storage. The legislation also provides grants to establish training programs for agricultural workers.
“For too long toxic blue-green algae has been harming the health of both our citizens and our economy. This legislation provides a clear plan to address this plague in a manner that benefits communities across South Florida,” said President Negron. “Senate Bill 10 will make an important difference to families, communities, and the economy east and west of the Lake, as well as southern communities who have waited too long for additional investments in meaningful economic development to expand workforce training and job opportunities.”
“I promised my constituents that we would dramatically expand southern storage by leveraging existing water infrastructure, and utilizing a combination of state, local, and private land, in a manner that respects the interests of the agricultural community and private land owners. After twenty years of talking about southern storage, this legislation establishes a concrete plan to achieve this critical component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan in a reasonable amount of time,” continued President Negron.
Excellence in Higher Education
Senate Bill 374, sponsored by Senator Dorothy Hukill (R-Port Orange), Senator Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton), and Senator Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby), promotes on-time graduation by expanding need and merit-based student financial assistance and support, establishing tuition and fee incentives, streamlining 2+2 articulation, and strengthening mechanisms that keep colleges and universities accountable to Florida taxpayers. The legislation also expands policy and funding tools universities can leverage to recruit and retain the very best faculty, enhance professional and graduate schools, and improve aging infrastructure and research laboratories. The bill supports Florida’s nationally-ranked community colleges by reinstating a statewide coordinating board for the Florida Community College System, tightening the community college bachelor degree approval process, and clarifying responsibilities within Florida’s taxpayer-funded K-20 education system, to maximize resources already available at state universities, community colleges, and school district technical centers.
“This comprehensive legislation will boost the strength and competitiveness of our state’s higher education system as our primary economic engine to drive vibrant, sustainable economic development and growth in high-paying jobs,” said President Negron. “Our primary objectives are to work with colleges and universities to better serve students and increase their accountability to the taxpayers. I believe Florida taxpayers will see a return worthy of their investment when our top Florida students attend our own colleges and universities, complete degree programs on-time, and then graduate with job opportunities in high-demand fields needed in our growing communities.”
“As we worked on this legislation over the last year, I have enjoyed the opportunity to hear from students and learn about the challenges they face as they work to complete their degrees. Like many students today, I worked throughout college and law school, and I understand the challenges of working and balancing difficult coursework,” continued President Negron. “I am confident this package of policy enhancements will help more students graduate on-time, while maintaining the flexibility some students need as they balance their studies with family and work obligations.”
Civil Citations for Certain Youth Offenders
House Bill 301 (Senate Bill 196), sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Anitere Flores (R-Miami, Monroe), reforms requirements regarding the issuance of civil citations for certain first-time misdemeanor offenses including: possession of alcoholic beverages, trespass, and disorderly conduct, among others. The legislation did not see final passage in the Florida House.
“In too many cases, we have become a society where law enforcement officers are brought in to referee the day-to-day challenges that come with raising children. Instead of helping our youth to learn positively from their mistakes like we once did, they could be put in the juvenile justice system, creating a criminal record that could potentially follow them for their rest of their lives,” said President Negron. “There needs to be a delicate balance here. We should not, and we will not, tolerate serious wrongdoing committed by young people. At the same time, we need workable solutions that move away from the over-criminalization of adolescents. We need to find an appropriate balance between public safety and decriminalizing the youthful mistakes of adolescents. Next session, we will continue to make the case with our House colleagues on this important issue.”
Fidelity to the Constitution
Senate Bill 436, Religious Expression in Public Schools, sponsored by Senator Dennis Baxley (R-Lady Lake). The legislation creates the “Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act,” and specifies a school district may not discriminate against a student, parent, or school personnel on the basis of a religious viewpoint or religious expression.
“Freedom of Religion is a central right protected by our Constitution. The government should not impose a religion, but all too often we see the other extreme where we are taking away people’s right to free speech and their right to practice their faith in a way they believe is appropriate,” said President Negron. “Students of any faith, or no faith, have a right to free speech. The Legislature is taking the steps necessary to protect this important constitutional right of public school students, parents, teachers, and school administrators.”
Senate Bill 312, Eyewitness Identification, sponsored by Senator Dennis Baxley (R-Lady Lake), creates procedures for state, county, and municipal law enforcement agencies to follow when they have a lineup for an eyewitness to identify a suspect. The procedures require the use of a lineup administrator who is unaware of which person in a live lineup is the suspect.
“While a lineup is a valuable tool for law enforcement investigators, many people have serious and valid concerns that the eyewitnesses can be unduly influenced by having an officer present who knows which person is the suspect,” said President Negron. “Suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt. We have an obligation to ensure the constitutional rights of all suspects are protected from potential manipulation.”
Eyewitness misidentification of crime suspects has contributed to 64 percent of the Florida cases in which DNA evidence later exonerated the defendant. Of the 349 DNA exonerations nationwide, more than 70 percent had a mistaken identification issue.
Right to Self-Defense
Senate Bill 128, Self-defense Immunity, sponsored by Senator Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island), protects the right of self-defense for all Floridians by changing the burden of proof and who must bear it during pretrial hearings to evaluate a defendant’s claim of immunity based on a justifiable use of force. The bill places the burden of proof on the state and requires the state to overcome the immunity claim by offering evidence meeting the standard of clear and convincing evidence.
“If the State of Florida is going to accuse a citizen of committing a crime, the State of Florida should have the burden of proof at each and every part of the proceeding. This legislation requires the state to meet the standard of clear and convincing evidence to overcome an immunity claim. This is a huge step towards better protection of the constitutional freedoms guaranteed to all citizens,” said President Negron.