While his chamber still reels from the loss of two of its members due to sexual misconduct, Senate President Joe Negron told lawmakers Tuesday they would be turning over a new leaf and starting a new chapter -- one that doesn’t include sexual harassment in the halls of the Florida Capitol.
"I would like to begin today by addressing a very important issue that addresses not only the Florida Senate, but also our counterparts in Congress, the entertainment industry, employers large and small across the country, and our culture in general," Negron said. "Let me be clear: The Florida Senate has zero tolerance for sexual harassment or misconduct of any time against any employee or visitor.”
The Florida Senate has been at the center of a media firestorm in recent months following the resignations of Sens. Jeff Clemens and Jack Latvala, both of whom were involved in controversies involving sexual misconduct.
Clemens resigned at the end of October following reports of an affair with Tallahassee lobbyist Devon West, while Latvala -- the Senate’s former budget chief -- was accused by multiple women of sexual harassment and of touching them inappropriately. He resigned last month.
Among Negron’s top priorities will be funneling extra cash into the state’s higher education system -- and Florida senators are moving full-speed ahead to make sure Negron’s goals are met.
A bill to permanently expand Florida’s Bright Futures Program is already scheduled for a full floor vote later this week and is expected to pass the chamber. Under the legislation, the amount of financial aid and scholarship money Florida students could receive would increase.
Bright Futures began in 1997 and is expected to serve nearly 100,000 students this year.
“I’m proud of the Senate for leading the way that this is now planned,” Negron said.
2018, Negron explained, represented just the beginning for an upheaval for the state’s universities, which he said were on the path of progress to becoming some of the best in the country for academic excellence.
“We are just getting started,” Negron said.
When it came to the opioid crisis, Negron said the Senate needed to have a “multi-disciplinary approach” to combating the problem, which has already claimed the lives of thousands of Floridians addicted to painkillers.
“This is an area where senators organically have been addressing in their districts,” Negron said. “Our hearts go out to families and those affected by this issue.”
Negron threw his weight behind a measure moving through both chambers to limit opioids in the Sunshine State.
HB 21, sponsored by Rep. Jim Boyd in the House and Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto in the Senate, would limit opioid prescriptions in Florida to a three-day supply. The limit would apply to patients suffering acute pain rather than chronic pain, which is governed under different standards.
The bill is largely in line with a proposal Gov. Rick Scott made in September to combat the opioid crisis in Florida, on top of a $50 million investment in his 2018 budget.
“It’s important that men and women who come forward to seek help, that we have appropriate solutions and treatment for them...to give them every opportunity to overcome their addiction,” Negron said.
The 2018 legislative session officially began Tuesday. Senators will begin voting on bills on Thursday.