Central Florida Republican Senator Joe Negron is officially the next leader of the state senate. Negron says he plans to address higher education funding, water policy and reforms in the criminal justice system.
Negron describes the funding of public higher education as “nominal” and is pledging a billion-dollar investment in additional funding for the state’s 12 public universities. He says while the schools have functioned as one the least expensive systems in the U.S., Florida can do better:
“I’ve talked to our university presidents," he said. "And they’ve told me three things: Number one: Recruit and retain the very best faculty. Two: Enhance our graduate schools and our professional schools, and Three: We need to address aging infrastructure on many of our campuses.”
Negron’s bid for a billion-dollar infusion into higher ed in 2017 and 2018 mirrors Governor Rick Scott’s promise of $1 billion in tax cuts next year. Negron says he’ll wait until it’s his turn to set policy, but says the state needs to balance the two issues:
“I think that we can do tax cuts that are reasonable and measured and also do some budget priorities. I know the governor believes strongly our universities are an important part of economic growth and development and I think this session we’ll see how those issues play out.”
Also on his agenda: more dollars for the environment, specifically water policy and the Everglades. Negron’s hometown of Stuart, which boarders the Indian River Lagoon, was hit hard a few years ago by polluted water discharged from Lake Okeechobee by the Army Core of Engineers.
“I have a personal mission and that is to work with Florida’s agriculture community work with Florida’s best scientists, work with the legislature….that we will permanently protect our estuaries, protect our lagoons, and come up with a way to not have these terrible discharges from Lake Okeechobee that destroy our environment," he said.
Negron says, he wants to see big changes in the way the state punishes juvenile offenders. He tells a story from his childhood—when he and his brothers threw water balloons at passing cars. One of those balloons hit a police officer’s vehicle. That earned a young Negron a stern lecture and the added embarrassment of having his father called. Today, he says, the same action would lead to more serious consequences:
"We would have been charged with throwing a deadly missile at a conveyance which I’m sure the Florida legislature has turned into a second-degree felony with enhanced penalties. We would have been throw into the juvenile justice system, our family would have been declared dysfunctional .The other four Negron children-the younger siblings, would have been declared at-risk due to their miscreant brothers and they would have been signed up for all sorts of wraparound services.”
And Negron says he’d probably still be explaining it to the state for his Bar license. That didn’t happen, but he’s using the analogy to shine a light on what he views as the criminalisation of adolescent behavior. Also on his agenda: restoration of civil rights, once a person has completed their sentences. Increasingly, state and national leaders have called on scaling down lower-level punishments, saving the most serious penalties for the more serious crimes. Negron takes over the Senate in 2017. His House counterpart will be outspoken Representative Richard Corcoran—a move that could lead to heavy policy talks and possibly outright ideology battles.