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New Leaders Named To Florida Senate And House Posts

New Florida Senate leaders will take over during an organizational session in Tallahassee later this month.
Pattie Steib/pattie
New Florida Senate and House leaders will take over during an organizational session in Tallahassee later this month.

Fernandina Beach Republican Aaron Bean and Naples Republican Kathleen Passidomo will serve as top lieutenants to incoming Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, Simpson announced Friday.

Bean, who was first elected to the Senate in 2012 and has been a leader on health-care issues, will serve the next two years as Senate president pro tempore.

“There is no question the impacts of the ongoing (coronavirus) pandemic will change the look and feel of these next two years in ways none of us could have imagined when we first decided to run for office,” Simpson said in a prepared statement. “Senator Bean’s authenticity, positivity and optimism, combined with his deep knowledge and experience in the legislative process, make him a perfect fit for the critical role of president pro tempore.”

Passidomo, who was first elected to the Senate in 2016 and is expected to succeed Simpson as president in November 2022, will serve as chairwoman of the Rules Committee.

“Throughout her years of public service, Senator Passidomo has gained the respect of senators on both sides of the political aisle by listening to the concerns each senator brings forward and working to build consensus,” Simpson said in a statement. “She has exhibited sound judgment and a fair-minded, reasonable and thoughtful approach to decision making that, I am confident, will be a great benefit to the Senate over the next two years.”

The appointments were the first two announced by Simpson, who will formally become Senate president during a Nov. 17 organization session. Incoming House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, announced a full leadership team and changes in House committees on Thursday.

Florida House Leaders Named, Panel To Eye COVID-19

Incoming House Speaker Chris Sprowls on Thursday rolled out a leadership team and committee changes, including a new committee that will be directed to look at the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and plan for future emergencies.

The Palm Harbor Republican, who takes the gavel on Nov. 17, sent a memo to House members that named a dozen leaders for the next two years and outlined changes such as creation of the Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee.

Sprowls appointed Miami Springs Republican Bryan Avila as speaker pro tempore, Port Charlotte Republican Michael Grant as majority leader and Panama City Republican Jay Trumbull as chairman of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee.

“Florida is facing challenges, but I am confident that if we continue to govern with the same conservative principles that have served us well in the past, we will have more than enough to fund education, health care, and our public safety while also protecting the taxpayers and consumers that elected us,” Trumbull said in a prepared statement.

Ormond Beach Republican Tom Leek will chair the Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee and the Redistricting Committee, which will oversee the once-a-decade reapportionment process for legislative and congressional seats. Redrawn districts are expected to be in place for the 2022 elections.

“The Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee has been created to explore not only some of the issues related to COVID?19 but also to look more broadly at emergency management and how we can prepare Florida today for future threats,” Sprowls wrote in the memo to House members.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, tweeted that a legislative look into the pandemic is long overdue.

“Well, well, well. Eight months into a deadly pandemic that killed 16,961 Floridians, shuttered 1 in 5 small businesses and pushed millions into poverty, the GOP Florida House finally forms a committee to begin dealing with it ... in January,” Smith tweeted. “Where have they been all year?”

Democrats have pushed since spring for lawmakers to be called back to Tallahassee to address the economic and health impacts of the virus. With the pandemic causing massive damage to businesses and tax revenues, state economists have estimated lawmakers will be working with a potential budget shortfall of about $2.7 billion for the 2021-2022 fiscal year and $1.9 billion for the following budget year.

The Democrats’ calls for a special session have been rebuffed by Republican leaders, who in part have repeatedly said the state budget is bolstered by federal assistance, expanded budget reserves approved during the 2020 legislative session and cash-conserving vetoes by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Sprowls’ announcement of his leadership team and the committee changes came two days after Republicans added to their overwhelming House majority in Tuesday’s elections. Lawmakers will hold an organization session Nov. 17 to formally swear in members and leaders, with the 2021 legislative session starting in March. Committees are expected to meet in the weeks leading up to the session.

Sprowls’ committee changes also involve a newly named and expanded Education & Employment Committee, which will be chaired by Clearwater Republican Chris Latvala.

“The Education & Employment Committee has been substantially expanded by adding to it all the issues related to workforce and job training,” Sprowls wrote in the memo. “Its subcommittees also take a different approach by separating elementary education and secondary education and pairing them with early learning and career development, respectively.

Sprowls also expanded what has been the Public Integrity & Ethics Committee into the Public Integrity & Elections Committee, which will be led by Vero Beach Republican Erin Grall.

Palm Coast Republican Paul Renner, who is in line to succeed Sprowls as speaker in November 2022, was named Rules Committee chairman. Spring Hill Republican Blaise Ingoglia will chair the Commerce Committee, and Lakeland Republican Colleen Burton will chair the Health & Human Services Committee.

Meanwhile, Miami Republican Daniel Perez, R-Miami, will take over as Judiciary Committee chairman; Lecanto Republican Ralph Massullo will serve as State Affairs Committee chairman; and Palatka Republican Bobby Payne will be Ways & Means Committee chairman.