Naples Daily News
TALLAHASSEE – A Republican state senator who voted against a highly contested education bill demanded by the House has been removed from his chairmanship of the Senate PreK-12 Education Appropriations Subcommittee.
Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, is no longer chairman of the committee responsible for cobbling together the Senate’s proposed education budget. He was replaced Tuesday by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples.
Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said he wanted to give Passidomo and other first-term senators an opportunity to serve in positions across the chamber.
Negron said his re-assignment of Simmons to the chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government was part of a shuffle allowing more senators to gain experience.
“I believe it’s important for each senator to be considered for additional opportunities and to participate in the process,” Negron said.
Negron also enlarged some committees. The Senate Judiciary Committee now has Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, as its 10th member. The formerly nine-member committee was seen as a massive roadblock for a series of plans that would allow concealed-weapon permit holders the right to carry a holstered handgun on college campuses, unconcealed and in some unsecured parts of airports.
A stumbling point for the guns bills was Judiciary Committee member Sen. Antiere Flores, R-Miami. However, Negron said Bradley was moved there only to ensure a quorum. A rule adopted by the Senate last year required senators to present their own bills before other committees, leading to several absences.
“By making them bigger, we’ll have better chances of having a quorum,” Negron said.
Longtime Tallahassee lobbyist Brian Ballard said Negron’s changes were not dramatic and reflected a desire to find people who could negotiate on his behalf.
“As a presiding officer and someone who needs to be making deals at the end of session, I think you need someone who knows how to get that done,” Ballard said. “I think it makes sense to have someone at the end of the day who can be shoulder to shoulder with you to the very end.”
Passidomo is one of nine senators who received chairmanships in a shuffle Negron made less than a month before the start of the committee weeks leading to next year’s legislative session.
Passidomo was elected to the Senate last year after serving in the House since 2010. She reads all proposed legislation, including the controversial education bill that Simmons opposed.
“It’s when I read it that I realized I agreed with 80 percent of what was in there,” Passidomo said. “And in this process, you can’t expect that you’ll agree with everything.”
Among the changes in committee leadership: Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, was made chairwoman of the Senate Environmental Appropriations Subcommittee; and Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, is now vice chairwoman of the Government Oversight Committee. That committee is led by Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Lady Lake.
Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, is now chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. She also is running to replace Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who is running for governor.
Simmons was staunchly opposed to a multifaceted bill pieced together in private by Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran. That bill provided more recesses, expanded a teacher bonus program and gave money to high-performing charter school networks.
Simmons voted against the bill, which was included in the $83 billion budget that state lawmakers approved on the last night of this year’s regular legislative session. His vote nearly led the bill to fail, which would have broken a deal between the two chambers.
The money for the high-performing charters is part of the Schools of Hope program highly regarded by Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, as the solution to the state’s failing school systems.
Simmons also sought to make massive changes to the education bill during a special session in June to fix parts of the budget vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott. Those proposed changes never were addressed.