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Politics

Democrats Unveil 2015 Agenda for Florida Legislature

January 27, 2015 - 6:00pm

In the minority in both chambers of the Florida Legislature, the Senate and House Democratic leaders unveiled their agendas on Wednesday.

Speaking at the Florida Legislative Planning Session held by the Associated Press at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, and House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, insisted their caucuses have a role to play.

Conceding her party was significantly out of power, Joyner insisted Democrats have a voice in the Legislature. Taking aim at Gov. Rick Scotts economic policies, Joyner said the governor was more concerned about bringing any jobs to the state instead of those that provide adequate incomes for Florida families.

Its more important for him to have big numbers, Joyner said about Scotts boasts to have presided over the creation of 720,000 new private-sector jobs since taking over in January 2011.

Joyner insisted Republicans were starting to join the Democrats on certain issues, including backing expanding Medicaid, reforming testing in Floridas schools and expanding medical marijuana.

Noting 58 percent of Florida voters backed Amendment 2, a proposal to expand medical marijuana in the Sunshine State, in November, Joyner said Republicans are starting to shift on the issue.

The people have spoken and it appear that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are listening, Joyner said, noting Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, unveiled a new medical marijuana bill this week.

Joyner hit former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., a possible presidential candidate in 2016, for leading Florida into a testing quagmire and said Republicans were starting to look for new means of student assessment instead of high stakes testing.

Moving to other topics, Joyner said she expected Democrats to take up criminal justice and prison reforms, gaming and tackle the issue of guns on school campuses.

Pafford spoke to the media later in the day and also took Republicans to task on Medicaid expansion, insisting Florida has already lost out on $10 billion in federal funds as Scott and the GOP leadership in the Legislature ponder whether to accept it.

This issue affects Democrats and Republicans, Pafford said. This is a basic necessity for everyone in the state.

Pafford said he did not expect the Legislature to back Medicaid expansion but called for a full debate on the subject. Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said his chamber was open for a discussion on the matter while House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, indicated his majority had no interest in moving on it.

Turning to education, Pafford scoffed at Scotts claim that his budget proposal included record-high per pupil spending.

In business you add in inflation in numbers, Pafford said. That wasnt done.

Pafford also said his caucus would push the GOP majority on the environment and called for more transparency in budgeting, especially on the appropriations process.

If we want an open budget ... we need to know how its developed, Pafford said.

Pafford also backed raises for state workers, something not included in Scotts budget proposal.

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com or follow him on Twitter: @KevinDerbySSN

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