After Senate President Joe Negron’s top priority bill (SB 10) to build a water reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee was approved by the full Senate Wednesday on a 36-3 vote, one reporter asked, “Are we trading schools of hope for water reservoirs?”

Good question.

One of House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s top priority bills (HB 5105), reducing the amount of time school districts have to turn around schools ranked “D” or “F” and providing $200 million for start-up costs for new charter schools, was approved by the House 77-40 Thursday.

Companion bills for these measures have not progressed through the opposite chamber.

Negron’s answer to the horse-trading question on Wednesday: “I think it’s too early to determine how issues are going to line up as session concludes, we’re in Week 6, we have plenty of time to do that. I think my goal is that issues that are important to the House will be accomplished and issues important to the Senate will be accomplished,” he said.

Negron went on to say that both he and Corcoran had experience chairing appropriations and are both attorneys so he felt they would be able to negotiate timely agreement on the major issues. “One of the benefits of the way we both address issues is we’re pretty straightforward about the things we care about,” said Negron. “Neither of us is coy about our priorities, so I think the House knows the four or five issues that relate to the budget that I care about and I certainly know what issues are important to the speaker and to the House.”

Speaking with the press after Thursday’s session, Negron spoke again about his expectations for the conference meetings.  “My commitment is to look for opportunities for the House to be successful in its priorities and my expectation is that the House will show the Senate the same deference,” he said.

Between a $1.5 billion price tag on SB 10 and $200 million in funding set aside in HB 5105, along with other impacts on stakeholders under both bills, concerns have been expressed that neither the water bill nor the charter schools bill received a full measure of debate or opportunity for public comment in the opposite chamber.  Negron said that both issues have been part of the discussion even if the specific bills didn’t go through all the committees.  “My plan is for, and our rules now require, there to be public testimony at our conference meetings,” Negron added.

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