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Negron touts conservatism of Senate

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – New Senate President Joe Negron wants to dispel a long-held narrative that the Senate is the moderate wing of the Florida Legislature.

While addressing committee chairs and staff on Monday, Negron said the Republican-dominated House and Senate simply offer "competing conservative visions."

To prove his point, the Stuart Republican touted the return of a controversial proposal that the Senate approved earlier this year to shift the burden of proof in "stand your ground" self-defense cases and suggested legislation will return to try to repeal an insurance-industry tax credit.

"The next two sessions will not be the conservative House versus the moderate Senate," Negron said. "Instead, I expect the House and Senate will present competing conservative visions on the many issues that our constituents care about."

The moderate moniker has repeatedly been applied to the Senate, which is also considered the more deliberative of the chambers.

Last month, Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens said he expects Democrats to continue to be able to unite with Republicans to influence a few contentious issues.

"The Senate is a more moderate body," Braynon said. "I think the Senate will continue to be that more moderate body."

And House Speaker Richard Corcoran alluded to the differences in the chambers while appearing at an Associated Industries of Florida event last week at Florida State University.

"We pass something good out of the House. It goes to the Senate, two things happen: They water it down and send it back to us, or they kill it," Corcoran said.

Negron noted that both chambers agree on school choice, low taxes and fiscal policies with strong reserves.

On Monday, Negron praised a measure (SB 128) by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, that would shift the burden of proof to prosecutors during evidentiary hearings in self-defense cases.

The bill is among several proposals already filed for the 2017 session that have the support of Second Amendment groups. The legislative session starts in March.

"If the state is going to charge you with a crime, and convict you and incarcerate you, they have the burden of proof at each and every stage of the criminal proceeding to prove the case against you," Negron said. "That's a conservative bill. It also protects the Second Amendment rights of lawful gun owners."

The same proposal passed the Senate during the 2016 session but failed on two occasions to advance to the House floor.

The bill stems from a Florida Supreme Court ruling in 2015 that said defendants have the burden of proof to show they should be shielded from prosecution under the "stand your ground" law. In "stand your ground" cases, pre-trial evidentiary hearings are held to determine whether defendants should be immune from prosecution.

Negron also told reporters Monday that he anticipates a return of his proposal from 2013 that would end a tax incentive --- on the books since 1987 --- that gives insurers a premium tax credit of up to 15 percent on the salaries they pay to Florida-based employees.

Negron had initially pitched the repeal to free up $220 million that could be cut from vehicle registration fees --- "before any of you were reading about opposition to corporate welfare," he said Monday.

While the Senate agreed to end the incentive, the House balked on the measure.

"We don't pay 15 percent of the labor costs to the agriculture industry," Negron said. "We don't pay 15 percent of the cost of the hospitality industry, of the legal industry, of the automotive industry."

Insurers at the time argued that they had been able to build and maintain staff due to the tax incentive and that without the credit some may move offices out of the state.

The vehicle fee was still reduced in 2013.

Negron said the cost has grown to $300 million a year.