Gaetz, Weatherford name leaders, committee chairs

Sen. John Thrasher remains chairman of Senate Rules Committee

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The shape of the 2012-14 Legislature that will begin its first committee meetings next week took further shape Monday, with leaders of both chambers announcing committee chairmanships and other positions.

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, named a handful of chairmen and leadership appointments for the full chamber, while House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, unveiled a complete roster of House committees and their members.

Gaetz tapped Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, as Senate Majority Leader. Benacquisto has moved up through the ranks since her election in 2010; she was named deputy majority leader by former Senate President Mike Haridopolos in 2011.

"Her previous experiences in local government and in the private sector, as well as her reputation for building consensus in the Florida Senate, make Senator Benacquisto a natural choice for this important position," Gaetz said in a statement announcing the appointments.

Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon will serve as Republican whip. As expected, Gaetz also announced that Sen. Joe Negron, R-Palm City, will chair the Senate Appropriations Committee after spending time as the upper chamber's point man on Medicaid and health-care spending.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, will chair the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee; Gaetz and Weatherford have both indicated they are focused on overhauling the state's ethics and campaign finance laws. Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, will remain chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, Gaetz announced.

In the House, Weatherford appointments included Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, to chair the Economic Affairs Committee; Rep. Marlene O'Toole, R-Lady Lake, to chair the Education Committee; Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, to chair the Health and Human Services Committee; Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, to lead the Judiciary Committee; and Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, to head the Regulatory Affairs Committee.

Corcoran, expected to take over as speaker in 2016, will also lead a select committee looking into the implementation of the new federal health-care law. Rep. Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican recently tapped to become speaker in 2014, will head up the State Affairs Committee.

Weatherford had already named Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, as appropriations chairman. Subcommittee chairs include Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, for Health Care Appropriations; Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, for Education Appropriations; and Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, for Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations.

"With input from members, I have made committee and subcommittee assignments that align your talents and experience with the policy needs of our state," Weatherford wrote in a memo to House members.

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