A continued focus on job growth, a statewide approach to water issues and a potential overhaul of Florida’s special education programs will be top priorities for incoming state Senate President Andy Gardiner.
Gardiner, R-Orlando, was unanimously elected by Senate president-designate by Republicans on Tuesday to lead the chamber for the 2014-16 term.
In a speech after being selected to take over for President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, Gardiner stressed the economy, water and special ed programs with a lead-off endorsement of the economic climate fostered by Gov. Rick Scott since he took office in January 2011.
“We are headed in the right direction, and we have the right governor to lead us,” Gardiner told an audience in the Senate chamber that included Scott, the state Cabinet, and past and present lawmakers.
On water policy, Gardiner stressed management – such as the damage from Lake Okeechobee water releases into the Indian River Lagoon – as well as tourism drivers from the state’s natural resources inland from the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.
“We’re well known for our theme parks, but we should be just as well known for our rivers and bike paths,” Gardiner said.
In a brief news conference after the speech, Gardiner said protecting the quality of Florida’s water would help promote the state’s “bike trails and rivers and lakes.”
“We should be competing with Colorado and California,” he said.
In special education, Gardiner said it is time to move beyond the state’s long-time police of awarding “special diplomas” to handicapped students who graduate from high school, pieces of paper that don’t really qualify students for working in adulthood.
The father of a son with Down syndrome, Gardiner said the state should establish programs that provide training that enables disabled students to “get the college experience.”
Taking over as leader of a Senate Republican caucus that holds a 26-14 majority in the 40-member chamber – and surviving a GOP power struggle to do it – Gardiner stressed that his aim was to help each member of the Senate accomplish what they came into office to do.
“I’m not here to dictate. I’m not here to tell you what to do,” he said.
He also pledged to work closely with incoming Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, to “do everything I can to do what’s best for the Florida Senate and our state.”