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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Sen. Arthenia Joyner will now lead the Democratic Party on the floor of the state Senate, a little more than a half century after spending a couple of weeks in the Leon County Jail as part of local civil-rights struggles.

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Joyner, a Tampa Democrat, was unanimously elected Monday by the Senate Democratic Caucus to be the minority party’s leader the next two sessions.

The selection was first announced in May as the 2014 session came to a close.

Sen. Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens was elected the party’s leader pro tempore, making him second in line.

Joyner said the issues she wants Democrats to push during the coming 2015 session include increasing the minimum wage and ending the Republicans’ “Berlin Wall” of resistance to the expansion of Medicaid.

“There is no freedom for the tens of thousands underpaid and underemployed because the new jobs pale in comparison to ones lost in the Great Recession,” Joyner told the caucus members and a number of Republicans, including outgoing Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and incoming President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who attended the caucus meeting.

Gardiner, who will formally replace Gaetz on Tuesday, told Joyner, “We’re going to be partners.” Republicans hold a 26-14 advantage in the Senate.

Joyner was introduced by Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, as “a woman who has made history.”

Joyner, 71, originally from Lakeland, was the first black female attorney in Hillsborough County.

Joyner, a former president of the National Bar Association, was elected to the House in 2000 and joined the Senate in 2006. She replaces Fort Lauderdale Democrat Chris Smith as minority leader, though Smith remains in the Senate.

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As a student at Florida A&M University, a year before the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, Joyner was among people arrested twice, charged with trespassing for marching outside a Tallahassee movie theater that didn’t admit black customers. The theater was blocks from the state Capitol.

Joyner would also spend time in jail in the 1980s for protesting outside the South African embassy to end apartheid.

This report is by Jim Turner with the News Service of Florida.

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