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Ready for his close up: Health Secretary Scott Rivkees to make legislative debut

Rivkees’ first appearance is before the Senate Health Policy Committee on Tuesday.

Health Secretary and University of Florida (UF) professor Scott Rivkees makes his debut appearance before legislative health care panels this week.

While Gov. Ron DeSantis in April announced Rivkees would head the Health Department, Rivkees – who also holds the title of state Surgeon General – did not officially join the agency until June, after legislators left town.

Rivkees’ first appearance is before the Senate Health Policy Committee on Tuesday, followed by a House appearance on Wednesday.

When he appears before the House Health Quality Subcommittee, Rivkees is set to discuss the state’s growing hepatitis A epidemic. As of Sept. 7, there were 2,460 reported cases of the disease this year.

The Senate Health Policy Committee agenda for the Tuesday meeting, however, simply notes that Rivkees will be “introduced.” Whether senators will be able to question the new secretary at the meeting is not clear.

There are plenty of questions that senators could ask, though, if allowed. For instance:

— Senators could publicly press Rivkees on Deputy Secretary for Operations Michele Tallent, who has been on administrative leave with pay since July 16.

The department’s communications staff say she’s the subject of an internal investigation but they’ve offered no insight as to why. They also are offering no insight as to when the internal investigation, which has been going on for two months, will be concluded.

Tallent’s name surfaced in a recent article by The Guardian that highlights former Gov. Rick Scott‘s record on HIV and AIDS and how $70 million in grant funding for people with HIV and AIDS was returned to the federal government, unspent.

Before serving as the deputy secretary for operations, Tallent served as the director of the department’s budget office, according to the agency’s website. Prior to joining DOH, she was a budget staffer for the Governor’s Office of Policy and Budget.

The resume listed on the department’s website also notes that Tallent has served as the budget director for the Agency for Health Care Administration. Tallent, who first started working for the state in 1991, currently earns nearly $122,000 annually.

— Senators also could also ask Rivkees about a sexual harassment investigation conducted by UF, as well as a UF audit that showed that Rivkees had not properly filed financial-disclosure information.

The News Service of Florida first reported about the investigations in April.

— They could ask Rivkees about his unusual two-year arrangement with the state of Florida that allows him to remain employed at the University of Florida – and keep his tenured position – while also being in charge of the state Department of Health.

The department has scores of contracts with the university but the DeSantis administration says there’s no conflict of interest because Rivkees won’t be involved in any decisions that would impact the university.

While Tuesday’s appearance before the Senate Health Policy Committee is Rivkees’ first, it likely won’t be his last: The Senate is charged with confirming gubernatorial appointments.

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