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Democrats look to derail House bill weakening Ag. Commissioner’s office

The amendments likely to fail.

Democrats have filed amendments to a bill that would remove a prized function of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

PCB ANR 20-01, a bill deemed a “partisan power grab” by Commissioner Nikki Fried, would take the Office of Energy out of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

That bill would return the office to the Department of Environmental Protection, which held it until shortly after Adam Putnam became Commissioner in 2011.

The bill is on the Special Order calendar Wednesday, and the workshopping of unlikely-to-be-made changes is imminent.

One such amendment, via Rep. Javier Fernandez, calls for a “comprehensive plan” ahead of the transfer, including how all key functions of the Office of Energy would be handled.

A Rep. Anna Eskamani amendment calls for a strategy to make Florida carbon neutral by 2050.

A Rep. Margaret Good proposal calls for a “greenhouse gas inventory and climate impacts assessment to establish a baseline against which progress on emissions reductions goals can be measured.”

House Democrats’ defense for Fried, even as the numbers work against them, will be a litmus test as to how much real support she has in the House.

Fried has railed against the proposal in press conferences.

“Now that a Democratic woman sits in this office, it needs to be moved … This is politics as usual, and this is why people hate politics,” Fried said.

Fried also urged a “united front” in comments to the Democratic caucus, a rare visit to the House conclave that saw one member complain she couldn’t get a meeting with Fried despite best efforts.

Fried, who stressed putting “state over party” in public comments, has already begun political committee fundraising based on the partisan standoff.

“Why is the Governor doing this? Because I’m fighting against climate change and he won’t. Because I’m doing great work to protect consumers and he can’t. Because I’m a forward-thinking, Democratic woman and he can’t stand it,” Fried wrote.

Bill analysis notes that before “2008, there was a state energy program within the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that was responsible for developing the state’s energy policy. Chapter 2008-227, L.O.F., transferred all of the powers, duties, functions, records, personnel, and property of the state energy program in DEP by a type two transfer to the Florida Energy and Climate Commission in the Executive Office of the Governor. The Commission was responsible for the state’s energy program until 2011.”

In 2011, with the politically favored Putnam in Fried’s office, the energy program seemed a natural fit for the department. However, the House proposal sees it differently.

“The bill conforms to the proposed House of Representatives’ Fiscal Year 2020-2021 General Appropriations Act, which transfers 14 full-time equivalent positions, $605,934 in Salary Rate, $539,080 in general revenue funds, and $1,214,900 in trust fund authority from the Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services to the Department of Environmental Protection,” the analysis adds.

However, the Senate budget does not contemplate such a move.

Senate President Bill Galvano said last week that “our budget does not reflect that change in funding.”

“The House has a bill working through with regard to structure. There’s also some proposals from the plaza level,” Galvano added

If the bill passes the House, Galvano said, “we’ll have those discussions and go from there. If there’s a valid reason for making those moves, then we’ll support it.”

Galvano’s comments were more open to potential changes than those made Wednesday by Senate budget chair Rob Bradley.

“I’m not even sure there’s a Senate bill on that issue and I would not consider that a priority of the Senate,” Bradley said.

Will the Senate defend Democrat Fried’s prerogatives? Or could this be a late-session bargaining chip?

In either case, Democratic input will involve nibbling around the edges, via what will be deemed unfriendly amendments.

Chair Holly Raschein of the Agriculture and Natural Resources committee noted that unless the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services removes all gas pump stickers with Commissioner Nikki Fried‘s face, the department would lose its funding beginning July 1 — a sharp rejoinder to Fried bemoaning partisan attacks on her office before the meeting.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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