Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature went forward with dissolving a long-standing endowment named after former Gov. Lawton Chiles, who led Florida in a mammoth legal battle with the nation’s tobacco companies.
In a turnabout, however, House and Senate budget negotiators agreed on Thursday to name an existing trust fund after Chiles, who was the last Democrat elected to serve as Governor. Chiles died in 1998 while he was still in office.
“There was still some desire to recognize that work he had done,” said Sen. Kelli Stargel, the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, who is from Chiles’ home county.
Stargel stated both Sen. Ben Albritton, who also is from Polk County and in line to become Senate President in 2024, and Sen. Jim Boyd had pushed to remember Chiles’ legacy.
“Both of them wanted to do something to continue to honor what he did way back when,” Stargel told reporters.
The fund was created at the behest of former Gov. Jeb Bush and was aimed at providing perpetual support for health care programs and biomedical research. But last year Republicans agreed to scuttle the endowment and fold the money into the state’s budget stabilization fund by this summer.
The State Board of Administration reported the Chiles endowment had a value of more than $850 million at the end of 2021.
The trust fund being renamed after Chiles is the main account that the tobacco company payments proceeds are initially deposited into and it is under the control of the Department of Financial Services.
House and Senate budget negotiators included the honor for Chiles in a health care conforming bill (SB 2526). In that same bill, they also recommended renaming the Florida Consortium of National Cancer Institutes Centers Program after First Lady Casey DeSantis, who recently was declared cancer-free after being diagnosed with breast cancer last year. The new name will be the Casey DeSantis Cancer Research Program.
Florida Politics reporter Gray Rohrer contributed to this report.