House updates committee assignments after Joe Harding resignation
image via AP.

House Speaker had removed the Ocala Republican before his resignation.

The House has updated committee assignments less than a week after Rep. Joe Harding was indicted and resigned following federal fraud charges.

Harding, a second-term Republican lawmaker who had sponsored the controversial parental rights legislation during the 2022 Session, had been named a Vice Chair of two committees and a member of four other committees to kick off the new two-year term.

However, House Speaker Paul Renner pulled Harding from those committee assignments on Wednesday, and Harding resigned on Thursday, due to the fallout from six felony charges related to allegations of COVID-19 relief fraud.

Renner elevated Fort Myers Republican Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka to fill Harding’s Vice Chairmanship on the Health & Human Services Committee and Lake Placid Republican Rep. Kaylee Tuck to do the same on the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee. Renner also added Lecanto Republican Rep. Ralph Massullo to the Health & Human Services Committee and Miami freshman Republican Rep. Vicki Lopez to the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee.

Filling more of Harding’s slots, Renner added Indialantic Republican Rep. Thad Altman to the Judiciary Committee; Winter Springs Republican Rep. David Smith to the Civil Justice Subcommittee; and freshman Panama City Republican Rep. Griff Griffitts to the Local Administration, Federal Affairs & Special Districts Subcommittee.

The latter of those panels is expected to explore what to do with the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a special district run by Disney to support its Disney World operation.

The Legislature placed a June 2023 expiration date on the district after the entertainment giant came out in opposition to Harding’s parental rights bill, called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics. However, lawmakers must revisit their plan to strike a deal with new, apologetic Disney leadership, in part to avert the improvement district’s debts from falling on local governments.

Renner did not name a replacement for Harding on the Appropriations Committee.

On the Judiciary Committee, Renner also swapped Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell, of Tampa, with Davie Democratic Rep. Mike Gottlieb. Driskell requested that change to lighten her workload as caucus leader.

The indictment against Harding alleges that between Dec. 1, 2020, and March 1, 2021, the former Representative committed two acts of wire fraud through a scheme to defraud the Small Business Administration and by obtaining COVID-19-related small business loans through false and fraudulent pretenses.

It alleges Harding made fraudulent applications for Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loans, including by utilizing the names of dormant businesses. It also alleges Harding obtained fraudulently created bank statements for one of the dormant businesses, used as supporting documentation for one of the loan applications.

Combined, the charges accuse Harding of obtaining or attempting to obtain “more than $150,000 in funds from the SBA to which he was not entitled.”

On Wednesday, Renner announced he had removed the Ocala Republican from his committee assignments to allow him time to focus on the charges.

A trial for Harding is set for Jan. 11, 2023 at 8:30 a.m. at the U.S. Courthouse in Gainesville. United States District Judge Allen Winsor will preside.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


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