News Service Of Florida – Florida Politics

News Service Of Florida

The News Service of Florida provides journalists, lobbyists, government officials and other civic leaders with comprehensive, objective information about the activities of state government year-round.

Citrus farmers in waiting game for hurricane aid

Frustration is growing among Florida citrus farmers awaiting the distribution of $2.36 billion in federal disaster-relief money for agriculture losses sustained in Hurricane Irma.

“We’re still waiting, maybe not as patiently as we were to start with,” Florida Citrus Commission Chairman G. Ellis Hunt said Wednesday.

President Donald Trump signed the disaster-relief package in February, five months after Hurricane Irma slammed into Florida. The approval came after months of lobbying by Florida officials.

“We’ve got to get this money,” Hunt added Wednesday. “Growers are hanging by a thread, and it’s going to make a difference for a lot of people whether they survive or not.”

Florida’s agriculture industry suffered an estimated $2.5 billion in losses from Hurricane Irma, with the citrus industry — seeing record lows in production this growing season — accounting for $761 million of the total.

The loss estimates were released in October by the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Since then, citrus losses have been estimated by state lawmakers to have stretched over the $1 billion mark as the growing season progressed and as damage to trees from flooding has become more pronounced.

With losses at groves in parts of Southwest Florida reaching 70 percent to 90 percent from Irma, orange production across the state is forecast to be down 34.5 percent from a year ago, with grapefruit production off by 40 percent in the same time.

A request for comment from the U.S. Department of Agriculture was not immediately returned.

Mike Sparks, executive vice president of Florida Citrus Mutual, said “our frustration” is tied to getting the U.S. Department of Agriculture to release a draft on how or when the money will be distributed.

“It’s been over six, seven months since the hurricane, coming up on eight, and we are still on hold,” said Sparks, who was in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. “We’ve just got to get something out of USDA.”

Sparks noted he’s been working with members of Florida’s congressional delegation to speed the distribution of funding.

Earlier this month, Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson took to the Senate floor to call out the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for “foot dragging” on the distribution of the overall $90 billion disaster relief package.

Signed by Trump on Feb. 9, the relief package is aimed at recovery efforts from Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Harvey in Texas and other areas of the western Gulf Coast, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and wildfires in California.

Nelson tweeted on March 6 that he was advised by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue that “help will arrive within weeks, not months.”

State officials have submitted recommendations on how the federal money could be distributed, Sparks said.

Florida lawmakers approved some short-term patches for the agriculture industry as part of a roughly $170 million tax package (HB 7087) approved March 11.

The package includes tax breaks for such things as materials used to repair nonresidential farm buildings and fences and for citrus packing houses that had their businesses interrupted by Hurricane Irma or by the deadly disease citrus greening. Also, tax breaks were included for fuel used to transport agricultural products after Irma.

Cory Booker to raise money for Bill Nelson on April 14

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker — a Democratic rock star — is headlining a fundraiser for fellow Sen. Bill Nelson in Tallahassee next month.

Booker, who was the mayor of Newark before heading to D.C. in 2013, will be the main draw at an April 14 luncheon at the home of Altha Manning, according to an invite posted on Twitter by Allison Tant, a former head of the Florida Democratic Party.

Nelson, a veteran politico who’s represented Florida in the U.S. Senate for 17 years, could be in a face-off against Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott, who is forced out of the governor’s office due to term limits, is expected to announce his intentions soon.


Tobacco funding fight extinguished

A smoldering controversy over Florida’s landmark tobacco settlement and how money should be spent has been snuffed out.

Rep. Jeanette Nunez, a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, said Thursday she will no longer push a proposed constitutional amendment that would have eliminated a requirement that the state set aside 30 percent of overall tobacco-education and prevention funding for an edgy advertising and marketing campaign.

“I don’t ever want to call myself ‘fat,’ but I’m singing. I’m done,” Nunez, a Miami Republican, told The News Service of Florida.

Nunez’s remarks come after the commission, which has the power to place potential constitutional amendments on the November ballot, did not approve the proposal while meeting this week in Tallahassee.

Anti-smoking groups that have lobbied fiercely against the proposal, though, aren’t letting their guard down. “We don’t want to assume anything with regard to the process they are following,” Protect Tobacco Free Florida spokeswoman Heather Youmans said in a prepared statement.

The Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years, has unique authority to place proposed constitutional amendments directly on the ballot. The commission this week voted to move forward with 25 proposed amendments and send them to its “Style and Drafting” committee. That committee has key duties such as finding ways to consolidate proposals with similar themes and writing ballot summaries.

Proposals emerging from the committee then will go back to the full Constitution Revision Commission for final votes. They need support from 22 of the 37 members to go on the November ballot.

Commission rules make clear that the Style and Drafting Committee can only consider proposals that have been backed by the full commission. When asked whether the tobacco-money proposal was dead, Style and Drafting Committee Chairman, Brecht Heuchan told The News Service of Florida “yes.”

Nunez said she sponsored the amendment because she doesn’t think it’s appropriate that the Constitution include required spending amounts for any program, including the anti-tobacco campaign.

Voters put the tobacco-spending mandate in the Constitution in 2006 after the Legislature drastically scaled back funding for the advertising campaign. The advertising campaign is funded from a multibillion-dollar settlement that the state reached in 1997 with the tobacco industry.

Nunez on Tuesday asked that a vote by the full commission on her proposal be delayed after she spent more than an hour answering questions about what the amendment would do and why she wants to add it to the Constitution.

Some of the toughest questions came from Commissioner Lisa Carlton, a former state senator who told Nunez that there wasn’t any public support for the proposal during public hearings held across the state.

Instead, groups such as Protect Tobacco Free Florida, which is comprised of the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association, and the American Lung Association, got volunteers to attend the public meetings to oppose the proposal, along with sending thousands of emails opposing it.

“Where’s the groundswell telling us that we need to change something that was passed (in 2006) by the people by the super majority of the people?” Carlton asked Nunez. “Where’s the groundswell? Help me understand that.”

While Nunez acknowledged that she didn’t have the “firepower” of those organizations, she said she isn’t alone in her thoughts.

“What I will tell you, is there is something to be said about the silent majority,” Nunez said, adding that when she speaks with people who voted for the 2006 amendment they are unaware of the spending mandate for marketing.

“Their comments, and I’m not saying they’re right, but their comments are, ‘Oh that was probably some big ad agency that got that in there that are wanting to dupe the public,’ ’’ Nunez said.

State records show that companies such as Altria Client Services, the parent company of cigarette maker Philip Morris USA, and Miami-based Dosal Tobacco Corporation hired lobbyists to lobby the commission.

“I haven’t had one conversation with one tobacco lobbyist on that proposal or any other proposal,” Nunez said.

Along with the tobacco-advertising issue, the commission has considered a separate Carlton proposal that would ban electronic cigarettes and other types of vaping in workplaces, similar to the state’s smoking ban. Tobacco companies such as Philip Morris have moved into the electronic-cigarette business in recent years.

Nunez told Carlton that the tobacco-advertising amendment would allow the Legislature to review the program to ensure that it works efficiently. When Carlton — a former Senate budget chief — said the Legislature could conduct a review without a change to the Constitution, Nunez again countered, noting that if the review found wasted spending, “there would be nothing the Legislature could do.”

But Carlton, who spent 14 years in the Legislature, said that wasn’t the case and said that as a lawmaker, Nunez had the power to file a proposed constitutional change if there “was something wrong with the way the dollars were being spent.”

According to the Florida Department of Health, the anti-smoking initiative has been a success. In 2006, the adult smoking rate was 21 percent, and in 2015 it was 15.8 percent, the lowest it has ever been. Fewer young people have started smoking since the Tobacco Free Florida program was created. The youth smoking rate has decreased from 10.6 percent in 2006 to 3 percent in 2016.

Packaging, wording key for ballot proposals

With 25 potential changes to the state Constitution before it, a committee Thursday began debating how to group and define the proposals that may be headed to the November general-election ballot.

The Style and Drafting Committee, which is part of the state Constitution Revision Commission, has the complicated task of handling the 25 proposals, which were endorsed this week by the full commission.

Commissioner Brecht Heuchan, a Tallahassee political consultant and lobbyist who chairs the committee, said the primary focus will be deciding what proposals to group together, revising some of the proposals, deciding their order on the ballot and writing a title and ballot summary for each amendment.

“In my mind, I think we need to deal with the grouping and fixing before we can go to the ballot (language) drafting,” Heuchan said.

The task is daunting in the sense the committee will have to consider 25 proposals that range from an oil-drilling ban to a judicial retirement age to greyhound racing to health-care regulations to government ethics standards.

But Heuchan said it was not an “impossible” challenge noting the last time the Constitution Revision Commission met in 1998, the Style and Drafting Committee had to wade through 36 proposals. The committee ended up grouping those into 10 amendments, with nine placed on the ballot and eight ultimately approved by voters.

The commission, which meets every 20 years and has the authority to place constitutional changes directly on the ballot, is facing a May 10 deadline for deciding what to present to voters this fall.

Commissioner Patricia Levesque, who leads a Tallahassee education-policy group, offered her advice to the committee based on helping develop a constitutional ballot package for the state Taxation and Budget Reform Commission in 2008.

Levesque said ultimately the most important job for the Style and Drafting Committee will be writing the title and ballot summary, which cannot exceed 75 words, for each amendment.

“Words matter,” Levesque said. “I would argue that the ballot summary is the most important thing to work on because the ballot summaries are the only things that the voters will read and see in order to know what they are voting on.”

Levesque said the ballot language needs to be “clear and unambiguous” while meeting the word limit.

“It needs to be an explanatory statement. It’s not a campaign slogan,” she said.

Levesque said opponents of ballot amendments will argue the summary is misleading or “hides the ball,” implying it does not clearly state the true intent of the measure. And she said those issues can be raised in court after the commission finishes its ballot package.

“Even though the proposals we will end up voting on can go directly onto the ballot, it doesn’t mean that they will go directly on the ballot,” she said.

Another consideration for the committee is that there are already five constitutional amendments on the November ballot, including three placed there by the Legislature and two by citizens’ initiatives. They include measures on gambling, homestead tax breaks, restoration of felons’ rights and a requirement for supermajority votes by the Legislature on future tax and fee increases.

Several committee members questioned how many amendments the Constitution Revision Commission should advance.

Commissioner John Stargel of Lakeland noted that in the committee’s preliminary discussion of proposal groupings, the panel was still looking at more than a dozen ballot measures.

“I think that’s too many. I think there would be a pushback” from voters, said Stargel, a former lawmaker who is now a circuit judge.

Heuchan said he had no “preconceived notion” of how many amendments should be on the ballot, while saying the committee will have to try “to ensure that the ballot doesn’t get so long that it is hard to consume.”

The Style and Drafting Committee is scheduled to meet again on April 3, with the goal of finishing its work by April 13. The full commission is scheduled to begin debating the ballot package on April 16, with the goal of making its final decisions by May 4.

Any proposals advanced by the Style and Drafting Committee will require support from at least 22 of the 37 members of the commission to be placed on the November ballot.

25 constitutional proposals advance

After three days of floor debate, the state Constitution Revision Commission ended its initial session Wednesday, approving 25 proposals that could be on the November general-election ballot.

The proposed changes to the state Constitution now move to the commission’s Style and Drafting Committee, which has the power to amend and group the proposals before they return to the panel for a final vote in April.

Eleven measures either never received a vote in the preliminary review by the commission or were rejected in floor votes during this week’s three-day session.

Among the proposals still under consideration are an off-shore oil drilling ban (Proposal 91), an ethics package (P39), a ban on greyhound racing (P67), survivor benefits for law enforcement and military members (P49), victims’ rights (P96), a workplace ban on vaping (P33) and school board term limits (P43).

The Style and Drafting Committee will begin reviewing the measures in meetings scheduled for Thursday and Friday.

The Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years, has the unique power to place proposals directly on the November general-election ballot, where they must receive support from at least 60 percent of the voters.

Tax package headed to Rick Scott

A $171 million tax package, featuring sales tax “holidays” for back-to-school shoppers in August and for people buying hurricane supplies in June, was delivered Wednesday to Gov. Rick Scott.

The measure (HB 7087) was among 35 bills that landed on Scott’s desk, including several “claim” bills and a proposal (HB 37) that would allow physicians, chiropractors and group practices to sign “direct primary-care” agreements with patients without running amok of Florida’s insurance laws.

Scott will have 15 days to act on the bills, which were passed during the Legislative Session that ended March 11.

Scott already started highlighting the tax package last week, leaving no doubt he will sign it. The package includes a three-day back-to-school tax holiday on clothes and classroom items and a seven-day holiday for hurricane supplies. It also includes a tax break for homeowners displaced by Hurricane Irma, a break for nursing homes that purchase electric generators, and a reduction in a commercial lease tax from 5.8 percent to 5.7 percent.

The package also includes a 9 percent reduction on civil penalties for non-criminal traffic infractions — such as speeding within 30 mph over the posted limit — if motorists attend driver-improvement school.

Among the “claim” bills before Scott is a proposal (HB 6545) for Tampa to pay $5 million to chef Ramiro Companioni.

Claim bills are a specific type of legislation that stem from people who are injured or die because of the actions of government agencies or employees. A legal concept known as “sovereign immunity” typically shields agencies from paying large amounts in lawsuits unless claim bills are passed.

In 1996, Companioni suffered “catastrophic” injuries when the motorcycle he was riding was involved in a crash with a city of Tampa water truck that had crossed three lanes of traffic. The payment is a compromise from the $17.9 million that had been awarded by a jury.

Gun restrictions won’t go on November ballot

Floridians won’t have an opportunity to decide whether the state should ban semi-automatic weapons — or to weigh in on other gun-related restrictions — after the Constitution Revision Commission rejected attempts to debate the proposals Wednesday.

Efforts to take up gun-related issues came as the 37-member commission, which meets every 20 years, is narrowing a list of proposed constitutional amendments to place before voters on the November ballot.

A handful of commissioners floated proposals that would impose stricter gun regulations, such as a ban on assault-style weapons, following the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in which 14 students and three staff members were shot dead by 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz. Cruz, who had a lengthy history of mental health problems, used an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle he purchased legally — with no waiting period — to carry out the shooting in Parkland.

Commissioner Roberto Martinez, a former federal prosecutor, proposed an amendment that mirrored gun restrictions imposed by a new Florida law, which raised the minimum age from 18 to 21 and imposed a three-day waiting period to purchase long guns, such as the one used by Cruz. Like the new law, Martinez’s amendment also called for banning “bump stocks,” devices that allow semi-automatic weapons to mimic automatic guns.

While lawmakers passed the age and waiting-period restrictions, putting such measures in the Constitution would make them more permanent — and harder to change. The Constitution Revision Commission has unique power to place proposals directly on the ballot.

Martinez, a Republican who said he owns three guns, said he met with students from the Parkland school and others while researching the issue.

“They’re not gun-grabbers. But what these students and the young people are asking for are reasonable laws to make sure that guns don’t get into the hands of the wrong people,” Martinez argued. “That’s all they want. And they want an opportunity to vote … to put into our Constitution those same very meaningful and reasonable firearm safety restrictions that are now included in the act.”

But Martinez tried to add the amendment to another commission proposal (Proposal 3) that deals with property rights of certain immigrants. Commissioner Emery Gainey, who works for Attorney General Pam Bondi and was appointed to the constitution-revision panel by Gov. Rick Scott, challenged whether the amendment had anything to do with the underlying proposal.

“I have personally seen the carnage that it (a semi-automatic weapon) does to the human body,” Gainey, who’s spent three decades in law enforcement, said. “I think it’s a discussion that Floridians ought to have. … There’s a proper forum. I don’t think this is it.”

As they did on two other gun-related proposals, a majority of the commission refused to allow a debate on Martinez’s amendment after Rules and Administration Chairman Tim Cerio decided the proposal was “not germane” to the underlying proposal.

“It’s not even a close call,” Cerio, a former general counsel to Scott, said.

Martinez appealed the decision and asked that the rules be waived, because the Feb. 14 shooting occurred after an Oct. 31 deadline for proposals to be submitted.

But Bondi, who serves on the constitution-revision panel, said commissioners had plenty of time to file proposals following the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando that left 49 people dead.

“To say that the shooting came up recently, well, we had Pulse nightclub a year ago. You’ve all known that from day one.  No one did anything on that,” she said.

But Martinez argued that people should be allowed to “have a voice” and “publicly debate” what has become “the issue of the day” for Floridians.

“There was mention of the awful tragedy at Pulse, where the gay community was targeted. That was an awful massacre. And what did the Legislature do about that? Anybody want to raise their hands? No hands? That’s because they did nothing,” Martinez said.

He urged the commission to echo the actions of “the political leadership of this state” this year, saying Scott and the Legislature had “basically been unshackled to address this issue,” despite pressure from powerful special interests. The National Rifle Association filed a federal lawsuit shortly after Scott signed the new law and has targeted Republican legislators who supported the measure.

“What is the harm done, if we were to go forward, debate this issue and vote on it? I can’t see any harm,” he said. “What is the benefit? The benefit is unlimited.”

The motion to waive the rules failed on a voice vote.

Commissioner Chris Smith, a former state senator from Fort Lauderdale, was met with an identical response — a challenge to germanity — when he attempted to introduce an amendment that would ban assault-style weapons.

Smith, a Democrat, noted that the Legislature debated the assault-weapons ban during the annual session, which ended March 11.

But Florida voters “want to have a voice on this,” he said.

“It’s being debated right now in your home offices. It’s being debated in the parking lots of Publix. It’s being debated throughout this state. We are in a unique opportunity to give those 20 million a chance to actually vote on it,” he said.

The majority also rejected taking up Smith’s amendment.

Wednesday’s CRC actions came after House Speaker Richard Corcorantargeted by the National Rifle Association following the passage of the new gun restrictions — wrote in a letter to commissioners that he had a “grave concern” about amendments “that are inappropriate for inclusion in the state Constitution.”

Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, said he opposed proposals seeking an assault-weapons ban and an “extended” waiting period.

Firearm policies “are best left to the purview of an elected legislature in a constitutional republic,” the speaker wrote Wednesday morning.

“The Constitution protects the right to keep and bear arms. All firearm policies flow from that fundamental right and should remain policy matters for the Legislature,” Corcoran wrote.

Noting that Corcoran had essentially told the Constitution Revision Commission to mind its own business, Commissioner Hank Coxe, a Jacksonville lawyer, offered a proposal that included a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and a 10-day waiting period for the purchase of guns.

Coxe, who was appointed by Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, said the commission had signed off on numerous proposals that lawmakers refused to pass — including a potential ban on greyhound racing and a victim’s rights measure known as “Marsy’s Law.”

“The legacy of the CRC is, as we stand here now given the germanity issue, that we worry about victim’s rights in Marsy’s Law, that we worry about the greyhounds, but, because of adherence to this rule, we do not worry about reducing the number of people murdered in the state of Florida,” Coxe said. “Forget germanity. Just waive the rules.”

But, again on a voice vote, a majority of the commission refused to waive the rules, and Coxe’s amendment failed.

School board term limits could go to voters

School board members would be limited to eight years in office under a proposal that moved forward Wednesday in the state Constitution Revision Commission.

The proposed constitutional amendment (Proposal 43), sponsored by Commissioner Erika Donalds of Naples, would limit county school-board members who are elected on Nov. 6 or later to no more than two consecutive four-year terms.

Donalds, a member of the Collier County School Board, said the proposal is similar to a constitutional amendment adopted by Florida voters in 1992 that limited state lawmakers and Cabinet members to two terms. The governor is also limited to eight years in office.

“People do know what’s best for them,” Donalds said in response to arguments that the public does not understand the ramifications of term limits. “That’s why they support term limits in such huge measure, basically at every level of government.”

She said voters can compare the Florida Legislature with Congress, which does not have term limits.

“They can see very clearly the difference between having term limits and not having term limits,” Donalds said.

Commissioner Chris Smith, who opposed the measure, said limiting the terms of school board members and other elected officials gives more power to lobbyists and staff who remain in the system while elected officials come and go.

“It empowers lobbyists. It creates more and more lobbyists. I don’t think the public truly understands the ramifications of term limits,” said Smith, a former state senator from Fort Lauderdale. “It’s one of those things that sounds good. Everybody wants to throw the bums out.”

Commissioner Jeanette Nunez of Miami voted for the measure.

“I am the poster child of term limits. It works,” said Nunez, who has served eight years as a Republican member of the Florida House. As she leaves office later this year because of term limits, she said she looks forward to “the new crop of individuals who will bring fresh ideas and a new perspective” to the Legislature.

Commissioner Arthenia Joyner of Tampa, a former state senator who voted against the measure, said term limits are not necessary for school board members who are accessible to local voters.

“If you mess up, they will get you out. They will limit your term. We don’t need to do it. We need to let the people do it,” Joyner said.

The commission voted 27-6 to advance the proposal to the CRC’s Style and Drafting Committee. If approved by the committee, the measure will return to the full CRC, where it must win support from at least 22 commissioners to be placed on the November ballot.

Donalds withdrew another proposed constitutional amendment (Proposal 33) that would have required all school superintendents in the state to be appointed, rather than allowing counties the current option of appointing or electing the superintendents.

Drilling ban could be headed to ballot

Florida’s nearshore waters would be off limits to future oil and gas drilling under a measure that moved closer Tuesday to appearing before voters in November.

The state Constitution Revision Commission voted 32-1 to advance a proposal (Proposal 91) that seeks to prohibit oil and gas drilling within about three miles of the East Coast and nine miles of the Gulf of Mexico coast.

“These things (oil rigs) are not what we want along our shorelines,” said Commissioner Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, a former mayor of Sewall’s Point who sponsored the proposal. “We want to protect our natural resources and our scenic beauty.”

Commissioners still will have to take a final vote on the proposed constitutional amendment before it could go on the November ballot. The commission meets every 20 years to propose constitutional amendments and faces an early May deadline to finish its work.

Thurlow-Lippisch said her proposal is a needed “statement” to help the economy, wildlife and quality of life for Floridians.

“It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, or black or white or an alien from outer space, if you get to come here, you can walk the beaches and enjoy what they are,” Thurlow-Lippisch said.

Florida law currently prohibits the state from granting leases to drill for oil or natural gas in state coastal waters. But putting a drilling ban in the Constitution would be more permanent.

Thurlow-Lippisch’s proposal wouldn’t impact the transportation of oil and gas products produced outside those waters.

The proposal comes amid debate about Trump administration plans to allow oil and gas drilling in federal waters off various parts of the country. U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke appeared in January in Tallahassee and said drilling would not occur off Florida’s coasts, but the administration’s stance has continued to draw questions. The issue involves waters beyond the nation’s outer continental shelf — a jurisdictional term describing submerged lands 10.36 statutory miles off Florida’s West Coast and three nautical miles off the East Coast.

Former state Senate President Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who is a member of the Constitution Revision Commission, recalled the deadly 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and said the goal is for it not to happen again.

“Even the perception of oil reaching our Florida beaches, on the Northwest Florida coast, brought our economy, which is largely dependent on tourism, on its knees,” Gaetz said. “The economic damages that we suffered were in the billions of dollars.”

The region has been able to rebound in part through a settlement with BP. About three-quarters of the $2 billion the state is expected to receive will go to the non-profit organization Triumph Gulf Coast, which will direct money to economic-development projects in Northwest Florida.

Constitution Revision Commission member Gary Lester, a vice president of The Villages who was appointed to the commission by Gov. Rick Scott, cast the lone vote against the drilling-ban proposal.

Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican and member of the commission, advised Thurlow-Lippisch — while voting for the proposal — to consider adding a definition of drilling to offset the need for a future constitutional rewrite.

“I can see a day where technology is advanced to a point where someone may be able to do something with a level of comfort, security and safety that would satisfy you and the rest of us, that they could protect Florida’s Gulf Coast and still accomplish the objective we don’t want them accomplishing through what is loosely called drilling today,” Lee said.

CRC rejects added duty for Lieutenant Governor

Florida’s lieutenant governor won’t have to worry about being required by voters to run a state agency.

Members of the state Constitution Revision Commission on Tuesday rejected, in a 20-12 vote, a proposed constitutional amendment (Proposal 66) that would have required the Lieutenant Governor to oversee a department within the executive branch.

“We spend about $1 million a year on support services and salary for the lieutenant governor,” said Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican and member of the commission who sponsored the proposal. “It was just an idea to get not only a bigger bang for our buck, but at the same time also create some added value and some self-actualization for the individual.”

In the past, Lee called the money spent on the office “wasteful.” On Tuesday, he said the position is one of the weakest in the nation and simply designed to “help elect a governor at election time.”

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera is paid $124,851 a year.

But several members of the commission noted the governor already can appoint the lieutenant governor to run an agency and that some agency-head positions have required qualifications. As an example, the Department of Health is headed by the state Surgeon General.

“In dealing with many of these agencies over the past seven years, I know the Department of Corrections is highly qualified in law enforcement,” Attorney General Pam Bondi said. “I think that’s another problem, that many of these require very specialized skills.”

Bondi is part of the 37-member commission, which meets every 20 years to craft constitutional amendments that will go before voters in November.

Commissioner Emery Gainey, a member of the Attorney General’s management team, asked what would happen if the Governor wasn’t satisfied with the performance of the Lieutenant Governor and no other agency-head position was open.

Lee initially proposed that the Lieutenant Governor act as a tie-breaking vote in the Florida Senate and replace the secretary of state, one of the positions now appointed by the Governor. But the proposal was scaled back to requiring that the Lieutenant Governor serve as an agency head.

Other examples of agencies under the Governor include the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Elder Affairs, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Lottery and the Department of Management Services.

Commissioner Don Gaetz, a former state Senate president, was among those backing the proposal.

“I think we’ve had some great lieutenant governors who actually had jobs,” said Gaetz, a Niceville Republican. “And then we’ve had some lieutenant governors who could have wandered the halls with their hands in their pockets, a waste of human resources. It’s just the way it was.”

The office has been around in Florida since 1968 and provides an immediate replacement if there is a gubernatorial vacancy — as happened in 1998, when Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay briefly became governor after the death of Gov. Lawton Chiles.

Under Gov. Rick Scott the position has been widely viewed as ceremonial.

Scott let the office sit idle for nearly a year between the resignation of Jennifer Carroll in March 2013 and his appointment of Lopez-Cantera in February 2014.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons