Florida Legislature Overturns Crist Vetoes

First day of new leadership team of Mike Haridopolos and Dean Cannon sees first veto overrides in 12 years
By: Kevin Derby | Posted: November 17, 2010 4:05 AM
House of Representatives 2010

Credit: Nathan Spicer

Hours after taking the reins, House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, led the Legislature during an abbreviated special session Tuesday in passing eight bills vetoed earlier in the year by outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist.

It marked the first time in 12 years that the Legislature overrode gubernatorial vetoes.

With Republicans controlling 81 of the 120 House votes, Cannon had enough votes in his caucus to override gubernatorial vetoes provided the Republicans stuck together. However, Republicans insisted the special session, held hours after the House organized for the next two years, was not a trial run for how they will govern.

“Some have said this is a way to flex our legislative muscles,” said Rep. Gary Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, who insisted that this is not the case, arguing that the House is performing its duties as part of the legislative branch.

Haridopolos and the Republican leadership also have a veto-proof majority in the Senate, controlling 28 of the 40 seats of the upper house.

The leadership of both the House and the Senate did not attempt to tackle Crist’s veto of SB 6, a measure reforming teacher performance pay, which was easily the most dramatic struggle of the 2010 regular session. Nor did they go after Crist’s veto of a measure that passed the Legislature requiring women considering having an abortion to have an ultrasound.

Instead, Republicans focused on measures that easily sailed though the House and Senate with more than enough votes to override the governor’s vetoes, overriding eight of Crist’s vetoes by overwhelming margins.

The most debated override concerned legislation requiring new or modified rules for government actions that would cost $1 million over five years. Crist vetoed a measure that would have required such actions be approved by the Legislature -- taking the decision away from agencies and bureaucrats. While the override went through both chambers, there was some spirited debate in both the House and Senate.

While he faced questions on the matter from Democrats led by Rep. Jim Waldman of Coconut Creek, Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Heathrow, led the fight in the House.

Though the motion initially passed with little opposition, some Democrats took aim at the measure. Audubon of Florida weighed in on the issue last week, arguing that the Legislature needs more time to examine the matter and asking that they defer it to the regular session.

“There’s no question agencies can go overboard,” said Waldman, who initially backed the measure. “I think this is an unworkable idea,” he added, arguing that the measure would bog down the Legislature.

But not all Democrats stood with Waldman against overriding the measure.

“Putting this extra check and balance in statute is a good thing for the people of Florida,” said Rep. Marty Kiar, D-Parkland, who added that he thinks the Legislature is better positioned to look out for the interests of Floridians than bureaucrats in agencies are.

Republicans stood united against Crist's veto. Conservative Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Palatka, insisted that unelected bureaucrats in agencies are making laws, without the check and balance of having voter input.

“This is the idea that there should be representative government held accountable by the voters,” said Dorworth as he closed the debate.

Dorworth’s measure passed with 99 votes -- more than enough to override Crist’s veto.

Newly installed President Pro Tem Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, led the fight for the override in the Senate, saying he didn’t think the changes would preclude Florida from enacting emergency measures or complying with federal laws.

Bennett fielded complaints from Democrats that the measure would increase bureaucratic procedures instead of reducing them, but he also faced fire from Republicans on the matter.

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, one of three Republicans to vote against the bill, expressed his concern that the bill would leave the state little leeway in enacting emergency measures.

“What happens if all of a sudden they have to implement a rule, and the Legislature doesn’t meet for nine months, 12 months later?” asked Fasano.

“I think we should have full committee hearings,” replied Bennett. “If it’s that controversial, then I think you should have a right to vote on a bill rather than a single agency head deciding what’s best for the people.”

Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich of Sunrise, Democratic Leader Pro Tem Arthenia Joyner of Tampa and two members of their caucus -- Sen. Larcenia Bullard of Miami and Sen. Eleanor Sobel of Hollywood -- voted against the bill. So did Republicans Sen. Thad Altman of Melbourne and Sen. Paula Dockery of Lakeland.

Other measures to override gubernatorial vetoes proved less contentious.

A measure to overturn Crist’s veto of a  bill repealing a law requiring disclosures of residential property windstorm mitigation ratings to home buyers in wind-borne debris regions sailed through both chambers with not a single vote sustaining the governor’s veto.  Proponents of the measure said the old law hurt sales of coastal homes.

A measure to overturn Crist’s veto of an act on solid waste disposal that allows local governments to deposit yard waste in dumps also passed by a wide margin -- with 114 votes in the House and unanimous backing in the Senate. Proponents of the override insisted this will reduce costs for taxpayers and see a decrease in the number of garbage trucks on Florida’s roads.

An override of Crist’s veto of a bill sponsored by Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-LaBelle, on clarifying the sale of agricultural land passed the House unanimously. Fasano and Joyner voted against the override in the Senate. The leadership said that Crist’s veto would have hurt farmers, especially if they were looking to sell their lands.

The House overrode Crist’s veto of a bill that former Rep. Ralph Poppell introduced on petroleum cleanups. Taken up by Rep. Bryan Nelson, R-Apopka, the override easily passed the House with only Rep. Rick Kriesman, D-St. Petersburg, voting against the measure. The Senate backed the override on a unanimous vote.

The Legislature overrode Crist’s veto of a measure requiring the Department of Environmental Protection to establish a database on all state lands. The measure sailed through the House with only one opposing vote. Only Dockery stood against the override in the Senate.

The Legislature also overrode Crist vetoing a bill that would require the Department of Transportation to provide written notification of state highway projects to local governments and affected homeowners. The leadership insisted Crist’s veto would have undermined the public’s chance to weigh in on these projects.

The Legislature took aim at a line-item Crist vetoed in the budget, striking $9.7 million appropriated to Shands Teaching Hospital.

Grimsley led the fight to restore funding to Shands in the House -- and the override passed unanimously.

“This is not just about Shands Teaching Hospital,” said House Majority Leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami. Lopez-Cantera argued that the veto impacted other hospitals from Jacksonville to Miami. He also offered one of the few direct shots at Crist in the special session: “I don’t understand why the governor vetoed this line-item when he had it in his budget the last four years.”

While Democrats voted against the budget in the general session, House Democratic Leader Ron Saunders of Key West called for his caucus to vote to override the veto.

“In the current economic conditions, the $9.7 million veto in funding to Shands Hospital was a costly financial hit that would have severely impacted the local community,” said Rep. Charles Chestnut, D-Gainesville. “I am proud today to have stood with my fellow colleagues in overriding the veto so that the funds for Shands Hospital can be fully restored.”

The Senate also unanimously overrode the governor’s veto of Shands’ funding.

With a backlog of around $31.5 million in rebates held up, the House unanimously backed a measure sponsored by Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, sending monies from the federal stimulus to the Florida Solar Energy Rebate Program and an HVAC rebate program.

McKeel used the opportunity to take a shot at Crist. “The governor made these promises prematurely and without authority,” said McKeel, though he insisted the Legislature had an obligation to back Crist’s promises.

The Senate passed the rebates measure with only two senators -- Bullard and newly elected Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa -- voting against it.

Both the House and the Senate passed a measure delaying the start of the Department of Health’s program evaluating septic tanks from January 2011 to July 2011 and forwarded it to the governor with only six votes opposing the measure. Only Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, voted against the measure in the Senate.

“By postponing the implementation of the Septic Tank Evaluation Program we will prevent the unnecessary inspection of septic tanks, saving taxpayers money and allowing the Legislature enough time to explore a better alternative during the regular legislative session,” said Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando. “We will have more time to ensure proper septic tank evaluation measures are established that do not impose overreaching regulations and prevent the costly, unnecessary inspection of septic tanks.

“As one of Florida’s most precious natural resources, we must continue to protect Florida’s drinking water. I look forward to working with my colleagues to develop a program that will protect water quality across the state without binding our citizens to costly inspections and overbearing mandates,” added Gardiner.

“I applaud Senate President Mike Haridopolos’ decision to bring this issue before the full Senate during this special session so we could provide temporary relief for so many Floridians,” said newly inaugurated Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker. “I want to thank all my colleagues that supported this measure. This delay in implementation will not only help my neighbors in Northwest Florida who have been so vocal on this issue, but will also bring temporary relief to all Floridians.

“I look forward to working with my fellow senators during the next regular session to further, and more permanently, address this vital issue,” added Evers.

Some Republicans made no secret that they hope to permanently kill the measure -- and will look to do so when the Legislature reconvenes in March.

“We are one step closer to repealing this law that would cause a tremendous financial burden to Floridians already suffering from the worst economy in generations,” said Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach.

“Eliminating this government overreach remains my top priority,” said Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna. “Today I filed legislation to repeal this burdensome requirement altogether in the 2011 regular session. Government should be lifting financial burdens from homeowners, not placing more on them. I’m committed to making sure that some common sense is put back in our environmental regulations.”

The Legislature also forwarded a nonbinding memorial to the U.S. Congress calling for reforming Medicaid to give the state more flexibility and discretion in administering the program. Medicaid threatens to consume more than 33 percent of the state budget by 2014. Backers of the memorial argued that 2 million Floridians will be added to the program in the next two years.

Democrats led by Rep. Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach spoke against the memorial arguing that it had not been looked at in committee. After forwarding the memorial, the House adjourned.

The Senate engaged in a longer debate on the memorial.

“We talked to Medicaid patients, we talked to providers, we talked to local government leaders,” said Sen. Joe Negron, R-Palm City, the memorial’s sponsor. “What we came away with is an irreconcilable conclusion that Medicaid is broken."

Fasano spoke out against the resolution, expressing concern that the direction the Legislature was headed would lead to pushing patients into HMOs.

“That sounds like managed care; am I wrong on that?” Fasano asked Negron.

“Saying that they’re going to be in HMOs is not what the resolution says,” Negron responded.

The nonbinding resolution does not oblige the Legislature to enact any legislation or spend any money.

Legislators will meet with health care providers Wednesday, addressing Medicaid reform.

Reach Kevin Derby at or at (850) 727-0859. Gray Rohrer contributed to this story.

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