Rick Scott's Government Reorganization Proposal Clears House Committee
Around the State
Gov. Rick Scott addressed the House Select Committee on Government Reorganization Friday as the Legislature continued to shape the proposed Department of Economic Opportunity. The committee forwarded a measure setting up the proposed department after hearing from the governor.
The proposed department would include the Division of Community Planning, the Division of Housing and Community Development, the Office of Unemployment Compensation Services, the Office of Early Learning -- which remains intact under the current bill, the Office of Workforce Services, the Florida Housing Finance Corp. and a number of trust funds. The proposal would mean that some of the trust funds currently under the Department of Community Affairs would be broken up under the bill. It would also reassign functions now under the Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development, currently in the governor’s jurisdiction, and reorganize the Agency for Workforce Innovation.
The measure would also merge a host of private-public partnerships -- such as Visit Florida, the Florida Sports Foundation, the Florida Black Business Investment Board -- into a revised Enterprise Florida. The board of Enterprise Florida would direct Space Florida under the proposal.
“This is a large bill and sometimes large bills can be a little overwhelming,” said Speaker Pro Tempore John Legg, R-Port Richey, the chairman of the committee, as the committee meeting started. The bill extends to 677 pages -- a fact that Rep. Gary Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, the vice chairman of the committee, noted in the meeting.
Insisting these changes were needed to make the state more competitive in luring jobs to Florida, the governor had been pushing for the measure, arguing that the proposed department -- and $400 million in funds -- would give his team more flexibility in luring businesses to the Sunshine State as quickly as possible
“I want to thank you for taking economic development seriously,” said Scott when he spoke to the committee on Friday.
Insisting that bringing more jobs to the Sunshine State remained the top issue of his administration, Scott said, “The bill you will vote on today will provide us the framework we need.”
The governor maintained that the proposed department would provide more flexibility to lure jobs, streamline efforts, and place work force development and economic development under one umbrella.
“With those changes, Florida will be able to compete and win,” maintained Scott. “We will attract businesses and create private-sector jobs.
“I am confident we will get Florida back to work,” continued Scott. “These reforms are needed to make Florida the No. 1 place to start, grow and run a business.”
Members of the House agreed with some of Scott’s comments.
“We are in competition with other states,” insisted Rep. Ben Albritton, R-Bartow. “The question really is how to respond.”
The committee members asked questions of Legg and other supporters as they kicked over the lengthy piece of legislation before hearing from audience members. Advocates, parents and providers spoke in support of the proposal to keep the Office of Early Learning together. Supporters of the current incarnation of Visit Florida argued that the organization was an excellent example of a private-public partnership and expressed concerns about its funding under the proposal.
Republicans on the committee backed the proposal. Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, praised the bill, arguing that it would help encourage long-term strategic thinking and diversify the state’s economy.
“The world is evolving, the marketplace is continuing to evolve,” said Rep. Clay Ingram, R-Pensacola. “You have to continue to evolve.”
Democrats on the committee were divided on the measure with many of them having concerns over giving the governor’s office too much power and undermining the success of Visit Florida.
Rep. Leonard Bembry, D-Madison, praised the measure and voted for it, noting that streamlining the state’s economic development efforts would allow the state to be more competitive. Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, warned that the measure could be improved on tourism and economic development but gave the proposal an “A-” and said he would back it.
Other Democrats opposed the proposal.
“We’ve gone a little too far with this bill,” said Rep. Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach, who raised objections about the state taking more control of Visit Florida. “I would feel better about reorganizing all these particular agencies if there was a study done.”
“I have a concern about the checks and balances part of this bill,” said Rep. Michele Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, who praised parts of the measure, adding she “saw a lot of good in this bill.”
Pointing to a recent poll from Quinnipiac University, Rep. John Patrick Julien, D-North Miami Beach, said that the state did not trust the Legislature or Scott and he wondered why advocates of small government wanted to bring Visit Florida under the power of the governor.
Rep. John Wood, R-Haines City, who backed the measure, said that he shared the concerns about Visit Florida and hoped they could be addressed as the bill continued to progress through the Legislature.
Legg left the door open for changes, noting that the Legislature was still examining the measure and would continue to do so. “We still have more work to do,” said Legg as the committee ended discussion.
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.