Worforce board overhaul clears Senate committee

Feb 7, 2012

A bill that would give Governor Rick Scott the authority to fire specific board members on Florida’s local workforce boards recently passed in the Florida House. But, as Sascha Cordner reports, while the bill received support for the most part, opponents worry it gives too much power to the state’s governors.

Last year, several state unemployment agencies, or regional workforce boards, were involved in questionable practices, from awarding contracts to companies owned by specific board members or their relatives, to misusing federal funds.

Central Florida’s Workforce board, for example, spent thousands of federal dollars on red capes. It was part of a media campaign, where job seekers were handed the capes to become “heroes” and defeat the villain, “Dr. Evil Unemployment.”

Governor Rick Scott could only demand the resignation of most of the board members, who had used the funds for the capes. Because, if Scott had tried to remove specific members, the whole board would have had to be dismissed. 

So, Republican Representative Jason Brodeur of Sandford says he essentially filed House Bill 7023 to give Governors the authority to fire specific board members who abuse their power:

“In responding to recent actions by local workforce boards and recent audit findings, it was clear that the Governor’s options were limited. In fact, he was only given one option, which is called the nuclear option, of removing the entire regional workforce board. This [bill] does not override control by local officials, but shares a portion of the statutory authority with the Governor to ensure that the tax dollars appropriated are properly spent.”

But, Democratic Representative Joe Gibbons of Pembroke Park says local control is being taken away. He says local workforce boards already report to specific local government officials, and it should stay that way.

Having served in local government and being sensitive to home rule, I feel that the current procedures in place work and the mayors and county commissioner, who have been assigned to this responsibility, can be trusted to do the right thing. The same people that trust us to do our jobs as legislators, are the same people who entrust our local officials to do their job. Let’s leave the task to our local governments and citizens.”

Democratic Representative Evan Jenne agrees. The Fort Lauderdale lawmaker says his opposition has nothing to do with a Republican Governor in office, because he wouldn’t support the bill, even if it was for a Democratic Governor.

Jenne says it’s hypocritical for state lawmakers to find the federal government as intruders, while the state continues to do the same thing to local governments.

“It’s bi-polar policy-making. And, it doesn’t allow for good laws to be created. So, for that members, let’s be consistent. If we’re going to tell the feds not to tread on us, let’s not tell the locals we’re going to tread on them.”

But, Republican Representative Fred Costello of Deland says he’s heard from locals in his district, and it’s receiving widespread support:

“I hope all of you know that I’m the ultimate home-rule guy. I talked to our folks at home. They whole-heartedly support this. They think it’s a good bill. I encourage you all to support this.”

Another supporter of the bill, Republican Representative Mike Horner of Kissimmee, says about half of Florida’s workforce boards have shown examples of questionable spending. He says Brodeur’s bill is just addressing those concerns.

We have 11 of our 24 workforce boards have had examples of questionable spending and frankly, this isn’t about power, this is about accountability. Sometimes, the board may get a little too comfortable with an executive director, and I think that what’s happened to Workforce Central Florida has happened in some of these examples where there’s been these bad apples. What Representative Brodeur has put in his bill is an opportunity to address those instances where there’s a bad actor, and we’re going to take our already great system and make it even better. I urge your support on Representative Brodeur’s great bill.”

On a 95 to 19 vote, the bill passed largely along party lines with some Democrats opposed. Among its provisions include local workforce boards submitting their budgets to the statewide Workforce Florida Incorporated and get any contract involving a board member or a board members’ relative by approved by two-thirds of the local board members.