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Florida Surgeon General In Legislative Limbo After Hearing Gets Postponed

Florida Surgeon General John Armstrong could lose his job if he’s not confirmed by the state Senate. A key panel decided Tuesday to postpone Armstrong’s confirmation hearing amid the possibility Armstrong would not be approved.

Senator Garrett Richter Chairs the Senate’s Ethics and Elections Committee, and each tab number represents a gubernatorial appointee to some board or panel.  All such appointments have to have legislative approval in order to be confirmed for their jobs. New Department of Economic Opportunity Secretary Cissy Proctor And new Lottery Secretary Thomas Delacenserie—referenced as Tabs 7 and 13-- had no trouble breezing through the Senate’s Ethics and Elections Committee:

“While I’m new to the position, I’m not new to the agency. I’ve been there for three years now. And I know my time at the agency, experience in the private sector my education as well as the dedicated team I have at the Department of Economy Opportunity, give me the tools I need to be a strong leader," Proctor told the committee.

Delacenserie used the opportunity to highlight his experience. 

“Prior to joining the Florida Lottery in 2000, I spent 28 years in consumer product sales with Pfizer as a district manager and corporate account manage I spend the past 16 years with the Florida lottery as district manager, director of sales, deputy secretary of sales and marking, and now secretary," he said.

Missing, was Tab 12, or rather Florida Department of Health Secretary John Armstrong. He squeeked through a previous confirmation hearing on a 5-to-4 vote. And many of the lawmakers in that panel also serve on Ethics and Elections. Republican Sen. Anitere Flores cast a no vote for Armstrong in the Senate’s previous Health Policy Hearing after questioning him about Governor Scott’s decision to veto funding for free health clinics.

“You as the state’s top doctor, I would imagine the Governor seeks your council. What was your thought on those vetoes last year and did you agree with them or not?” She asked.

Armstrong vowed to push the issue, but stopped short of offering full support.

The Florida Department of Health, under Armstrong’s leadership, has been criticized for policy changes that resulted in more than 13,000 sick and disabled kids being dropped from a healthcare program and steered into Medicaid managed care. It’s also been under fire for staffing cuts that critics say have hurt healthcare access in poor parts of the state. Lawmakers are also unhappy with a DOH decision not to monitor pediatric heart surgery centers closer. And the Department has been met with legislative disapproval over its slow rollout of medical marijuana.

During the last hearing, people who came to testify for and against Armstrong didn’t have a chance to speak. That opportunity was again denied Tuesday after Richter announced Armstrong’s hearing would be postponed:

“Members, before we move into the next point of business on the menu…on the agenda rather, we did temporarily postpone Tab 12. And I just want to read into the record, we have a number of appearance records," he said. 

The Senate’s Ethics and Elections Committee is made up of six democrats and six republicans including Senators Anitere Flores and Oscar Braynon—both previous “No” votes on Armstrong, and Senator Don Gaetz who voted for him despite expressing concerns.  If Gaetz chose to switch to a no vote, Armstrong would  approved by the panel he could lose his $140,000 a year job. Governor Rick Scott’s aides had tried to convince some members of the Ethics and Elections committee to support Armstrong right before the meeting was postponed. And during the hearing, Democratic Sen. Chris Smith had this to say.

“I think we’d feel more comfortable as we’re looking to approve governor’s appointments if we feel a part of the process at any point of time. So if the next [Senate] president could get with the governor’s office and get that going.”

So for now, Armstrong remains in legislative limbo.

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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