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Tom Lee Vents Over 'Disrespectful' Amendment Involving DEP Secretary Appointment

This has been a frustrating week for one of the Legislature's most outspoken members – Sen. Tom Lee (R-Brandon), is in his 20th year in the chamber, and the former Senate President has never been shy about his opinions. Lee recently spoke bluntly about being "run over" by fellow Republicans.

"If we're just going to try and slip one past the goalie any chance we get around here, then this process doesn't mean anything, there are no checks and balances left,” Lee said during the Senate’s Appropriations Committee Thursday.

He was furious after an amendment was added to a water quality bill that changes the way the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary is appointed.  

Governor Ron DeSantis wants to change state law so that the state's top environmental regulator reports exclusively to him, not to him and the three elected Cabinet members.

The amendment was initially a bill that was referred to a committee chaired by Lee. He had misgivings about the proposal and didn't give it a hearing. The essence of the bill appeared Thursday as part of a 112-page rewrite of a Senate bill dealing mostly with water quality improvements.

Lee was livid that no one in the Senate told him that was coming.

“To be honest with you, it’s not terrible policy, it’s just so disrespectful and classless to go around members when you know good and well you’ve been talking to them about legislation and then, because they don’t respond to you favorably, you just go to do an end-run around them and expect to work with them on a bunch of other things, but when its inconvenient to you, you just try to run over them,” he vented to reporters after the meeting.

“I don’t know what’s happened to this place, I really don’t. Nobody came to me to tell me that was going to pop up here today and I just think that’s the wrong way to do business with people. It’s not right,” Lee said.

It's the second time this week Lee has had serious political difficulty with his own party on a major piece of legislation. He's the Senate sponsor of the E-Verify bill to require all public and private employers to check the legal status of new workers as a check on illegal immigration. After the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee watered down the bill Tuesday to placate business groups, Lee said the result "makes a mockery" of a true E-Verify system. He said he'll ask DeSantis to veto his bill, something that is almost unheard of at the Capitol.

A third Lee proposa closing the so-called "gun show loophole" and requiring universal background checks, hasn't been heard. Lee filed that bill at the behest of Senate President Bill Galvano who tasked him with finding ways to improve gun safety. 

Editors Note: *A previous story published regarding Lee's comments in the Senate Appropriations Committee misattributed his ire to water bottling regulations contained in the wide-ranging water bill. That story has been removed.