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Florida lawmakers give Gov. Ron DeSantis more power over agency appointments

The Florida Cabinet from left to right: Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis
The Florida Cabinet from left to right: Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis

It’s now easier for Florida governors to appoint state agency heads. A bill (SB 1658) approved this week - and quickly signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis - says appointed state leaders no longer need unanimous support by the Florida Cabinet.

“The executive appointments bill changes the way that the appointments are confirmed by the Senate or by the Cabinet for three different entities,” said Rep. Tommy Gregory, R-Bradenton, in discussion on the House floor. “Two of them are Cabinet entities -- the FDLE and the Department of Veteran Affairs. The executive agency is the DEP secretary. That is the bill.”

Gregory says these changes are overdue. In 1998, voters approved a constitutional amendment that reduced the size of the Florida Cabinet from 6 positions to 3. Then, the Cabinet was officially restructured in 2003.

When there were 6 Cabinet members, the governor only needed the support of half of them to confirm an appointee. Until the governor signed the bill into law this week, 3 ‘yes’ votes were still required, which meant appointees needed unanimous approval from the smaller Cabinet.

“The composition of the Cabinet obviously, as you well know, was changed in 1998,” said Rep. Michele Rayner, D-St. Petersburg. “The appointments of agency heads have seemed to kind of work quite well. Why now is the change needed? Why is this bill important at this moment?”

“Good question,” responded Gregory. “If you're asking me why the government didn't change it in 2003 or 2005… I would tell you it's a perfect example of government inefficiency. It should have been changed a long time ago.”

During an earlier committee discussion, Rep. Dotie Joseph, D-North Miami, also wondered why the change is being put forward now. “And the only practical thing that I can think of that was a difference is we have a democratically elected Commissioner of Agriculture, which may not always agree with the governor,” Joseph said.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried used the words “power grab” in a statement issued by her office opposing the bill. She’s the only Democrat on the Cabinet, which includes the Attorney General and the Chief Financial Officer. Fried is also running for governor. She has butted heads with DeSantis and the Cabinet in the appointment process.

Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Jacksonville, pointed to such difficulties in explaining his bill to the Senate Rules Committee. “Can you imagine what it would be like if we required a unanimous vote to do anything? It would be gridlock. It would be chaos,” Bean said.

The governor has the power to appoint most agency heads, subject to confirmation by the Senate. The new law changes the process for several appointments that involve the Cabinet. Now, the Department of Environmental Protection Secretary can be appointed if all three Cabinet members approve or if confirmed by the Senate.

In addition to Senate confirmation, leaders appointed to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs only need a majority vote of the Cabinet, with the governor on the prevailing side.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

Gina Jordan is the host of Morning Edition for WFSU News. Gina is a Tallahassee native and graduate of Florida State University. She spent 15 years working in news/talk and country radio in Orlando before becoming a reporter and All Things Considered host for WFSU in 2008. Follow Gina: @hearyourthought on Twitter. Click below for Gina's full bio.