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Jax Daily Record Friday, Jan. 13, 201212:00 PM EST

Bill gives governor clout over workforce boards

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by: Michael Peltier

Prompted by stories of financial mismanagement and super hero capes purchased for job hunters, a House panel on Thursday approved a measure giving the governor more control over regional workforce boards and their members.

Following more than an hour of debate and over the objection of some local officials, the House Economic Affairs Committee voted 10-4 to make changes regulating oversight of the state’s 24 regional workforce boards, which handle state and federal job training money.

Several of the boards have come under fire in recent months for questionable activities, including mismanaged funds, conflict of interest and questionable spending.

“We’re not talking about what might happen, we’re talking about what did happen,” said Rep. Mike Horner (R-Kissimmee). “Unfortunately, the staffs have abused these dollars and it’s time to correct the system.”

Gov. Rick Scott in August proposed making changes to laws overseeing the regional boards, which receive more than $250 million a year in federal money and are supposed to help workers receive training and link up with employers looking for workers.

The boards’ members are allowed under the law to compete for agency business, but auditors found many of the deals failed to meet certain legal requirements for the bids and for disclosure related to those bids.

A state audit found that from 2008-10, the workforce boards handed out more than $7.5 million in contracts to companies controlled by or linked to their board members.

The bill, HB 7023, would set standards and qualifications for regional workforce boards and would require board members to submit financial disclosures. The bill’s most controversial provision would allow the governor to dismiss any board member or executive director for just cause.

The bill originally authorized the governor to hire and fire the board’s executive director or board members.

House Sponsor Jason Brodeur (R-Kissimmee) offered an amendment Thursday to remove the hiring provision but gives the governor the power to remove executives from their posts.

Opponents were concerned over the potential for politically motivated appointments and firings.

Despite the changes made Thursday, critics on the committee said the proposal would pre-empt the local authority and autonomy that the regional boards were created to possess.

“I think too much power is being shifted to the governor’s office,” said Rep. Evan Jenne (D-Dania Beach).

“That is not a slight against Gov. Scott or his office. I would have the same problem if this was brought forward by Gov. (Reubin) Askew or Gov. (Lawton) Chiles.”

Askew and Chiles were Democrats. Scott is Republican.

A similar bill, SB 1398, was filed Jan. 3 by Sen. Andy Gardiner (R-Orlando). It has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.

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