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Proposal to make Florida Secretary of State elected office advances


A House panel approved a proposed constitutional amendment Monday that could shift power in Florida’s executive branch.

Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, wants to convert the office of secretary of state into an elected Cabinet position, eliminating the governor’s power to appoint Florida’s highest elections official.

The move would undo a change approved by voters in 1998 that strengthened the office of the governor, which shares power in many areas with three statewide elected officials who make up the Florida Cabinet.

RELATED: More Florida Legislature coverage

The House Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee voted unanimously to approve Harrell’s proposal (HJR 811) to place the issue on the November 2018 ballot. The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee approved a Senate version (SJR 882) last week.

Sandra Mortham, a former elected secretary of state, told the House panel that the “consolidation of power” in the executive branch has led to conflicts of interest in the secretary of state’s office.

“It has become more difficult for the secretary because clearly, they have a chain of command to have to deal with issues,” Mortham said, testifying in favor of Harrell’s proposal.

Mortham served as secretary of state from 1995 to 1999, leaving office after she lost a Republican primary to Katherine Harris, who became a controversial figure nationally because of her role in the 2000 presidential recount.

Bill would shield university president searches from public

Information about applicants vying to become presidents, provosts or deans at Florida universities or state colleges would be kept secret unless they become finalists for the jobs under a bill approved Monday by a House subcommittee.

The legislation (HB 351), sponsored by Rep. Bob Rommel, R-Naples, would only require the disclosure of candidates who made “finalist” lists, with the lists disclosed at least 10 days before decisions are made on the hiring.

Rommel said creating more “privacy” in the search process would help the state recruit top-quality candidates for higher-education jobs, protecting candidates who could face repercussions at their current schools.

Opponents questioned the need for the bill, noting that the state’s top two universities, Florida State University and the University of Florida, successfully conducted presidential searches in the open and attracted large groups of highly qualified candidates. Florida Gulf Coast University and the University of West Florida have also conducted recent searches, and the University of North Florida is preparing to begin the process of replacing President John Delaney, who will step down next year.

“Secrecy is not in the best interest of our universities and colleges, especially when it comes to choosing leadership,” said Jennifer Proffitt, an FSU professor and head of the United Faculty of Florida union.

Proffitt said some have argued for imposing more secrecy after Florida Gulf Coast University’s problems with settling on a finalist list for its presidency.

Proffitt said the problem wasn’t with the openness of the search process. But rather, she said candidates were reluctant to leave jobs with guaranteed contracts to move to the Florida Gulf Coast post, which does not have a guaranteed contract.

The House Post-Secondary Education Subcommittee voted 11-3 in favor of the bill, which next heads to the Oversight, Transparency and Administration Subcommittee.

A similar bill (SB 478), sponsored by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, is pending in the Senate, where it has yet to have a committee hearing.

Magic Johnson lobbies lawmakers on health care

Earvin “Magic” Johnson, the Los Angeles Lakers great, was in Tallahassee on Monday lobbying Florida lawmakers about health-care coverage.

Johnson, who stunned the sports world in 1991 when he retired after contracting HIV, met with 10 members of the Senate Democratic caucus and later with Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, to advocate for HIV/AIDS coverage and dental coverage in state health-care programs.

Johnson is an investor and spokesman for Simply Healthcare Plans Inc., which, along with affiliates, serves more than 200,000 Medicare and Medicaid members in Florida.

“We’re just letting people know Simply has been doing a wonderful job throughout the state of Florida and providing quality health care to a lot of people throughout the state,” Johnson said. “Everything that we said we were going to do four years ago we’ve been doing.”

For lawmakers, Johnson’s appearance also provided some memories of his playing days. Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, said he hoped Johnson had time for a quick game of one-on-one. Bracy, a shooting guard while starting for the College of William & Mary in Virginia, had to be coaxed into mentioning his college career to Johnson. Meanwhile, Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, got Johnson to sign a basketball to “Trey,” his son Perry E. Thurston III.

Rail service regulation debate set

All Aboard Florida’s Brightline rail service plans to begin operating a 30-minute route between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale in late July, while an effort to give the state more regulatory authority over high-speed passenger rail gets a Senate hearing on Tuesday.

A measure (SB 386) going before the Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday seeks to have high-speed operators pay for safety upgrades and would give the Florida Department of Transportation regulatory authority over high-speed rail where not preempted by federal regulations. The rail service, which is expected to eventually extend from South Florida to Orlando, faces lawsuits from Martin and Indian River counties and has prompted legislation by Treasure Coast lawmakers.

The privately owned Brightline will expand the service to Miami in late August, according to a news release Friday. It may be another two years before All Aboard Florida is running Brightline trains north at speeds up to 110 mph from Jupiter to Cocoa and then at 125 mph to Orlando. In the release, Brightline said the company is “finalizing permitting and will have a better idea of timing to Orlando after operations begin this summer.”



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