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House committee passes crackdown on workforce boards

The House Business and Consumer Affairs Subcommittee signed off on a bill that would give the governor additional oversight of 24 regional workforce boards, saying reports of lavish and questionable spending at some of the boards demonstrated a need for more state control.

In January 2010, the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance president resigned after the state inspector general reported more than $24,000 in unapproved spending and more than $81,000 in questionable expenses that required further documentation, according to a St. Petersburg Times report. Then in July 2010, the paper reported that the Pasco Hernando workforce board used $6,000 in state funding to pay for employee massages. An Orlando Sentinel article this summer pointed out issues with boards across the state, such as a $99,000 contract with a Fort Lauderdale workforce board member to produce an online video.

Some of the problems were discovered after Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, requested a survey of all 24 workforce boards. Last session, he also unsuccessfully pushed legislation that would have limited workforce board members' ability to do business with workforce agencies, the Sentinel reported. This summer, Gov. Rick Scott announced the U.S. Department of Labor was investigating the boards, which receive tax dollars to provide assistance and training to unemployed workers, to determine if companies controlled by board members or their relatives had improperly received contracts.

The legislation approved by the House subcommittee Tuesday would limit the number of members on each workforce board and require them to file financial disclosure forms. It also would require each board’s chairman and executive director to have the governor’s approval, and the governor would be allowed to remove any board member for cause.

“A lot of things have gone on for the past eight years that just essentially have gone on unchecked,” Rep. Jason T. Brodeur, R-Sanford, the panel's vice chairman said. The boards were created under Workforce Innovation Act of 2000.

Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, was among those who voted against the measure, saying any efforts to reign in workforce boards should be left to the local governments where each of them operate, not the state.

The subcommittee also approved several other bills during Tuesday meeting, including a measure that would streamline regulations for various trade industries and a rebranding of the state’s unemployment compensation program.

-- Tia Mitchell