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Bill to give governor's office power over local workforce boards advances

A bill to give Gov. Rick Scott power to fire executive directors of the state’s 24 regional workforce boards is inching closer to the his desk.

It passed through the House Committee on Economic Affairs on Thursday in a partyline vote.

Currently, regional workforce board members are appointed by, and serve at the pleasure of, local officials such as county mayors and commissioners. They oversee federal and state funds aimed at developing the workforce and helping the unemployed. Workforce boards oversee “one-stop” centers for employment services and job training.

After several boards have come under fire for misusing their funds and giving questionable contracts to family members in the past few years, Gov. Scott’s office is looking to step in and seize some control.

 House Bill 7023, sponsored by Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, stipulates that board members will serve “at the pleasure” of the governor, giving Scott and future governors power to oversee board executives.

 “We’ve had some bad actors,” said Brodeur. “Everything from using the funds to pay for massages, to $14 cupcakes to  renovating buildings that we don’t even own."

 Democratic committee members spoke out against the bill, stating that it represents an overreach by the executive branch.

 “Too much power is shifted to the governor's office,” said Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach.“I find it a bit hypocritical that we’re in a body [where] there are quite literally dozens, dozens of house memorials being sent to Washington D.C. saying ‘How dare you, Washington D.C., tell us what to do?’ And yet, here we are as a body, going down to the locals and saying ‘You are going to have to do exactly what we say.’”

 Rep. James Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, said this bill would open the door to giving the governor’s office power to hire and fire board members on school boards or public hospital boards.

 Rep. Mike Horner, R-Kissimmee, said that the problems within the state's workforce boards are so significant that extra oversight is warranted.

 Gov. Scott last year asked all 30 members of the Central Florida Regional Workforce Board to resign after evidence surfaced that the board was misusing federal money. The board had spent upwards of $14,000 to purchase capes for the jobless, during a "Cape-Ability" challenge to vanquish Dr. Evil Unemployment. The program was later scrapped and the capes donated to charity.

 Here’s a Miami Herald story from 2010 that unveiled a list of problems with Miami-Dade’s workforce system.

Brodeur's bill also pushes for more oversight mechanisms for regional workforce boards. 

Also passing the Economic Affairs committee on Thursday, a bill to depopulate Citizens Insurance by allowing some unregulated surplus lines insurance companies to take out policies from the state-run insurer of last resort.