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Gov. Scott signs off on transfer of school nutrition programs to Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam

Gov. Rick Scott signed off Thursday on Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam's session priority: transferring school food and nutrition programs from the Department of Education to his agency.

"Obviously we’re thrilled that the governor has signed the bill into law," Putnam told the Times/Herald, "and has embraced our vision for improving the quality of what our kids eat in the school system. We look forward to working with him and the Department of Education, and all of us moving forward together to do better for our children."

Putnam has argued the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is better positioned to take on school food programs amid a growing childhood obesity crisis, touting the agency's existing industry connections with fruit and vegetable growers and partnerships with the U.S. Agriculture Department, which supplies most of the money for the programs and sets school nutrition guidelines.

SB 1312 won over every lawmaker but one (Democratic Rep. Scott Randolph).

Thursday was the deadline for Scott to determine the bill's fate. Putnam said the governor called him earlier this week with several questions, like how Putnam would do a better job than the education department.

"It's a tremendous reform. It’s bold, and the governor, I think, correctly put us through our paces to answer the questions," Putnam said. "A guy with a hospital background certainly understands how healthier lifestyles save society over the long haul in managing chronic illnesses that are frequently obesity related."

The transfer is effective Jan. 1, 2012, pending approval from USDA. The department must request a waiver to operate the program from an agency outside of the Department of Education. Putnam said he expects to send the application "very soon." It will likely mirror requests from Texas and New Jersey, the only other states in the country with similar oversight of school food programs.

"Gov. Scott is happy to empower the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to get more fresh fruit and vegetables into our school lunchrooms," said Scott spokesman Lane Wright. "He also looks forward to working with Commissioner Putnam to ensure students are getting proper nutrition and proper education."