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Ban on lawmakers working for colleges barely passes panel

Sen. John Thrasher's ethics bill banning lawmakers from working for colleges and universities narrowly made it out of its first panel Monday, after questions about his intentions.

"I have real problems with this bill. I'm all for cleaning up the system. ... Under this bill we would not have the services of many senators, who I won't bother naming, but they've served well," said Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, who voted no.

The bill passed by a 7-6 vote at the Rules Subcommittee on Ethics and Elections. It includes a two-year ban on working for a university or college after leaving office. But current officeholders with university jobs would not have to quit unless they sought re-election.

The list of lawmakers on school payrolls including Senate President Mike Haridopolos at the University of Florida (who is term-limited this year). The longtime practice drew scorn after then-Speaker Ray Sansom took a job with a college as he took power after winning state spending for Northwest Florida State College.

"There just seems to be proliferation of these types of issues that just seem to be permeating the process, and there's a ... huge perception problem there for us when members of the Legislature, who are employed by colleges and universities, are sitting on appropriations committees ... voting on things that reflect on the college or university they're employed by," Thrasher said.

Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, a professor at Tallahassee Community College, said the bill would affect two members: herself and Rep. John Tobia, R-Melbourne, who works at Valencia Community College.

Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, said the bill goes too far, though requiring a hiatus wouldn't be too much. But she said she's unsure why the bill is necessary, given that it would kick her out of work. She said Thrasher mentioned the Sansom case to her. But there are other ways to address ethics, she said, noting the lawmakers don't stop bankers from serving on banking panels.

After a quarter century at the college and then the Legislature, she's been more notable for pushing to repeal utilities ability to bill customers the costs to build nuclear power plants. That's made her no friend to the powerful utility lobby. "I was ordered to get out of a football (stadium) box by Progress Energy," she noted.