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Legislature sends bill to governor to shrink Miami-Dade Expressway Authority board

A bill to restructure the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority and impose tougher ethics requirements on its members passed the Florida House on Wednesday and was sent to the governor.

Sponsored by Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, R-Miami, and Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, HB 299 shrinks the MDX board from 13 members to nine and prohibits anyone from serving on the board if that person has represented a client or done business with the authority in the last four years.

Nuñez proposed similar bills in 2014 and 2015, after the MDX board defied opponents and raised tolls on the busy Dolphin Expressway. But amid opposition from the Miami-Dade County Commission and several key state lawmakers, it died each year.

In the face of the criticism, however, the board last year vowed not to raise tolls again before 2019 and said that all future MDX expansion projects would be paid for by their own tolls.

"They have begun to listen to the outcry of the average tollpayer,''  Nuñez said. "I'm pleased we have at least gotten them to understand their decisions have an impact."

The compromise approved Wednesday allows the board to shrink by attrition, as terms expire and does  not include controversial provisions of previous versions, such as revising the agency’s bonding authority and requiring the county commission to sign off on any toll hikes.

The bill reduces the number of members appointed by the Miami-Dade County Commission from seven to five and the number appointed by the governor from five to three. The Department of Transportation district secretary remains as a member of the panel.

The proposal also includes a provision that would require the immediate termination of any MDX board member who violates the ethics rules or fails to file a financial disclosure form. It was aimed at preventing the behavior of former MDX member Robert Holland, who was fined by the state ethics commission for repeatedly ignoring the financial disclosure law.

"Anyone who decides to capriciously ignore Florida law does not deserve to be on that board,'' Nuñez said.

 She said the restrictions on members having lobbied the board or represented clients with business before it is an attempt to prevent people from "using the board as a stepping stone to enhancing their bottom line."

The Miami-Dade Expressway Authority was created by the state and county in 1994. It operates the following expressways, all of which charge tolls: Airport, Dolphin, Don Shula, Gratigny and Snapper Creek.

Nunez and Flores had also hoped to use the bill to jumpstart talk of development of $30 million passenger rail line in Miami but had to abandon the idea this year because the price tag was too much for legislators to accept.