by Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas
June 3, 2017
Another backroom deal, this time involving the governor who has blasted the Legislature for secrecy, is leaving a trail of frustration and distrust in the state capital as elected lawmakers are being called back for a special session this week to rubber stamp a budget they were excluded from negotiating.
After stoking rumors that he might veto the Legislature’s budget and an accompanying controversial public school reform bill because they were negotiated behind closed doors, Gov. Rick Scott emerged this week with House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron in Miami with an announcement. He would sign the budget, veto $409 million in local projects, and order lawmakers back June 7-9 to add $215 million to the public education budget.
The announcement caught most legislators off guard, even ranking Republicans who were left out of the deal-making.
“Other than a seeing a press release, I haven’t talked to anyone about any of it,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who chairs the Senate budget panel on tourism and economic development.
“Is this how the process is supposed to work?” he asked. “There has to be a better way.”
The secret deal, negotiated between Scott and Corcoran and then presented to Negron, who agreed to it, did not violate the state’s Sunshine Law, the leaders said, because none of them were together in the same room when it was worked out.
That drew the criticism of education and open government advocates.
“Major decisions regarding the expenditure of vast sums of our tax dollars have been made in secret,” said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation. “Florida’s Supreme Court has said anything done to avoid the Sunshine Law can itself be a violation of that law.”
She noted that just because legislative leaders might be able to make deals behind closed doors doesn’t mean they should.
“If this isn’t a violation of the constitutional right of access to legislative meetings under Article III, s. 4(e), it should be,” Petersen said. “And it most certainly is a violation of the spirit and intent of our constitutional right to oversee our government.” [READ MORE]