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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Legislature eats up Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam's school lunch takeover

Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam's desire to house school food programs within his agency, setting up a unique change in command that he says will bring more fruits and veggies to cafeterias.

"It's a transformational move for the department," he said.

The proposal, SB 1312, moves all school food and nutrition programs from the Department of Education to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Putnam deemed the transfer his top priority this session. He said his agency is better equipped for the job because of its industry connections and partnerships with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which controls the program's purse and sets school nutrition guidelines.

Nearly every lawmaker agreed. The House approved the transfer Wednesday with a 115-1 vote. The Senate passed it 37-0 on Friday. No lawmakers spoke against the bill during debate on either floor.

"It makes sense that the Department of Education stick with education, and the Department of Agriculture stick with food and nutrition," said Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, amid a chorus of supportive House Democrats.

Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, was the only member of the Legislature to push his "no" button. His criticism mirrored past criticism from Board of Education member Roberto Martinez: Putnam's plan presents a conflict of interest.

"It's nothing against the new commissioner. Maybe he'll be a great commissioner," Randolph said. "I just know the old DACS, and I just don't trust DACS to look out for the best interest of the children rather than looking out for some of Big Ag."

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[Last modified: Wednesday, May 4, 2011 7:11pm]

    

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