Senate shakes up committee assignments, paves ways for casinos and private prisons
Senate President Mike Haridopolos released his long-awaited revamp of Senate committees Friday and made changes that are clearly intended to shape the votes on some controversial issues, particularly casino expansion and prison privatization.
The move comes halfway through the two-year term of the Senate president, just in time for committee meetings to resume again next week. These are among the noteworthy changes: Download Committee Assignments 9-16
* Sen. Paula Dockery, the outspoken Lakeland Republican who made headlines recently criticizing the move to privatize 17 South Florida prisons, was yanked from the Senate Criminal Justice Committee which will hear that issue if it comes up again, as expected, this year. She was also removed from the Community Affairs Committee and placed on the Children and Families Committee and the Agriculture Committee.
* Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, and Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, were taken off the Government Oversight and Accountability Committee where there were a series of anti-union bills stopped or weakened last year. Fasano retained his chairmanship of the Budget committee on Criminal Justice and Civil Justice Appropriations, however, despite his outspoken opposition to the prison privatization effort.
"I still will be asking many questions,'' Fasano said. Among them, he wants the department to explain where they're going to find "the $25 million the department is going to have to spend because of privatization,'' he said. "We have a new secretary now so we can't blame him for what transpired over the last six months but we still have an obligation to ask questions."
* Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, the Fort Myers Republican who balked at a bill last session to give Florida Power & Light the ability to charge customers up front for new solar power plants, was removed as chairwomen of the Senate Communications, Energy and Utilities Committee. She is now chairwoman of the Budget Committee on Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development.
* Sens. Norman and Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville, were removed from the Senate Regulated Industries Committee and Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, was added. Bogdanoff will sponsor the bill to bring casinos to South Florida. Wise was an outspoken opponent of expanded gambling and Norman was not a guaranteed yes. Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich, who is also a casino supporter, was left off the committee list as a mistake, she said.
Rich, however, believes Haridopolos shifted the committees with an intent in mind. "The changes have occurred in areas where pieces of legislation didn't get out of committee last year or where coalitions of Democrats and Republicans worked to stop pieces of legislation,'' Rich said. "It's certainly an attempt to change the outcome of the votes of the committee,''