Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida lawmakers have few plans to address unemployment website crisis

TALLAHASSEE — In early January, as Florida's new $63 million unemployment website continued to struggle to pay claims on time, state lawmakers considered taking action.

Now, in the second week of the 60-day legislative session, lawmakers are backing away from using their oversight powers to intervene with the Department of Economic Opportunity and the CONNECT project.

Instead, it appears that lawmakers are endorsing the agency's handling of the crisis. On Wednesday, a Senate appropriations committee voted 11-0 to support confirmation of Jesse Panuccio as executive director of the DEO.

"I'm not just going to support you; I'm going to do everything I can in the process to make sure you get to the end," committee Chairman Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said to Panuccio, who must clear two more Senate committees and a floor vote to keep his $141,000 job. He started the job 15 months ago after a stint as Gov. Rick Scott's general counsel.

No lawmakers have asked to study spending on the project or why it failed. They haven't filed any bills that would address a requirement that they passed in 2011 forcing claimants to apply for weekly benefits online — which federal officials flagged last year as unconstitutional.

SB 7058 does address another requirement passed in 2011 and also flagged by federal officials: an initial skills review test that takes as long as 45 minutes to complete. The test would become voluntary under the legislation, which passed the Senate's Commerce and Tourism board on March 3 on a 10-0 vote but has yet to be picked up in the House.

An idea that both chambers and both parties support as an answer to managing complicated technology projects is a bill that creates an entirely new agency.

On Wednesday, the Florida House unanimously passed HB 7073 to create an agency overseeing technology projects of more than $25 million. It would consolidate data centers into one, while creating a chief information officer position that would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. The agency would cost $5 million this year, with $2.9 million every year after. It would employ 25 people and be housed under the Department of Management Services but would answer directly to the governor.

A companion bill, SB 928, sponsored by Sen. Jeremy Ring, R-Margate, has strong support in the Senate.

Would it make the state any better at managing massive IT projects such as CONNECT?

"I can't guarantee anything," said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. "What I do know is that the state of Florida is the only state in America that doesn't have a chief information officer. It's time we have one. It's time that we have a little bit more organized, centralized, focused IT strategy and IT policy in this state of Florida."

Panuccio told reporters after his partial confirmation that as of Feb. 28, no major glitches remain with the CONNECT system. The DEO fined the contractor, Deloitte Consulting, more than $700,000, but halted the fines last month.

For claimants such as Bradford Gonzalez, problems remain. The 63-year-old Deltona resident has been jobless since December but has been unable to get his claims from CONNECT. He said he was disappointed that lawmakers aren't addressing the issue.

"These companies get millions of dollars from the state, and that's what counts," Gonzalez said. "It's a money machine where the corporations are making money off us. It's a scam meant to discourage people like myself to pursue the benefits I'm entitled to."

Florida lawmakers have few plans to address unemployment website crisis 03/12/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 7:46pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Fox renewed O'Reilly contract despite knowing of allegations

    Nation

    NEW YORK (AP) — The Fox News Channel says the company knew a news analyst planned to file a sexual harassment lawsuit against Bill O'Reilly when it renewed the popular personality's contract in February.

    Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly appears on the Fox News show, "The O'Reilly Factor," in New York. O'Reilly has lost his job at Fox News Channel in April following reports that several women had been paid millions of dollars to keep quiet about harassment allegations. [Associated Press file]
  2. Conviction overturned 30 years later in neo-Nazi murder case

    Criminal

    TAMPA — A judge on Friday overturned the murder conviction of Dean McKee now that new evidence has raised doubt about McKee's guilt in a Tampa slaying that occurred nearly three decades ago when he was 16.

    In 1987, a St. Petersburg Times reporter interviewed Dean McKee for a story about young skinheads in Tampa. [Times | 1987]
  3. Experts have some theories on who's carrying out Seminole Heights killings

    Crime

    The words serial killer tend to conjure an image of a middle-aged white man, likely a loner. He stabs or chokes or strangles, murdering up close for the thrill, straight out of central casting.

    A memorial was set up where Anthony Naiboa, 20, was found shot to death in Seminole Heights. Some experts who have reviewed information in the case say that whoever is behind the three Seminole Heights killings may live in the area. [JONATHAN CAPRIEL  |  Times]
  4. Late fumble, field goal send Florida State to another loss

    College

    TALLAHASSEE — Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher didn't have an explanation for the turning point in Saturday's 31-28 last-second loss to Louisville.

    Louisville's Lamar Jackson gets past Florida State's Matthew Thomas to score in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tallahassee Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) FLSC102
  5. Funeral starts for soldier at center of Trump fight

    Military

    COOPER CITY, Fla. (AP) — Mourners remembered not only a U.S. soldier whose combat death in Africa led to a political fight between President Donald Trump and a Florida congresswoman but his three comrades who died with him.

    The casket of Sgt. La David T. Johnson of Miami Gardens, who was killed in an ambush in Niger. is wheeled out after a viewing at the Christ The Rock Church, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017  in Cooper City, Fla. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP) FLMIH102