TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott granted Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam his biggest wish of the legislative session Thursday when he approved a transfer of school food and nutrition programs from the Department of Education to Putnam's agency.
"Obviously we're thrilled that the governor has … embraced our vision for improving the quality of what our kids eat in the school system," Putnam said.
Putnam had insisted since his campaign that the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services could provide more nutritious meals for students thanks to its connections with farmers and partnerships with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Putnam said the governor called him this week and grilled him on the plan before saying he would sign SB 1312.
"It's bold, and the governor, I think, correctly put us through our paces to answer the questions," Putnam said. "A guy with a hospital background certainly understands how healthier lifestyles save society over the long haul in managing chronic illnesses that are frequently obesity related."
The transfer is effective Jan. 1, pending approval from the Agriculture Department, which gave $810 million to Florida's school food and nutrition programs this year. Putnam's request to run the programs outside of the Education Department will mirror applications from Texas and New Jersey, the only states with that arrangement.
In addition to signing SB 1312, Scott approved reforms to "crashworthiness" cases (SB 142) and new restrictions on local governments (SB 1128). The restrictions prevent them from including more than 300 hours of overtime when calculating an employee's pension plan and may not include payments for unused sick leave or annual leave.
Scott issued his sixth veto by rejecting a unanimously passed bill (SB 1992) that would have eased background screening requirements for some volunteers caring for seniors, such as relatives and law enforcement. Lawmakers wanted to relieve volunteers for programs like Meals on Wheels of paying $44 per screening.
In a veto message, Scott said exempting certain volunteers who work with vulnerable Floridians from background screenings is "a risk that is not worth taking."
Times/Herald staff writers Mary Ellen Klas and Michael Bender contributed to this report.