TALLAHASSEE — It pays to be the daughter of a super lobbyist, but things can get complicated.
In the final days of the legislative session, lawmakers amended a bill to protect children from sexual abuse that gave $1.5 million to Lauren's Kids, a nonprofit run by the daughter of Ron Book, the Tallahassee uber-lobbyist from Miami.
The problem is, according to all accounts, neither of the Books asked for the money. The bill, HB 215, says the money must be used to finance a 24-hour abuse hotline and pay for sexual abuse prevention education in schools — programs already offered by Lauren's Kids without state funding.
The money the Books did ask for but did not receive: $3 million to finance the cost of relocating victims of sexual assault who are too threatened to remain at home. Instead, the late-session allocation was tacked onto a bill victim advocates had worked on all year. Among other things, the bill limits a defendant's access to child pornography evidence, allows the admission of prior sexual crimes as evidence and ensures the HIV testing of sex offenders.
If anyone knows who came up with the idea of steering the money to Book's hotline and community awareness program in a year when $3.8 billion was being slashed from the budget, they are not saying. Nor is anyone claiming credit.
"It's always going to be difficult when a high-priced lobbyist advocates for or against something, but that doesn't make it bad,'' said Book, who has spent a career leveraging his influence with lawmakers to represent businesses, sports teams and local governments.
Book has been an advocate for sexual abuse victims since learning the family's live-in nanny assaulted Lauren at age 11. Lauren Book-Lim, now 26, has walked the length of the state for the past two years to raise awareness about child sex abuse, built a nonprofit foundation and pushed for tougher sex offender laws. She has been a frequent guest on national cable TV programs and has written a memoir, It's OK to Tell.
Senate President Mike Haridopolos, whom Book described as a "longtime friend," agreed to use money from his "bill pot," to finance the relocation program. The Senate president's fund comes from money that was left unallocated after budget negotiators finished pruning the budget and preparing the spending plan. The Senate president and House speaker then used the money to resolve disputes and spend on pet projects.
But the House didn't agree with Haridopolos. So, on the last day of session, they replaced the $3 million with $1.5 million — and changed how the money was to be used.
Rather than object to how the money was spent and risk the bill dying, Book said he supported it.
"This is one of the most underfunded and neglected areas of Florida's budget."
The House sponsor, Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, says the House objected after the Attorney General's Office raised concerns that the Senate plan to put $3 million into the victims relocation fund would not be enough to pay for relocation of sexual abuse victims. It didn't want to risk running out of money and having to tap funds for a current program that pays for relocation costs of domestic abuse victims.
Book and other supporters disagreed, but the House wouldn't back down. "There is no denying our staff had trouble with that,'' Dorworth said. But he quickly added: "The language didn't originate in the House."
Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, acknowledges that in the midst of the dispute, the default position was to create something which no one had previously identified as a need. "I don't know why they did what they did at the end, but it was a take-it-or-leave-it kind of thing."
No one disputes the issue got attention from House and Senate leadership because it had Book's name attached.
Miami Herald staff writers Carol Marbin Miller and Marc Caputo contributed to this report.