TALLAHASSEE — A bill allowing Hillsborough County agencies to opt out of using the county's Civil Service Board for certain services seemed to have momentum.
HB 683 passed the House on Friday by an impressive 105-3 margin, getting support not just from Republicans but Democrats. But on Monday, Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, used a little-known rule in the Florida Senate to essentially kill it.
After notifying the Senate's rules chairman that she objected to the bill, it was taken off the agenda, where it will remain unless Joyner changes her mind.
She said she won't, and that the bill is not coming back this session. "No, it's not," she said.
Custom allows senators to pluck local bills they don't like from the agenda.
For the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, it's an undemocratic ploy that wipes out a bill that had broad support, from Republican Sheriff David Gee to Democratic Clerk of the Circuit Court Pat Frank.
"One member of our delegation decided she didn't like it and because of this custom can kill it," Young said. "It kills the bill. It's a rule we probably should take a look at. In today's society, it just isn't acceptable that one person can do this."
Joyner said she's exercising a right senators have always had.
"Any senator can pull a local bill off the agenda," Joyner said, referring to Senate Rule 4.18, which allows "any senator of the delegation for the local area affected by a bill on the Local Bill Calendar" to remove it from the calendar, preventing it from being heard.
The bill would give Hillsborough County's 21 agencies, including the Sheriff's Office, supervisor of elections and clerk of courts, greater flexibility in hiring employees.
Right now, the agencies must use the Civil Service Board to perform human resources functions like posting jobs and mediating grievances of the 9,300 employees covered by the board.
It was created in 1951 and intended to provide a uniform standard based on merit that was free of discrimination in creating and abolishing jobs, filling vacancies, disciplining employees and recommending and adopting pay plans. Without fair standards for government employment, the reasoning goes, jobs get handed to the well connected rather than the capable.
But for some of the local constitutional officers, like Gee and Frank, the seven-member board and 29 employees who staff the agency don't meet the needs of their offices anymore, bogging them down with long waits while costing money. The county must pay the board a rate that came to about $3.2 million last year.
Young said agencies like the Sheriff's Office, which does its own recruitment for new hires, pay the board almost $1 million.
Her bill was supported by Tampa Democratic Reps. Janet Cruz and Mark Danish, too. In the Senate, it had support as well.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said the entire Hillsborough delegation supported it except Joyner. He said her maneuver wasn't appropriate.
"It gives too much veto power to one person," Brandes said. "The rule is troubling."
Local officials who had supported the bill also protested Joyner's action.
Frank, who strongly supported the bill, was among the Democratic voices who took offense.
"I'm appalled," Frank said Tuesday. "This was a democracy the last time I saw it. It's not a dictatorship. I'm quite uncomfortable with her assuming she has the power to do that."
Frank said she is hopeful legislators could find a way to overrule Joyner's move.
"This is a no-brainer," Frank said. "When it already has the support of two-thirds of the Legislature, get the thing out."
Sandra Murman, a former Republican state representative and current county commissioner, likewise said she hoped the Senate would somehow still vote on the bill.
"Every county commissioner in Hillsborough County and the constitutional officers voted in favor to support reforming" the Civil Service Board, Murman wrote in an email. "And we understand that a single senator has objected to this local bill which in essence could doom its passage this year."
Joyner makes no apologies.
"The Civil Service Board was put in place to prevent political patronage and to make it possible for everybody to have an equal opportunity," she said.
She said she realizes that the board isn't perfect. But she said it would be rash to let agencies opt out of its services, which would in effect "throw the baby out with the bathwater." The board and officials need to come together, she said, to fix the problems.
"It's easy for people to criticize the outcome because they don't like it," Joyner said. "But it's been a rule for many years. It wasn't created for me."
Times staff writer Dan Sullivan contributed to this report.