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Weatherford says he will set different tone in Tallahassee, but keep pushing conservative agenda

TALLAHASSEE -- Incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford said Tuesday he wants to be known as an "inclusive reformer" for the next two years, one who works more with Democrats than his predecessor, Dean Cannon, but also continue to push a conservative agenda.

Top on his list is eliminating the state's defined benefit plan for new employees. He said he wants to keep defined plans for existing employees, but that he would push to remove it as a choice for all new hires.

"The idea of a defined benefit plan is old and archaic," Weatherford said. "We have to recognize it's time for states to be fiscally responsible."

Currently, employees can choose between a defined benefit plan, which pays out a guaranteed payment based on years of service times a percentage of average peak earnings; and a defined contribution plan, which is based on contributions the employee makes into investment accounts, which are considered riskier.

Weatherford said he didn't know how much the change could save, but said states and cities facing mounting deficits have been pushed to the brink by the defined benefit plans. They are a "ticking time bomb" in state finances, he said.

Ethics and elections reform, such as eliminating powerful fundraising committees used by lawmakers, will be one of his top priorities, as well. Dubbed "Committees of Continuous Existence", Weatherford said they have been misused by lawmakers and need to be eliminated to bring transparency to campaign finance. He said Florida's law limiting campaign contributions to $500 per candidate were outdated and needed to be revised to reflect other states, some of which didn't have any limits, such as Alabama, Indiana and Iowa.

Weatherford said the state should be embarrassed that it was still counting votes several days after the election, when 49 other states had already called their races for Pres. Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.

He said he would be appointing legislators to an Ethics and Elections committee, to look at ways to improve the voting process.

Weatherford stopped short of saying HB that 1355, the 2011 elections law that shortened the number of early voting days, was responsible for the election fiasco.

"The laws that are currently on the books may not have served the state well," he said, adding that he had voted for HB 1355.

He also said he had spoken to election officials like former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio and former Pasco Supervisor of Elections Kurt Browning about ideas for improving the process.

"It's a little early to say what led to those long lines," he said.

-- Michael Van Sickler and Toluse Olorunnipa, Times/Herald staff writers

Posted by Michael Van Sickler at 5:34:06 pm on November 13, 2012