Panel rejects added duty for lieutenant governor

By Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida’s lieutenant governor won’t have to worry about being required by voters to run a state agency.

Members of the state Constitution Revision Commission on Tuesday rejected, in a 20-12 vote, a proposed constitutional amendment (Proposal 66) that would have required the lieutenant governor to oversee a department within the executive branch.

“We spend about $1 million a year on support services and salary for the lieutenant governor,” said Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican and member of the commission who sponsored the proposal. “It was just an idea to get not only a bigger bang for our buck, but at the same time also create some added value and some self-actualization for the individual.”

In the past, Lee called the money spent on the office “wasteful.” On Tuesday, he said the position is one of the weakest in the nation and simply designed to “help elect a governor at election time.”

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera is paid $124,851 a year.

But several members of the commission noted the governor already can appoint the lieutenant governor to run an agency and that some agency-head positions have required qualifications. As an example, the Department of Health is headed by the state surgeon general.

“In dealing with many of these agencies over the past seven years, I know the Department of Corrections is highly qualified in law enforcement,” Attorney General Pam Bondi said. “I think that’s another problem, that many of these require very specialized skills.”

Bondi is part of the 37-member commission, which meets every 20 years to craft constitutional amendments that will go before voters in November.

Commissioner Emery Gainey, a member of the attorney general’s management team, asked what would happen if the governor wasn’t satisfied with the performance of the lieutenant governor and no other agency-head position was open.

Lee initially proposed that the lieutenant governor act as a tie-breaking vote in the Florida Senate and replace the secretary of state, one of the positions now appointed by the governor. But the proposal was scaled back to requiring that the lieutenant governor serve as an agency head.

Other examples of agencies under the governor include the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Elder Affairs, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Lottery and the Department of Management Services.

Commissioner Don Gaetz, a former state Senate president, was among those backing the proposal.

“I think we’ve had some great lieutenant governors who actually had jobs,” said Gaetz, a Niceville Republican. “And then we’ve had some lieutenant governors who could have wandered the halls with their hands in their pockets, a waste of human resources. It’s just the way it was.”

The office has been around in Florida since 1968 and provides an immediate replacement if there is a gubernatorial vacancy -- as happened in 1998, when Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay briefly became governor after the death of Gov. Lawton Chiles.

Under Gov. Rick Scott the position has been widely viewed as ceremonial.

Scott let the office sit idle for nearly a year between the resignation of Jennifer Carroll in March 2013 and his appointment of Lopez-Cantera in February 2014.

News Service of Florida