Senate panel OK’s new limits on lawmakers working for universitiesby John Kennedy | January 23rd, 2012
In the latest swipe by public officials at the state higher education system, a Senate panel Monday narrowly approved a measure to bar legislators from working for Florida colleges or universities while in office — and for as much as two years after they leave office.
The legislation (SB 1560) was approved in a 7-5 vote by the Ethics and Elections subcommittee. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, has joined Gov. Rick Scott, incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and other lawmakers who have been turning up the heat on Florida schools for how they spend their money.
Thrasher said having lawmakers on the payroll of colleges and universities has the “perception” of a conflict-of-interest, especially when they vote on legislation or budget matters that effect a school that employs them.
“It’s been the subject of a lot of concern,” Thrasher said. “It’s something that needs to have this conversation.”
Several House and Senate members work for colleges and universities — the most prominent being Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, an instructor at the University of Florida. But Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, was among several lawmakers who questioned how far Thrasher wanted to go in restricting legislators’ outside employment.
“I have a real problem with this bill,” Detert said.
Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, said, “I believe this is discrimination against a whole class of people. What’s next?”
Colleges and universities have been under the microscope since last summer, when Scott first started questioning whether schools were putting enough focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs, saying such STEM disciplines were the key to building a future workforce. Scott also posted online the salaries of State University System employees.
Lawmakers currently employed by colleges or universities would be allowed to retain their jobs, under the bill. But it would clearly affect those who might be angling for work once they leave office.
Defending his call for the measure, Thrasher cited a 2010 statewide grand jury report which questioned the scope of the state’s current ethics’ laws, and suggested ways to toughen them.