Sun Sentinel Broward Edition

State leg­is­la­tors show record of pri­or­i­tiz­ing bills linked to pri­vate jobs

- By Gary Fi­ne­out As­so­ci­ated Press

TAL­LA­HAS­SEE — Dur­ing the re­cently-con­cluded leg­isla­tive ses­sion, Se­nate Pres­i­dent Andy Gar­diner con­stantly warned about the threat to the state’s hos­pi­tals if they were to lose more than $1 bil­lion that now comes from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

There’s a good rea­son Gar­diner un­der­stands hos­pi­tals: he works for one.

Gar­diner’s em­ploy­ment is legal, but it high­lights a com­mon prac­tice in the Florida Leg­is­la­ture. Many leg­is­la­tors have places where their pro­fes­sional lives and leg­isla­tive work over­lap. The Florida Leg­is­la­ture is a “part-time” job that pays slightly less than $30,000 and most leg­is­la­tors have out­side jobs that al­low them to spend two months a year at the state Capitol.

The 46-year-old Gar­diner is a vice pres­i­dent with Or­lando Health, a net­work of pri­vate, non­profit hospi- tals that re­ceives state fund­ing. Gar­diner’s pay is al­most $200,000 an­nu­ally and it in­cludes in­cen­tives tied to hos­pi­tal per­for­mance, in­clud­ing how well it does fi­nan­cially.

Dur­ing this year’s ses­sion, Gar­diner has cited the po­ten­tial loss of fed­eral money as the ra­tio­nale to move ahead with a Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion plan that would draw fed­eral money linked to Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s health care over­haul. The sen­a­tors have so far stood fast against their Repub­li­can col­leagues in the House, lead­ing to the bud­get stale­mate that was not re­solved by Fri­day’s sched­uled end of ses­sion.

As the stale­mate has dragged on, there’s been a whis­per cam­paign sug­gest­ing Gar­diner’s mo­tives are due to his em­ployer, and not out of con­cern for the hos­pi­tals de­pen­dent on the fed­eral money known as “low in­come pool.”

Gar­diner brushes the crit­i­cism.

“I think it’s

al­most

aside

more ir­re­spon­si­ble if I say I` see that prob­lem over there but I m` not go­ing to touch it be­cause I work in health care,“’ Gar­diner said.

Other Florida leg­is­la­tors whose pro­fes­sional and po­lit­i­cal ca­reers have col­lided in­clude:

— Repub­li­can Sen. John Legg, who works at a Pasco County char­ter school, has the lead role in shap­ing ed­u­ca­tion laws in­clud­ing those that deal with char­ter schools. Char­ter schools are pri­vately run public money.

—Rep. Eric Fre­sen, a Miami Repub­li­can, spon­sored a mea­sure this year that could re­sult in mil­lions of lo­cal school dis­trict taxes be­ing shifted to char­ter schools. Fre­sen works for an ar­chi­tec­tural and de­sign firm that gets con­tracts to build char­ter schools. His sis­ter is mar­ried to the head of one of the state’s lead­ing char­ter school man­age­ment com­pa­nies.

but

re­ceive

—Sen. Bill Mont­ford, a Tal­la­has­see Demo­crat, is deeply in­volved in ed­u­ca­tion leg­is­la­tion. Mont­ford’s day job? He earns nearly $200,000 a year from the as­so­ci­a­tion that rep­re­sents school su­per­in­ten­dents. Dur­ing one com­mit­tee meet­ing this ses­sion, Mont­ford in­ter­vened to make sure a school su­per­in­ten­dent could tes­tify.

—Rep. Ran­dolph Bracy, an Or­lando Demo­crat, was hired in mid-Fe­bru­ary as an eco­nomic devel­op­ment con­sul­tant by the city of Ocoee. Emails ob­tained by The As­so­ci­ated Press show that on March 13 Bracy’s of­fice sub­mit­ted re­quests to ob­tain state money for the city, in­clud­ing a re­quest for more than $800,000 to pay for a side­walk trail.

The forms show that the name in­cluded as a con­tact for the project was the as­sis­tant city manager for Ocoee who rec­om­mended hir­ing Bracy.

When asked about it, Bracy said that he had put in bud­get re­quests for all the cities in his leg­isla­tive dis­trict. He noted he had not started his new job yet. Bracy added that he has asked the House gen­eral coun­sel for an opin­ion about any con­flict be­tween his city con­tract and his leg­isla­tive post.

“If they tell me that from now on I can’t, I won’t do it any­more,” Bracy said.

The rules guiding con­flict of in­ter­ests for leg­is­la­tors aren’t strict. They are al­lowed to vote on nearly all mea­sures, with the ex­cep­tion of those that pro­vide a spe­cial ben­e­fit to them di­rectly. They can still vote on mea­sures that ben­e­fit their em­ployer, pro­vided that they dis­close it.

Florida’s ethics laws are loose enough that leg­is­la­tors rarely get in trou­ble over them. For­mer House Speaker Ray Sansom was charged in 2009 over a bud­get item he pushed that ap­peared to ben­e­fit a GOP donor in his dis­trict. But the charges were later dropped af­ter a judge would not al­low a key wit­ness to tes­tify.

 ?? STEVE CAN­NON/AP ?? Se­nate Pres­i­dent Andy Gar­diner warned of the threat to state hos­pi­tals should they lose fed­eral fund­ing.
STEVE CAN­NON/AP Se­nate Pres­i­dent Andy Gar­diner warned of the threat to state hos­pi­tals should they lose fed­eral fund­ing.
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