State-Rules Law Sparks Veto Battle; DEBATE Lawmakers Worry That Legislation Will Disrupt the Way Agencies Do Business

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Byline: STEVE PATTERSON

After passing unanimously through Florida's Legislature, a bill that critics say will let lawmakers micromanage many state agency rules has alarmed a growing list of opponents, who want Gov. Charlie Crist to veto it.

The bill "will dramatically disrupt every agency's duty to implement statutory law," the St. Johns River Water Management District's general counsel, Kathryn Mennella, wrote in a report requested by Crist's office.

Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton urged Crist to veto the bill this week, arguing it would add bureaucracy and central control over government and would slow down how agencies work.

Even one of the legislators has switched sides and come out against the measure, HB 1565.

"It's an odd feeling ... to get one good stab at taking the best vote you can, and then screwing it up," said Rep. Mark Pafford, a Palm Beach County Democrat who voted for the bill on April 26 but formally changed his vote last week.

Pafford said he wrote to Crist about his decision and is asking other lawmakers to change their votes, too.

"I have no problem letting the Governor's Office know my vote was a wrong vote," he said, "and it should have been no."

All of the fretting seems wrong to Rep. Chris Dorworth, a Central Florida Republican who sponsored the bill and says there was no opposition when decisions were made about a measure he describes as protecting small businesses from excessive regulation.

"Everybody was just loving it," he said. "There was not one negative speaker in any House or Senate committee."

The measure requires state agencies that propose new rules to ask for ratification by the Legislature when those rules have a statewide impact of more than $1 million over five years.

But some lawmakers said they didn't even see that provision.

"That's pretty sneaky right there. ... I don't even know how we ratify rules," said Rep. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, who spotted the requirement while re-reading the bill during an interview with The Times-Union. Gibson voted for the bill.

Environmental advocacy groups including Audubon of Florida, 1,000 Friends of Florida and the St. Johns Riverkeeper have launched campaigns asking their backers to oppose the bill. They worry the measure requires lawmakers to micromanage complex technical issues and invites political horse-trading.

But the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Association of Counties and others want Crist to sign the bill. …