The Florida House is set to approve a budget-related bill that would shift the state Office of Energy from Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried’s administration to that of Gov. Ron DeSantis, expanding a growing feud between Republican lawmakers and the only Democrat elected statewide.
The House proposal (HB 5401), set up Wednesday for a final vote on Thursday, would move the energy office’s 14 full-time employees, $1.8 million in salaries and trust-fund authority from Fried’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to the Department of Environmental Protection, which is under DeSantis.
Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, questioned the need for the shift, which doesn’t carry any fiscal impact or improve efficiency.
“Why are we making this change?” Jenne asked during floor debate Wednesday.
“Why not?” Rep. Holly Raschein, the bill’s sponsor, quickly replied.
“Gov. Ron DeSantis has made the environment one of his priorities and I think this would be a perfect time to switch the Office of Energy,” Raschein, R-Key Largo, added.
“It also fits very much the mission of the Department of Environmental Protection,” Raschein continued. “Clean air. Clean water. And why not clean energy.”
The Republican-dominated House rejected several attempts by Democrats to amend the bill, including one proposal that called for the DEP to provide a comprehensive plan on implementing the transfer.
Fried has blasted the move as a “partisan power grab” and linked it to another provision in the House budget plan that blocks nearly $20 million until her department replaces gas-pump stickers that feature her picture.
“Republicans are threatened. (They) had near complete power for almost two decades. Now a Democratic woman gets elected statewide and the old boys club cannot stand for it,” Fried told reporters last week. “They are working to erode the balance of power in state government and weaken what people voted (for), to silence the people. It’s petty and absolutely pathetic.”
The House plan to move the energy office isn’t in the Senate’s proposed budget (SB 2500), but that doesn’t mean it won’t advance.
Senate President Bill Galvano last week said the proposal comes from the “plaza level,” an indication that the effort is backed by the Republican governor.
“If there’s a valid reason for making those moves, then we’ll support it,” Galvano, R-Bradenton, added.
The Office of Energy was put in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in 2011, following the election of Adam Putnam, a Republican, as commissioner.