Miami Herald: Too much power

Sep 28, 2009

The Miami Herald published this article on September 28, 2009


For the past seven years, I have watched in Tallahassee as the power of the Speaker’s office has grown exponentially at the expense of the members of the Florida House of Representatives and the people we serve.

Speaker Larry Cretul’s recent attempt to combine two previously established Appropriations Councils, dissolve several appropriations committees and re-assign members to other committees in which they have little experience, has crossed the boundaries of what are already overly inflated powers. That’s why I filed a complaint.

While Rules and Calendar Council Chair Bill Galvano dismissed my complaint on Thursday, I am contemplating further action in an effort to protect the Legislature’s integrity.

Aside from severely shrinking the number of members that serve on the Appropriations Council and leaving only four members from Miami-Dade County out of the 20 on the council, the speaker eliminated three Appropriation Committees that had been created by adoption of House rules in November of 2008.

One of the eliminated panels was the Committee on Human Services Appropriations chaired by Rep. Juan Zapata from Kendall. This Committee dealt with the very services used by many of Miami-Dade County’s elderly and underprivileged citizens, who rely greatly on state services in an economic downturn. The responsibilities of that committee were placed under the already overburdened General Healthcare Appropriations Committee. This puts the county at a tremendous disadvantage in our effort to secure funding for so many needed services.

The speaker has insisted that he has not “eliminated” these committees but, rather, left them vacant. There is legal and historical evidence to suggest that the rules do not allow him to do that either.

I find this action blatantly offensive to our democratic principles and a gross misinterpretation of the rules.

A historical evaluation of past Florida House rules dating back to the 1968 adoption of the modern Florida Constitution, clearly illustrates that the committee structure is deliberately intertwined to the procedural rules. Never in Florida’s history has a speaker refused to appoint members to any committee.

The rules are a binding contract, not just between the leadership and the members, but between each of the members themselves and most important, between the House and Florida’s residents. The rules not only limit the supreme power of any majority, they are also there to ensure that minority and dissenting voices are heard.

Speaker Cretul could have easily avoided this unfortunate transgression had he simply proposed an amendment to the council and committee structure through the proper manner as has been done by past speakers. He has chosen to creatively misinterpret the rules to serve his goals and not Florida’s best interests. Ultimately, this action is not about chairmanships or which members were taken off which committees. This action is about a speaker cherry-picking rules.

I realize that my complaint places yet another burden on a House already shaken by turmoil. This has worn greatly on my decision. The House, however, cannot expect to move forward and regain the public’s trust if we allow leaders to bend rules to suit their needs. The notion that we, as House members, work for the speaker is as silly as saying that Florida’s citizens work for their representatives.

At a time when many in our country have lost faith in their elected leaders, we as your representatives must stand up and act to protect the trust you have instilled in us.

Florida Rep. Juan-Carlos “J.C.” Planas represents District 115.