As Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried holds out for “cooler heads” in the Senate, House Speaker José Oliva is hopeful he will gain support for his chamber’s effort to move the Office of Energy from under her watch.
Voting largely along party lines Thursday, the House agreed to 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 Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“I think that it's important. It’s a priority of the governor. It's where that department was originally,” Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, told reporters after Thursday’s floor session. “Our plan is to continue to move forward in the hopes that we will be able to accomplish that with the Senate.”
Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, has said his chamber will support the effort if there is a “valid reason” for the move.
With Fried the only statewide elected Democrat, a number of House Democrats Thursday expressed concerns the move is more about politics than efficiency.
“I pray we do not allow politics to hinder the progression of the state of Florida,” Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville, said during the debate. She voted "no" on the bill (HB 5401), which passed 76-40.
But Rep. Rick Roth, R-West Palm Beach, said that, while many people blame politics for the switch, the idea came out of a budget-reduction exercise. And Rep. Thad Altman, R-Indialantic, said the move of the office a decade ago from the Department of Environmental Protection to its current location didn’t make sense at the time.
The office has been under the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services since 2011, when former Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican, was elected to the office.
Fried has repeatedly called the move a “partisan power grab”
“Stripping the Office of Energy from our department is detrimental to our state’s energy and climate future,” Fried said in a press release after Thursday’s House vote. “This move comes with no cost savings, no increased efficiency, and sets a dangerous precedent by eroding our state government’s checks and balances. Under our Department, the Office of Energy is finally working, so let’s call it what it is --- a power grab to benefit the governor, slow down our progress on energy and climate change. I’m hopeful that cooler heads will prevail in the Florida Senate.”
The effort to move the energy office comes alongside language in a House budget bill, which also passed Thursday, that blocks nearly $20 million until Fried’s department replaces gas-pump inspection stickers that feature her picture.