Former Speaker of the Florida House Ray Sansom (R-Destin), along with Northwest Florida State College President Bob Richburg, was indicted by a Tallahassee Grand Jury on Friday. Sansom and Richburg will face a charge of official misconduct. Richburg will also face a perjury count. The grand jury report is highly critical of the Legislature budgeting process, beginning with the fact that once the House and Senate pass their respective budget, it goes to conference, where the House Appropriations Chair (which was Ray Sansom at the time of the controversial funding) and their Senate collegue have almost unlimited discretion over what is funded in the state budget. By the time negotiations are finished, the members of the Legislature often have less than 24 hours to read the compromise before they are forced to vote on it and conclude the Legislative session. The Grand Jury felt that the system, as it currently stands, is designed to allow a few powerful members of the Legislature almost sole discretion of the expenditure of state funds.
Of course, any criticism of Tallahassee politicians is unlikely to go unchallenged. Rep. David Rivera (R-Miami) blasted the citizens that served on the Grand Jury for daring to criticize the Legislature, stating that: “If those grand jurors served in the Legislature for two years they would have come to a much different conclusion…It was a runaway grand jury.” Thankfully, not all of the legislators have such a low opinion of citizen input.
“I think we’re a little taken aback. Nobody expected it,” said Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City. Told of the report’s criticism of the secrecy of the appropriations process, the second-term lawmaker said: “I can understand where public opinion would find that type of concern.” He cited instances in which lawmakers are asked to vote on 50- or 60-page rewrites of complex bills, referred to as strike-all amendments.
Let’s hope that, in the future, lawmakers moves reflect more of Rep. Patronis’ comments and less of Rep. Rivera’s. Transparency and public input are vital to the political process. Tallahassee should be taking steps to increase both, not shut them out as Rep. Rivera would apparently prefer.