Republican Sen. Tom Lee to governor’s office: “Shame on them”

Republican Sen. Tom Lee lashed out at Gov. Ron DeSantis' office on Thursday. Image: Tom Lee's Facebook page

Republican Sen. Tom Lee blasted Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office Thursday for what Lee described as a stealth amendment he found tacked onto clean-water legislation – an amendment that would further consolidate DeSantis’ power over the Department of Environmental Protection within the executive branch that he controls.

“Shame on them,” Lee said after learning of the amendment at the Senate Appropriations Committee, which was hearing a water-quality bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Debbie Mayfield, who represents Indian River County and part of Brevard.

Lee objects to two words within this sentence in the multi-subject amendment to Mayfield’s bill: “The head of the Department of Environmental Protection shall be a secretary, who shall be appointed by the Governor, with the concurrence of one member of the Cabinet.”

The two words — “one member” — are important.

Right now, all three Cabinet members are involved in the appointment process. Cabinet members are the Attorney General, Chief Financial Officer and Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Reducing the requirement for concurrence to one, from three, virtually guarantees the governor’s DEP appointee would be easily approved at the Cabinet level. The appointment would still be subject to Senate confirmation.

Lee said the “one member” language was the subject of a bill sponsored by GOP Sen. Aaron Bean that came before his Infrastructure and Security Committee, and that he as chairman declined to hear it, finding it to be too expansive in terms of executive power.

Lee said he would vote against the entire water-quality bill Thursday to protest finding the measure added inconspicuously when various parties knew of his objections to it in his role as a committee chairman.

“It was in my committee, and I decided not to hear that bill. … If that’s the way we’re going to operate, I might as well not chair a committee,” Lee said. “I’m also very confident she [Sen. Mayfield] had no idea what she was being dragged into with that amendment.”

Mayfield confirmed she added the measure to her legislation at the request of the governor’s office. She said she did not know it had died in Lee’s committee.

Lee said he had been “in extensive conversations with the governor’s office” where he could have been made aware that the measure would be tacked onto Mayfield’s bill. Instead, he said, the governor’s office was angling to “slip one past the goalie.”

Mayfield’s water-quality bill passed by a large majority Thursday.

Lee voted against it.