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    State agencies would lose lobbyists

    By LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 28, 2003

    TALLAHASSEE -- Rep. Gaston Cantens wants to eliminate the jobs of most state employees who lobby for their agencies.

    The Miami Republican has a series of budget amendments that will be heard today in the House Appropriations Committee.

    His proposal would eliminate legislative affairs offices in several agencies and lobbyists in 16 agencies. One amendment also suggests eliminating communications and public information activity in the state courts, but Cantens insisted his goal is not to get rid of public information specialists.

    "It's not the intent to do away with communications people who are providing information to the public," Cantens said. "But in some of the agencies, their budgets have gotten a little too big."

    Cantens is not proposing any change in the House, where Speaker Johnnie Byrd expanded the communications office this year, replacing a single staffer with 13 who are paid a total of $614,000.

    Several years ago, the Legislature prohibited state agencies from hiring outside lobbyists. Cantens' proposal goes a step further by banning the use of state employees as lobbyists for agencies.

    Some amendments refer to the elimination of "communications" staffers, which caught officials by surprise. "You got my attention," said Sterling Ivey, Department of Corrections communications director. "But we will have to analyze this before we can discuss it."

    Similar replies came from Craig Waters, spokesman for the Florida Supreme Court, and Terry McElroy, spokesman for the Department of Agriculture.

    Agencies that stand to lose lobbyists include the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Department of Corrections, Department of Juvenile Justice and the office of Attorney General Charlie Crist.

    Legislative affairs employees would be eliminated in the offices of Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson, Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, Secretary of State Glenda Hood and the departments of Environmental Protection, Business and Professional Regulation, Management Services, Revenue, Transportation, Workforce Development, Community Affairs, Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, Military Affairs, Environmental Protection, Education, and Children and Families and at the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

    -- Times staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

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    From the Times state desk