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Rubio already changes House

The incoming speaker has his own ideas how state government should be run, so he's moving offices and renovating.

By ALEX LEARY
Published August 31, 2006


TALLAHASSEE - State Rep. Marco Rubio, the incoming speaker of the state House, is touting his "100 Innovative Ideas" to set the legislative agenda for Florida's future. But he has some ideas for the way government should look, too.

The Miami Republican has spent nearly $400,000 on renovations to the House this summer, moving some offices around and creating new ones, all part of his effort to "decentralize" the power of his office.

"We're not putting in a gym or a spa. We're not doing any wood paneling," Rubio said.

It has become somewhat of a tradition for new political leaders to make structural or cosmetic changes. In 1999, Speaker John Thrasher, R-Orange Park, approved nearly $7-million for the House chamber, - now adorned in mahogany - the speaker's office and House office building.

In 2002, leaders of the House and Senate spent about $1.5-million on furniture, structural changes, even a private bathroom. Outgoing Speaker Allan Bense, R-Panama City, made only $1,500 in changes.

Rubio said the moves are part of his goal to "decentralize the power of the speakership from being some imperial position to being more of a manager of the process."

To accomplish that, he is moving the clerk and sergeant-at-arms on the fourth floor of the Capitol to the fifth floor, space once occupied by the House rules and calendar council. The council is moving to the 12th floor.

Rubio also wants to bring budget and policy committees together, saying they would work better in closer quarters. Those plans are still being developed.

The transition was visible Wednesday, with bubble-wrapped photographs of past House members sitting on the floor of the clerk's office. Upstairs, on the fifth floor, construction workers shuffled across bare concrete floors, installing lighting and drywall.

The new clerk/sergeant's office will have a view of the Supreme Court instead of the Old Capitol. "It's not going to really change things for me," sergeant-at-arms Earnest Sumner said Wednesday.

Rubio also is changing the role of the clerk's office by adding a parliamentarian, who will referee floor debate. Some other states, including Texas, follow this format, as does the U.S. House of Representatives.

Longtime House clerk John Phelps had played both roles, but he retired after the last legislative session. "There's just nobody out there who can jump in overnight and do both," Rubio said. Neither the clerk nor the parliamentarian position has been filled.

More offices are being created on other floors of the Capitol, as well as a new dining room on the third floor.

"Members are here to work for the 60-day session," said Rubio's spokesman, Jose Fuentes "We're going to have a very aggressive legislation session, and hopefully one of the busiest ever."

Rep. Dan Gelber, the incoming House minority leader, found no fault with the changes. "Every speaker tries to come up with a system they think is going to improve the process. I think his motives are good."

Added Gelber with a laugh: "I'll be looking for the mahogany, but I don't think we'll find it."

Staff writer Alex Leary can be reached at aleary@sptimes.com.

[Last modified August 31, 2006, 01:21:56]


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