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State auditors advise: Abolish commission

A private group overseeing vocational training of the disabled has not fulfilled its mission, an official says.

By ALISA ULFERTS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 20, 2001

TALLAHASSEE -- State auditors are recommending that lawmakers abolish the private commission that oversees vocational training for disabled workers.

The audit, due out next week, finds that the Occupational Access and Opportunity Commission has not fulfilled its mission and should be disbanded, said a commissioner who was briefed by state auditors in advance of the report.

Commission member Warren Jernigan said he hasn't received his copy but said state auditors told him about their recommendation when they interviewed him for the report. "The next stage is for the commission to respond if they choose to," Jernigan said. The final report is due in January.

The commission has been the subject of several state inquiries regarding questions of conflict of interest, including one involving a $1-million contract to a foundation represented by George Kirkpatrick, a former state senator.

Kirkpatrick was a leading force behind the 1999 bill that created the Occupational Access and Opportunity Commission and privatized part of the state's vocational rehabilitation services. He was appointed to the board two years later. Board members affirmed his contract several months after that.

Kirkpatrick has denied any wrongdoing and says he doesn't receive a salary from the foundation.

Florida has accelerated plans to expand the privatization program to other parts of the state. By early next year, the state wants another seven of the 24 regions under the control of private companies.

Under the old program, state workers counseled disabled workers on their options for training, including training provided by private companies. Under the privatization pilot program, private companies can provide the counseling and the training services.

The privatization project is overseen by the state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation under a partnership with the federal Rehabilitation Services Administration in which the federal government pays $4 for every $1 the state pays.

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