TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – As a financial scandal engulfs the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a bill that would strip the non-profit organization of its guaranteed contract with the state is on its way to Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The Florida Senate’s unanimous vote on Wednesday reflected Florida lawmakers’ staunch support of an effort to terminate the state’s partnership with the organization in the wake of an investigation that found its former CEO received more than $7 million in compensation over a three-year period.
Under current law, the coalition has a sole-source contract with the Department of Children and Families to manage state and federal funds for Florida’s 42 domestic-violence centers.
Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, told reporters Wednesday evening that sending the governor a bill (HB 1087) aimed at repealing the state law is the first “major step” in addressing a “really bad situation that should have never happened.”
The passage of the bill, approved by the House last week, addresses one aspect of scandal that has gripped the Capitol for weeks.
But state lawmakers are not finished probing the financial arrangement that allowed Tiffany Carr, the coalition’s long-time chief executive officer, to cash out millions of dollars in paid time off when she resigned in October.
The House earlier this week spent six hours grilling several board members of the coalition about Carr’s compensation package. But the responses left many lawmakers even more perplexed.
While testifying on Monday, three board members claimed they were unaware Carr was allowed to get receive millions of dollars for paid time off, even though they approved her compensation package.
“I was aghast,” House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, told reporters on Wednesday, referring to the board members’ testimony.
“It was disturbing. Scandalous. I don’t know what other words I can use to fully express what I thought of that.”
Monday’s testimony before the House Public Integrity & Ethics Committee came after the House subpoenaed Carr, who is currently in North Carolina, and the 13 members of the coalition’s board of directors. Testimony is scheduled to resume on Thursday.
As the House investigation forges ahead, legislators are discussing what can be done to ensure Florida’s domestic violence centers are not disrupted by a repeal of the coalition’s ties with the state agency.
For now, the measure that was approved by the Senate would give the Department of Children and Families the statutory responsibility for the statewide domestic-violence program.
Under the bill, the state agency will manage the funds earmarked for the domestic-violence centers and ensure that the shelters provide victims with services. such as emergency shelter, counseling and education.
Sen. Aaron Bean, who presented the bill during Wednesday’s Senate floor session, said the state agency is fully prepared to take on the responsibility, using its existing resources.
Bean said the Department of Children and Families Secretary Chad Poppell told him the agency is prepared to offer “uninterrupted aid” to all victims.
“DCF is fully prepared and assuming the role of the provider,” Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, told senators.
The bill would take effect immediately if DeSantis signs it into law.
The measure would not prohibit the coalition from contracting with the state in the future, but the organization would have to compete with others to get the contract.
DeSantis, who has not said whether he will sign the law, has been a harsh critic of Carr’s compensation and the coalition’s practices.
Last week, the Republican governor ordered state Inspector General Melinda Miguel to launch a probe into the domestic-violence organization to see if any criminal wrongdoing occurred.
“If they are just left to their own devices, and there is no accountability, things tend to get off the rails. If there is accountability, then something like this can be policed,” the governor told reporters Monday morning.
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