© 2024 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

DEP secretary confirmation moves forward in the state Senate

Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Shawn Hamilton has been with the Department of Environmental Protection since 2007, serving as a public affairs manager, assistant district director and district director.

After Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed him without seeking the usual support from Florida Cabinet members, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton appears headed toward confirmation by the Senate.

With little comment, the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee on Monday became the second committee to support the confirmation of Hamilton. His appointment last year spurred controversy because it was made unilaterally by DeSantis, after picks for past Department of Environmental Protection secretaries received Cabinet votes.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democratic candidate for governor, contested DeSantis’ move to bypass the Cabinet, though she praised Hamilton. No Democrats on the Senate committee objected to or commented on Hamilton during Monday’s meeting.

Hamilton has been with the department since 2007, after 20 years with the U.S. Air Force. Hamilton started as a public affairs manager in the state agency’s Northwest District Office and moved to assistant district director in 2010 and district director in 2011. Before his appointment as secretary, Hamilton was deputy secretary overseeing land acquisition and long-term conservation.

Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, credited Hamilton with handling contentious discussions about the use of settlement money from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

“You've been in our office for multiple meetings. And sometimes they get pretty intense,” Broxson said. “And, frankly, I never saw your heartbeat go up once. You handled it with such poise and dignity and a sense of understanding that people have a lot of emotions when it comes to the environment.”

As Hamilton’s confirmation moves forward, the Legislature also has advanced a proposal that would revamp the appointments of the Department of Environmental Protection secretary, the commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the executive director of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

The proposal (SB 1658) awaits action by the House after passing the Senate in a 26-12 vote on Feb. 10.

Fried contends the legislation is a “power grab” by DeSantis and “his cronies.”

“The checks and balances in place under current law regarding the approval of executive appointments are there for a reason given the gravity of these roles,” Fried said in a statement before the Senate vote. “This protects against unilateral appointments by the governor of underqualified individuals, individuals not fit to serve, or nominees put forth for political purposes rather than with the best interest of the people of Florida in mind.”

The governor argues that part of the state constitution dealing with executive departments allows him to make the environmental secretary appointment through confirmation by the Senate or the approval of three members of the Cabinet.

Fried disputes DeSantis’ argument, saying the environmental secretary appointment has traditionally been backed by the Cabinet. In addition to Fried, the Cabinet is made up of Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, both Republicans who didn’t object to Hamilton’s appointment.

State law on the creation of the Department of Environmental Protection says: “The head of the Department of Environmental Protection shall be a secretary, who shall be appointed by the Governor, with the concurrence of three members of the Cabinet. The secretary shall be confirmed by the Florida Senate. The secretary shall serve at the pleasure of the Governor.”

Since the appointment, DeSantis and the Cabinet have met only once, in September, and are not scheduled to meet again until March 29, after the scheduled end of the legislative session.

More On This Topic