State Politics

Legislators going to out-of-state conferences

MANATEE — State representatives Bill Galvano and Ron Reagan say they plan to attend out-of-state conferences, and all three local state senators say they may travel as well — several at public expense.

The Florida Legislature’s ban on most out-of-state travel by state employees does not apply to lawmakers themselves, and many are headed to national conferences this week and next.

The House of Representatives limits each lawmaker to $1,150 for one conference at state expense, and the Senate will pay $2,000 for each member.

Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said he expects to pay his own tab.

House Speaker Pro Tem Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, said his fare will be paid by the public because he said he was asked to attend in an official capacity.

The two veteran Bradenton legislators may be joined in out-of-state travel by all three local state senators — Mike Bennett, Nancy Detert and Arthenia Joyner, according to a Senate list of those who have requested approval to attend a conference.

But Detert, a Sarasota Republican, applied for and got an $850 scholarship that would cover a portion of her costs to attend because she wanted to conserve taxpayers’ dollars, an aide said.

Asked if he was planning to attend, Reagan replied he had been asked to go to one such meeting by House Speaker Larry Cretul, who appointed Reagan a conferee and a voting member.

“It’s a great opportunity to meet with other legislators to find out what other states have done to solve some of these problems,” said Reagan. He estimated he had attended four or so conferences during the last six years, alternating between the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), meeting this week in Atlanta, and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), slated for next week in Philadelphia.

“It’s very, very informative. I only go to one a year,” he noted Wednesday.

Galvano said he may go to the upcoming conference in Philadelphia, but added, “If I went, I’d pay my own way.”

At such meetings, legislators from across the U.S. get together to try to find common solutions to common problems, he said.

“There are meetings on revenues and budgets,” he explained.

“People will learn what works in some states and what doesn’t. Over all, the conferences are beneficial for the members.”

He said he has attended one such conference previously, and refers often to materials it produced.

“I know at one point, we were looking at different states’ models about health care reform we’re engaged in, that was helpful,” said Galvano.

“There is also a conference I haven’t gone to, (but) it would be one I might consider, a conference of gaming states, that’s an opportunity.”

Galvano this year chaired the state House committee that helped to rewrite gambling laws.

“This year, when the budget’s tight, there are cutbacks you have to endure, probably attendance will be down because of that at national state legislator conferences,” he added.

Listed among those who had requested approval to travel to an out-of-state conference were Detert and two other senators — Bennett, a Bradenton Republican, and Joyner, a Tampa Democrat, according to Jaryn Emhof, communications director for the Senate.

Bennett indicated a desire to attend the ALEC convention in Atlanta, while Joyner and Detert planned to go to the NCSL in Philadelphia, Emhof said, but added, “It is important to note, with the possibility for last-minute schedule changes, we cannot confirm actual attendance until the reimbursement slips are submitted.”

Detert, Bennett and Joyner were unavailable for comment Wednesday.

State Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota, said he did not intend to go to any out-of-state conferences, but added, “I recognize these are very difficult times, people want to make sure legislators are spending their money frugally, but I do think these conferences can be a very good idea.”

He concluded, “While I’m not doing it myself, I would defend some people who choose to do it.”

Darryl Rouson, D-Tampa, said he would attend one because “I see the value in them. I think these conferences are very important for exchange of ideas, debate of ideas and flow of information.”

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 708-7908 or at The St. Petersburg Times contributed to this report.