Sen. Barker thwarted again on driver-book issue

March 29, 2010

Originally posted by Steve Bousquet on March 23, 2010.

Sen. Carey Baker took a pounding for the second time Tuesday as he pushed legislation critics say could extend a controversial deal that allows Ponte┬áVedra Beach businessman Ken Underwood to print Florida’s Official Driver Safety Handbook (background on this issue here).

Baker rewrote his bill (SB 2342) in an effort to make it more palatable. But it was so obvious he didn’t have the votes that the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee postponed a vote for the second meeting in a row.

The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has cancelled Underwood’s contract after five years, and agency director Julie Jones, who inherited the Underwood deal, was direct in her testimony: “We need to overcome the perception of an endorsement of one cmpany.”

Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, set the tone on a skeptical committee, saying: “It appears to me that this bill is about massaging a current contract.” Baker insisted his goal was to save tax dollars, noting that his amended version requires the highway safety agency to seek competing proposals. (The agency said it doesn’t need legislation to do that).