An alimony overhaul that brought together people once bitterly divided on the issue has created an even deeper rift between two powerful Republican lawmakers who blame each other for a failure to get the bill passed this year.
After a year of wheeling-and-dealing by lawyers, lawmakers and others, the alimony proposal died when the Senate refused to take up the House’s version of the bill, which would have established a formula for alimony amounts based on the length of marriages and the amounts of money spouses earn.
The acrimony over the measure involved a provision, pushed by Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, that would have established a “50-50” presumption regarding child sharing between divorcing spouses.
The House proposal (HB 943) didn’t go as far as Lee wanted, and the Senate did not consider the measure after the House adjourned and went home Tuesday.
Lee said language about child sharing in the House bill was “poorly drafted” and “designed to create confusion in the courts.”
But House Rules Chairman Ritch Workman, who sponsored an alimony overhaul vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott two years ago and who worked on a revamp for more than eight months with The Florida Bar and representatives of an organization seeking to change the state’s alimony laws, accused Lee of being a “bully” and “hijacking” the bill for his own reasons.
The Family Law Section of The Bar supported the alimony overhaul but strongly opposed Lee’s child-sharing element, one of the reasons Scott gave for his veto of the 2013 version.
Workman said Scott told him this year “don’t bring back retroactivity and don’t bring back drama” if he wanted the governor’s approval. Workman also said Lee promised in March that he would not allow the child-sharing portion to kill the bill.
But Lee refused to back down from the requirement despite repeated attempts to amend it, Workman complained.
“We’ve been trying to give him language but he won’t budge. The only person refusing to negotiate and come off a rigid position is Tom Lee. And that individual is going to kill a bill out of spite because he didn’t get his way. Literally picking up his toys and stomping out of the sandbox and running back with tears and snot in his nose because he didn’t want to share his toys in the sandbox,” Workman, R-Melbourne, said.
Workman accused Lee of having a personal grudge about the issue because of Lee’s own child custody dispute.
“What he cares about is getting back at the judge that didn’t give him 50-50 time share 15 years ago or whenever he got divorced,” he said.
But Lee, who is divorced and remarried, said his views on the issue had nothing to do with his own situation.
“It’s reprehensible that he would go there. I actually have 50-50 custody of my children. So, nice try. But I do policy here. Am I informed by experiences I have in a wide array of things? Absolutely. But I’m never going to make policy on the basis of my own personal experiences. This has nothing to do with my own personal custodial arrangement,” Lee, R-Brandon, said.
Lee said the bill was doomed because the House left before he could work out his objections to the time-sharing guidelines. The House adjourned three days before Friday’s scheduled end of the legislative session.
“I couldn’t have tried harder to ameliorate his concerns. The truth is he made a fatal flaw early in the process when he committed something he couldn’t commit to and that was there would be no amendments on this bill that weren’t approved by the Family Section of the Florida Bar. He killed his own bill because he made commitments to an organization that didn’t need a bill,” Lee said.
Workman denied that he made that promise and accused the Lee of using his influential position as budget chief as “extortion” to get child sharing into the Senate proposal sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland. Lee also did not include it in a separate bill dealing with family law that the House refused to pass.
“This is his ‘number one’ issue that he’s never run as a stand-alone bill. Not one time. He would not put it onto his own family law bill. He would only foist it upon Sen. Stargel’s bill and try to force his will through the weight of the power of his office. If it was so awesome for the families of Florida, if it was so amazing, why have you never run it as a stand-alone bill?” Workman said.
Workman, who is term-limited out of the House next year and is running for the Senate in 2018, made a mistake by trying to keep the bill from being amended, Lee said.
“Don’t come back now and cry me a river over a problem that he created for himself early on in the process. Hopefully there’s a lot of learning that comes out of this,” he said.
Lee said he intends to file the bill again next year if Stargel is not involved.
“If she isn’t, it will be Senate Bill 2. I will file it and if they don’t want to move it next year then we’ll move it in 2017 when he’s no longer a member of the Florida Legislature,” Lee said of Workman.