TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Cap News Services) – After she took office last year, the face of Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried – the lone state-elected Democrat – started showing up on stickers affixed to gas pumps across Florida.
House lawmakers say those stickers are illegal because of a law passed last year. They’re now threatening to withhold funding for the department if the stickers aren’t replaced.
Commissioner Fried said including her picture on the inspection stickers was intended to help raise awareness for the Division of Consumer Services.
“We knew that trying to have more attention to the stickers at the gas stations was part of that responsibility,” said Fried.
A law passed last year forbids the photo on the stickers, yet many still remain.
Now the Florida House is threatening to withhold $19.7 million from the department if they aren’t all replaced by September.
“The legislature made it clear last session that the placing of a likeness of oneself on official inspection materials was unseemly, self-promoting and contrary to taxpayer interests. (The) commissioner chose to ignore that directive. The House in 2020 is reiterating last year’s requirement and exercising our constitutional prerogative to decide what is and is not funded,” said Fred Piccolo, spokesman for House Speaker Jose Oliva.
“It’s absolutely outrageous, you know we are doing our jobs,” said Fried.
Fried said the money is critical for many of the department’s oversight and inspection duties. Without the funds, Fried said 284 jobs could be at risk.
“And to play partisan politics with something that is so vital to the health and wellness of our state, I’m just so disappointed,” said Fried.
We asked some people at the pump what they thought about the stickers. Surprisingly, we didn’t find a single person who’d ever even noticed them before.
But many people clearly have. There have been multiple cases of graffiti, but Fried said she doesn’t mind.
In fact, she said it’s a good sign.
“I wasn’t insulted by it. It just means that it’s working,” said Fried.
Effective or not, the Department of Agriculture has already begun rolling out new stickers, but it could take as long as nine months to replace them all.
The Senate did not include the funding hold in its budget proposal but as the legislative session moves forward, that could change.
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