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$3.4 million in travel expenditures for Florida’s Harris is under review

SHARE $3.4 million in travel expenditures for Florida’s Harris is under review

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A special review committee has been created to investigate Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris' $3.4 million travel bills, the St. Petersburg Times reported Tuesday.

Harris' spokesman, David Host, told the Times that Harris welcomes the examination. He would not comment further.

Harris, 44, became a favorite target of Democrats but won praise from Republicans for her handling of the recount following last year's presidential election. She is now considering a congressional run in 2002.

During her first 22 months in office, Harris amassed more than $106,000 in travel bills, more than any Cabinet officer and the governor. The international relations budget rose $783,000 in 1999 to $3.4 million in 2000-01 and remained the same in the current year budget.

Harris requested more than $5 million, but legislators would not approve the increase.

Harris visited eight countries on 10 foreign trips, staying at luxury hotels at taxpayer expense, the Times reported. Her travels have included trips to Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Venezuela, Canada, Panama, Mexico and Barbados.

Harris has defended her international travel and the focus of her office on it in frequent speeches citing the importance of international relations to the state's economy.

The review committee will be appointed by Senate President John McKay, House Speaker Tom Feeney and Gov. Jeb Bush. The creation of the group was buried on page 363 of the recent 420-page state budget.

The committee, with support from the state Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, is to review and evaluate all of Harris' expenditures on international affairs since July 1, 1999.

Earlier this year, Senate leaders quietly eliminated the money from her budget, assigning it instead to Enterprise Florida, the state's economic development agency. After the House refused to go along, the Senate agreed to restore the money but insisted on an investigation, the Times reported.