Ethics commission again seeks fix for its 'greatest weakness'
For nearly two decades, Florida's Commission on Ethics has sought the power to tackle investigations on its own, without waiting for a complaint to be filed. For all that time, the Legislature, which writes the ethics laws, has said no -- the same Legislature whose members are frequently subjects of ethics inquiries.
The idea will be back before state lawmakers in the 2016 session that begins in less than two months. It once again will face an uphill fight in a Capitol where the powers-that-be have long insisted that ethics watchdogs be kept on a very short leash.
"The inability to act on cases on its own initiative is perceived as the commission's greatest weakness, and the commission perceives it as its greatest weakness," said Virlindia Doss, the agency's executive director. She noted that the idea has been around since former Gov. Jeb Bush convened a public corruption study commission in 1999.
Under the proposal, the commission could start an investigation by a public vote of seven of its nine members. In past years, lawmakers have shelved the idea because of a fear that they could be subject to ethics witch hunts.
Doss presented the commission's legislative priority list to the Senate Ethics & Elections Committee Tuesday. It also includes requiring thousands of elected city officials to file the more detailed financial disclosure, known as Form 6, that lawmakers, county commissioners, sheriffs and other constitutional officers must file.
The commission also wants the power to place liens on property owned by public officials who refuse to pay fines, and to increase the maximum fine from $10,000 t0 $20,000.