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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Integrity Florida: Legislature should push 'full-speed' for ethics reform

5

January

Public corruption in the state is on the decline, according to government watchdog Integrity Florida. Still, the group says, there’s still work to be done to hold elected officials accountable.

On Tuesday, Tallahassee-based Integrity Florida outlined a series of proposals for ethics reform. It’s mostly a list of long-shot ideas that have not been seriously considered by the Florida Legislature. But research director Ben Wilcox says they’re essential.

From 2003 to 2013, there were 622 federal convictions for public corruption in Florida, more than any state but Texas and California, according to Integrity Florida. Data from the 10-year period 2000 to 2010 had put Florida at the top of that list.

“That’s a lot of corruption, I don’t care how big Florida is,” Wilcox said. “I don’t think the fact that the numbers have declined means that we need to take our foot off the gas pedal. We need to go after this problem full-speed.”

The Integrity Florida proposal, co-authored by Wilcox and Alan Stonecipher, endorses two anti-corruption bills championed by Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, in the upcoming legislative session, which begins Tuesday.

SB 582 would expand bribery and other corruption statutes to government contractors and would change the standard required for certain corruption convictions. SB 686 would do that and make a number of other ethics law changes, including requiring city elected officials to file more expansive financial disclosure forms and banning former members of the Enterprise Florida board from lobbying the board for six years.

But Wilcox and Integrity Florida say more efforts are needed in future years.

They want the Commission on Ethics to initiate their own investigations, rather than having to wait for a complaint from a member of the public or the Department of Law Enforcement. They want to increase the maximum penalties for violating ethics laws from $10,000 to $20,000. And they’d like the burden of proof on ethics violations to be changed so it’s easier for the commission to issue penalties in such cases.

Ethics reform bills can be tough to pass — one attempt in 2015 never made it — but Wilcox says that with persistence, it can be done.

“Ideally, what we would like to see is the Legislature tackle ethics reform every year,” he said.

[Last modified: Tuesday, January 5, 2016 1:36pm]

    

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