Stricter lobbying, employment, ethics rules advance in Senate
Tallahassee lobbyists would face stricter oversight and legislators would face new limits on outside employment under an ethics bill that moved ahead in a Senate committee Tuesday. The proposal faces a long road to passage and must clear three more committees before reaching the Senate floor.
The bill (SB 686), the main ethics package in the 2016 session, would require lobbyists for the first time to report on a monthly basis every bill and amendment they're trying to influence, including listing the six-digit bar code numbers the Legislature uses to track amendments. Lobbyists could face fines of up to $5,000 for violations.
For the first time, legislators would be prohibited from taking outside jobs from firms that get money in the state budget, such as public hospitals, school districts, colleges and universities. The provision would not apply retroactively to lawmakers who already hold such jobs, but those members could not accept a promotion or raise under the bill.
For the first time, every mayor and city commissioner in Florida would have to file detailed annual financial disclosure statements, the same as the governor and all legislators must file, listing all assets and liabilities. Board members of Enterprise Florida, many of them politically prominent business leaders, would be barred from lobbying for two years after leaving the board, the same as legislators.
The bill also would allow the Commission on Ethics to initiate its own investigations, which the agency has sought for nearly two decades. Seven of the panel's nine members would have to vote to take that action at a public meeting. Under current law, the ethics panel cannot act unless a complaint is filed against a public official.
A 105-page strike-all amendment introduced at the meeting by Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, also included the anti-corruption language proposed by a statewide grand jury and championed by the Gannett newspapers that was killed a day earlier in another Senate committee. The provision makes it easier for prosecutors to pursue private companies that get government contracts when bribery, bid tampering and other crimes occur.
By adding the controversial anti-corruption language to a broader ethics bill, Gaetz said he's trying to make it harder for senators to vote against it. "Now there are a lot more reasons to vote for this bill," Gaetz said.
Gaetz said he's working with House Speaker-Designate Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, on the bill, and that several provisions were inspired by Corcoran's recent speech in which he was formally designated the next speaker. Common Cause Florida and the Tea Party Network are among the diverse interest groups that support for the bill.
Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, who helped kill the anti-corruption bill on Monday, opposed Gaetz's amendment, and said that if a bill can be killed one day and revived the next, "I might as well stay home ... I just don't think that's the way we should conduct business."