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What grand jury? Florida Legislature fails to pass 'essential' ethics reform

Reform is essential to remedy the perception that those in leadership roles fail to set a noble example of service and are instead assumed to be egotistical and corrupt.

When the Legislature fails to act after its own members flagrantly abuse their positions, the citizens lose respect, faith and interest in the government.

• • •

Those aren't my words.

They are the words of the Statewide Grand Jury, which nearly six months ago issued a report: "A Study of Public Corruption in Florida and Recommended Solutions."

Convened after a string of scandals, the grand jury put forward a series of specific proposals for the Legislature to consider in the 2011 session.

"We believe that the time for action is now," the grand jury report said, "and we urge the Florida Legislature and other governmental bodies to address anti-corruption efforts using our findings and recommendations as a starting point."

Guess what?

Not a single ethics reform law passed.

Not one.

On the contrary, lawmakers — claiming to take an important step forward in the name of "transparency" — re-established "leadership funds," cash cows of lobbyist money that will be controlled by legislative leaders, inviting even more special interest influence.

The grand jury's words landed on deaf ears in Tallahassee.

Even an embarrassing episode involving Senate President Mike Haridopolos failed to generate enthusiasm for ethics reform.

His colleagues admonished Haridopolos and he issued an apology after an ethics investigation found he omitted relevant details from annual financial disclosure forms, including a $400,000 "investment home" and the clients of his sideline consulting business.

Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, sponsored a bill, SB 2088, that addressed the Haridopolos issue and would have tightened Florida's voting conflict law involving lawmakers.

It passed one Senate committee, never to be seen again.

As influential chairman of the Rules Committee, you would think Thrasher could get a bill passed.

But no.

Thrasher says the problem was that no one in the House sponsored a similar bill.

"With the rush of all of the end-of-session stuff, I never heard back from the president (Haridopolos) about it," Thrasher said. "I regret we didn't get it done. We started out without a companion (bill) in the House, and we probably should have had a discussion with some of their folks down there about it."

But they didn't.

Also in the legislative scrap heap was SB 86 by Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, to allow the Commission on Ethics to conduct its own investigations and to block legislators from voting on issues that would benefit them personally.

Also dead was a bill by Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, that would have required the governor and Cabinet members to place their assets in blind trusts and greatly increased the fines for ethics violations.

That bill, SB 1484, was never heard in any committee.

"It's kind of sad," Fasano said. "I don't understand it all, and after 17 years, I probably never will."

Oh, well.

Maybe next year. But don't hold your breath.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

What grand jury? Florida Legislature fails to pass 'essential' ethics reform 05/20/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 20, 2011 8:50pm]
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