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Senate President Mike Haridopolos' office stalls ethics bill he co-sponsored last year

TALLAHASSEE — The office of Senate President Mike Haridopolos has put the kibosh on a fellow Republican's ethics bill — the same bill Haridopolos himself had co-sponsored last year.

The decision to stall the bill, which is designed to crack down on legislative voting conflicts of interest, draws attention to the issue of ethics in a Legislature where lawmakers have run afoul of disclosure laws. Haridopolos, a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2012, was recently admonished by his rules chairman for "inadvertently" failing to detail his finances on constitutionally mandated ethics forms.

Also, Haridopolos often goes out of his way to say that all senators' bills are treated similarly in that they're each assigned three committee stops — and it's up to the committee chairmen to put a bill on the agenda.

But when the legislation sponsored by Sen. Paula Dockery appeared on today's proposed agenda for the Government Oversight and Operations Committee, Haridopolos' office ordered it removed with no explanation.

Dockery, a Haridopolos critic from Lakeland, said the decision is bad for taxpayers and raises questions about Haridopolos' commitment to open government — an issue he has championed for years.

"The people of the state of Florida deserve transparency," she said. "If a legislator is going to financially benefit as a result of a certain outcome of proposed legislation, they should not vote on it or influence the way other members vote on it. Plain and simple."

SB 86 is four pages long, she points out. So it's not complicated. It's also a known quantity; this is the fourth year it has been filed, and Haridopolos co-sponsored it last year, on April 10, when he requested that he be made a "co-introducer" of the legislation.

Haridopolos' office declined to comment.

The measure would tighten voting restrictions on legislators. It would block lawmakers from voting on issues that would almost exclusively benefit them or their relatives or the companies that they work for. Under the bill, lawmakers would have to publicly disclose their potential conflicts of interest before abstaining from voting.

The legislation is copied word-for-word from a Dec. 29 statewide grand jury that examined corruption in Florida. It said the state needs good ethics legislation to clean up government and save taxpayers money.

"Given the serious fiscal limitations at all levels of government, anti-corruption efforts must stop the theft and mismanagement of vital public funds," the grand jury reported. "This mismanagement and theft penalizes taxpayers by driving up the cost of all government services. Therefore, we call for an immediate repeal of what can only be referred to as Florida's Corruption Tax."

Dockery said the ongoing criminal case against former House Speaker Ray Sansom, indicted for his budget dealings, should be reason enough to pass the anti-corruption legislation. Sansom's trial began this week.

Sen. Jeremy Ring, a Margate Democrat who chairs the Government Oversight Committee, said he wasn't familiar with the bill's details or the reasons it was drafted. He said he pledged to Dockery that he'd give it a hearing and put it on his agenda stamped with the word "draft," according to a copy of the item provided by the committee staff.

But when the agenda was submitted Friday to the Office of the Senate President, SB 86 was removed, according to Ring, Dockery and the agenda.

"I don't want to throw anyone under the bus or speculate about what happened," Ring said. "All I know is that I submitted the agenda to the president's office the way I'm supposed to, and it was no longer on there."

Marc Caputo can be reached at mcaputo@miamiherald.com.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos' office stalls ethics bill he co-sponsored last year 03/22/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 11:05pm]
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