Friday, April 20, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Ethics reform is job one

Without confidence in the integrity of elected officials, there can be no confidence in the public policies they embrace. The Senate is poised to send a powerful message today as it takes up ethics reform shortly after the opening of the legislative session. The legislation is a thoughtful, comprehensive approach to reform in a state where political corruption and conflicts of interests are all too common.

The bill, SB 2, ranges from improving the mechanics of applying ethics rules to increasing expectations that public officials will put the public's interests first rather than their own. Elected officials, for example, would be banned from obtaining new jobs with government agencies in many instances and would have better guidelines for adhering to the state's conflict-of-interest law. The bill would hold the state's procurement employees to closer account and close a loophole in the state's gift ban law that enabled some legislators to use so-called third-party committees to raise unlimited funds from special interests and spend the money bolstering their own lifestyle.

The provisions, put together by Senate Ethics and Election Committee chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, could have significant impact on public life in Florida. But ultimately they will only have meaning if the details are right. Banning gift purchases from so-called Committees of Continued Existence, for example, will mean nothing if lawmakers allow other political committees that discretion, as is being contemplated in other legislation.

Starting in 2016, the bill would expand the law that bans former legislators from lobbying the Legislature within two years of leaving office to also prohibit them from acting as a consultant to lobbying firms or lobbying state agencies during the same period. That won't end special interests' stranglehold on Tallahassee. But it should ease it by slowing the revolving door that allows former legislators, just months after leaving office, to command top dollar from those same special interests as lobbyists and consultants. Latvala had initially proposed the ban start in 2014, but compromised after fellow senators' objections — a sign of just how significant this reform would be in Tallahassee.

The proposal also would finally give Florida's ethics watchdog some much-needed teeth. The ethics commission would have 20 years — instead of just four — to collect fines from local and state officials that violate ethics laws. And the commission could place liens on public officials' property to collect those fines. Now many officials just wait the clock out and never pay up. The bill also would allow another avenue to initiate an ethics investigation. Now investigations are triggered only by a signed citizen complaint. This legislation would allow the governor, law enforcement or prosecutors to refer cases to the commission for investigation.

Senate President Don Gaetz committed to ethics reform after watching a series of scandals unfold in his own Panhandle district. House Speaker Will Weatherford has signaled support. But the legislative session lasts 60 days, and that's plenty of time to water down the reforms and for lawmakers to get cold feet. Today is an excellent first step, but Gaetz and Weatherford will have to stay on top of these reforms until the legislation is approved and sent to the governor for his signature.

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Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

A new foster care provider in Hillsborough County is poised to take over operations in May, only months after its predecessor was fired for what was alleged to be a pattern of failing to supervise at-risk children in its care. Many of the case manage...
Published: 04/18/18

Another voice: Back to postal reform

President Donald Trump is angry at Amazon for, in his tweeted words, "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy." Yet in more recent days, Trump has at least channeled his feelings in what could prove...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18
Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

A bipartisan Senate bill clarifying that only the attorney general or a high-ranking designee could remove a special prosecutor would send an important message amid President Donald Trump’s attacks on the investigation into Russia’s inter...
Published: 04/16/18
Updated: 04/17/18
Editorial: Don’t fall for Constitution Revision Commission’s tricks

Editorial: Don’t fall for Constitution Revision Commission’s tricks

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission has wasted months as a politically motivated scam masquerading as a high-minded effort to ask voters to improve the state’s fundamental document. The commission on Monday added amendments to the Nove...
Published: 04/16/18
Editorial: Redner’s court win on medical marijuana sends message

Editorial: Redner’s court win on medical marijuana sends message

Florida regulators have done far too little to make voter-approved medical marijuana widely available for patients suffering from chronic illnesses. A circuit court judge in Tallahassee ruled last week there is a price for that obstruction, finding t...
Published: 04/15/18
Updated: 04/16/18