Sunday, January 21, 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: Beware of social media targeting kids

Editorial: Beware of social media targeting kids

Ignoring all available evidence that screen time and social media exposure can be harmful to kids, Facebook recently unveiled a new messaging app targeting children under 13. It’s yet another battlefront for parents who have to constantly combat the ...
Published: 01/21/18
Editorial: Too soon for Tampa Bay to settle for buses over light rail

Editorial: Too soon for Tampa Bay to settle for buses over light rail

The good news on the transportation front is that Tampa Bay’s government and business leaders are working together like never before to connect the region’s largest cities, attractions and employment centers with a more robust mass transit system. Th...
Published: 01/20/18
Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

The smiles, applause and at least one hug belied the grim impetus for a gathering last week at a neighborhood center in Tampa — the Seminole Heights killings.The Tampa Police Department held a ceremony to thank those who helped in the investigation t...
Published: 01/19/18
Updated: 01/21/18
Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

The death last fall of a 20-year-old Florida State University fraternity pledge revealed pervasive dangerous behavior within the school’s Greek system. Andrew Coffey, a Pi Kappa Phi pledge, died from alcohol poisoning after an off-campus party, and a...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: Confronting racial distrust in St. Petersburg, one conversation at a time

The St. Petersburg Police Department’s heavy presence in Midtown on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the community animosity it stirred have raised a familiar, troubling question: Can St. Petersburg’s racial divisions ever be reconciled?That big ideal ...
Published: 01/19/18
William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

A surge of Democrats seeking local legislative offices and hoping for a "blue wave" in the 2018 election continued last week, led by Bob Buesing filing to run again versus state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa.In addition:• Heather Kenyon Stahl of Tampa has...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: State’s warning shot should get attention of Hillsborough schools

The state Board of Education hopefully sent the message this week with its warning shot about the slow pace of the turnaround at Hillsborough County’s low-performing schools.The board criticized the school system for failing to replace administrators...
Published: 01/18/18
Updated: 01/19/18
Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Published: 01/18/18

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18