Monday, June 25, 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.

Comments
Editorial: Handing out gift cards like candy at CareerSource

Editorial: Handing out gift cards like candy at CareerSource

Itís hard to pick the biggest outrage in the financial and ethical swamp that has swallowed Tampa Bayís two primary job placement agencies, CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay. Is it the boiler room atmosphere where CareerSource recruite...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18

Family separation crisis is not over

The family-separation crisis that President Donald Trump created is not over. The executive order Trump signed Wednesday purporting to end the routine tearing of children from their undocumented parents stands on uncertain legal ground. U.S. border a...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18
Editorial: State help needed to staff hotlines with veterans helping veterans

Editorial: State help needed to staff hotlines with veterans helping veterans

Veterans can help veterans deal with trauma resulting from military service in a way no one else can. Thatís the theory behind a special hotline set up in the Tampa Bay area that proponents are hoping to take statewide.The expansion would cost some $...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18
Editorial: With Supreme Court ruling, Florida should collect sales tax from online retailers

Editorial: With Supreme Court ruling, Florida should collect sales tax from online retailers

It turns out the U.S. Supreme Court has a better grasp of the economic realities of the 21st century than Congress or the Florida Legislature. The court ruled Thursday that states can require online retailers to collect sales taxes even if the retail...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18
Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

The shocking scenes of immigrant children crying after being taken from their parents at the border exposed a new level of cruelty by the Trump administration, and though the president reversed course Wednesday, Congress needs to end the shameful pra...
Published: 06/21/18
Sessions kickstarts action on marijuana

Sessions kickstarts action on marijuana

Good job, Jeff Sessions! It seems the attorney generalís misguided attempts to revive the unpopular and unjust federal war on marijuana may be having the exact opposite effect ó prompting a new bipartisan effort in Congress to allow states to legaliz...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/21/18
Editorial: A court victory for protecting Floridaís environment

Editorial: A court victory for protecting Floridaís environment

A Tallahassee judge has affirmed the overwhelming intent of Florida voters by ruling that state lawmakers have failed to comply with a constitutional amendment that is supposed to provide a specific pot of money to buy and preserve endangered lands. ...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Innocent children should not be used as political pawns. That is exactly what the Trump administration is doing by cruelly prying young children away from their parents as these desperate families cross the Mexican border in search of a safer, better...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/19/18

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/18/18
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18