A former Florida House speaker is on trial across the street from the state Capitol. A statewide grand jury has called Tallahassee corrupt. And Senate President Mike Haridopolos has just been disciplined for his own ethical lapses. Yet Haridopolos' office had the audacity to pull ethics legislation from a final committee vote this week only to have the U.S. Senate candidate proclaim himself an ethics reformer a day later. No wonder Floridians are skeptical about what happens in Tallahassee.
As the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau reported, Sen. Paula Dockery's bill, SB 86, was scheduled to be heard in the last of three committees Wednesday when the Senate president's staff yanked it from the Government Oversight and Operations Committee's agenda without explanation.
It was an abrupt reversal from last year, when Haridopolos signed on to identical legislation as one of 19 co-sponsors. The reform would block legislators from voting on issues that would almost exclusively benefit them or their relatives or companies that employ them. Legislators also would have to disclose their potential conflicts of interest before abstaining from voting. A statewide grand jury convened to examine government corruption specifically trumpeted such reform in December.
A day after yanking the bill, Haridopolos' office finally offered an implausible explanation and denied he meant to punish Dockery, a Lakeland Republican who frequently bucks party leadership. Haridopolos claimed he was unaware of the decision and that his staff pulled the legislation because the committee chairman's agenda was too ambitious for the time allowed.
But Haridopolos did not apologize to Dockery or the committee chairman. Instead, his office pledged that the Senate would unveil a comprehensive ethics reform package next week. But no details were provided, and no draft version of the legislation is available as the Senate winds up its third week of a nine-week session.
Haridopolos' plan better be good if he wants Florida voters to forget about his being admonished on the Senate floor earlier this month for "inadvertently" failing to detail his finances on constitutionally mandated disclosure forms. The U.S. Senate candidate's reform package will have to be broad, sweeping and have a strong smell of antiseptic to be convincing evidence that this week's power play was just an innocent mistake by a well-intentioned staffer.