State Sen. Curt Kiser, R-Palm Harbor, and four other legislators were charged Wednesday with failing to report free trips they accepted from lobbyists. The charges bring to 24 the number of legislators who have been hauled into court in the investigation.
While a few angry lawmakers are fighting the charges, most say they will submit, in hopes the controversy will be forgotten. On Wednesday, state Rep. John W. Long, D-Land O'Lakes, became the seventh legislator to plead no contest. He agreed to pay a fine of $250.
Also Wednesday, the state Ethics Commission announced it has cleared Senate President Gwen Margolis of any wrongdoing in connection with a 1989 trip to Chicago paid for by pari-mutuel wagering industry representatives.
The commission decided the trip primarily was educational and probably did not violate state ethics laws. The commission earlier had cleared state Sen. Karen Thurman, D-Dunnellon, on the same trip. The trip occurred after the Legislature removed the criminal penalties for state officials who fail to report gifts.
The criminal charges _ concerning pre-1989 trips _ have been filed by Tallahassee-area State Attorney Willie Meggs. His investigation began after expense records of several utility lobbyists revealed how much lobbyists spend on freebies for legislators _ and how little of it the lawmakers reported.
Each of the misdemeanor charges carries a maximum penalty of $500 and 60 days in jail. But prosecutors have indicated they are willing to accept fines if legislators plead no contest.
Kiser was charged with failing to report a trip to Norwood, Colo., between Oct. 14 and Oct. 30, 1988, and a trip to the Foxfire Hunting Preserve in Georgia in December 1988.
"I acknowledge that one charge was filed against me for failure to report two trips in 1988," Kiser said in a statement. "I never intentionally failed to follow the law, I regret this error, I have subsequently corrected it and it absolutely will not happen again."
An aide to Kiser explained that Kiser began to report such trips as gifts beginning in 1989. Kiser plans to plead no contest, his aide said.
The other legislators charged Wednesday were:
State Rep. Ron Silver, D-North Miami Beach, a former House majority leader who was floor leader for Gov. Lawton Chiles during this year's legislative session. Silver was charged with failing to report two 1986 trips _ a trip to the World Series in Boston and a fishing trip to Treasure Cay _ and a 1987 trip to the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament in Washington, D.C. He couldn't be reached for comment.
State Sen. Bill Bankhead, R-Jacksonville, a 10-year House veteran elected to the Senate in 1988. He was charged with failing to report a 1988 trip to the Foxfire Hunting Preserve. He released a statement describing his failure to disclose the trip as an oversight.
State Rep. Randy Mackey, D-Lake City, charged with failing to report a 1987 trip to Foxfire. Mackey said he drove to and from the preserve, 20 miles from his district, and didn't shoot any birds. He said he would pay his fine and "chalk it up to experience."
State Rep. George Crady, D-Yulee, for not disclosing a hunting trip to El Campo, Texas. He could not be reached for comment.
_ The Associated Press contributed to this report.