1. Opinion

Corcoran: Rules for an accountable, open Florida House

Under new rules, individual House spending projects will be filed and voted on as stand-alone bills.
Under new rules, individual House spending projects will be filed and voted on as stand-alone bills.
Published Nov. 11, 2016

The Florida House of Representatives says enough is enough to the status quo and the powers that be and has proposed the most robust and substantive ethics reforms the state of Florida has ever seen — and did so in a bipartisan manner. Together, House Democrats and Republicans declared with one voice that Florida deserves better and that anyone who does not meet that standard will not be welcome in the House of Representatives.

We know talk is cheap. So how are we doing it?

First, we will make the House more accountable.

We'll begin by requiring all member projects — individual spending projects sought by members for their districts — to be filed and voted on as stand-alone bills. That means no more $10 million earmarks slipped into the budget on the last day. It means every House member will be responsible for every dollar spent.

This is no trivial matter. Just last year, 143 project requests were funded and received nearly $105 million without enduring scrutiny from the public, the press or the Legislature. The bottom line going forward: If it isn't pork barrel spending, then it can withstand the scrutiny of the press and the sunshine of the spotlight.

Members also will be prohibited from entering into business deals or financial relationships with registered lobbyists or with companies or business entities that registered lobbyists own. Having your paycheck depend on the success of a lobbyist or having a fiduciary relationship with an individual whose job it is to influence the legislative process is unacceptable.

Second, we will remove temptations that lead to corruption.

Before being allowed to lobby the House on a specific issue, lobbyists will be required to disclose who they are representing and what bills they are lobbying. These disclosures will be electronic and publicly viewable. This rule represents a paradigm shift in open government and, coupled with the aforementioned earmark rule, means the public and the press will have unprecedented insight into who is seeking how much from taxpayers.

That means that you will be able to search the reports of all 10,763 lobbyists registered to lobby the Legislature. In 2016-18 we will crowd-source lobbyist compliance with your help. Search, examine, and hold your elected official accountable.

We will also close the revolving door between lobbyists and legislators by prohibiting any members from lobbying in the House for a period of six years — the longest ban in the nation.

We will also ban members from traveling on lobbyists' planes — which is, I believe, another first in the nation. No loopholes or exceptions.

Third, we will empower House Democrats by expanding the rights of the minority party.

We will also add time between when an amendment is introduced and when it can be voted on to give all members a greater opportunity to read legislation and ask questions.

Last, but certainly not least, we will address an issue of professionalism and basic human decency.

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We will make it crystal clear that there will be zero tolerance for sexual harassment. Members, lobbyists and visitors to the House will be subject to sanction for harassing staff, other members, lobbyists or the public.

All of these rules, and more, will be a reality in the Florida House. We hope our friends throughout the political process will join us in our quest to make your government more accountable, more professional and more inclusive.

But even if others refuse, the people of Florida and those of us in the House can know that we lived Aristotle's maxim that declares, "I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies, for the hardest victory is over self."

Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, is the incoming Florida House speaker.


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