Senate backs ethics reform in session's 1st vote

Published On: Mar 05 2013 05:15:27 PM EST
TALLAHASSEE, Fla -

The Florida Senate wasted little time unanimously approving a sweeping series of ethics reforms for legislators and other public officials as the regular session opened, even dumping a provision that would have delayed an anti-lobbying measure until after the 2014 elections.

The House must still approve the bills (SB 2 and SB 4) that are part of an elections and ethic reform push by Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

"A lot of this wouldn’t be necessary if we all conducted ourselves, if everyone that was elected to office in the state of Florida conducted their lives and themselves in office, by just using a little common sense," said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who chairs the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee.

Before the vote, Latvala introduced the amendment that scrapped a change inserted into the bill (SB 2) during a recent committee stop that would have delayed until after the 2014 election the effect of a new ban on immediate lobbying of the executive branch by former legislators.

Gaetz said he requested the amendment to clarify confusion among legislators and the public regarding when the lobbying ban would go into place. Lawmakers are already prohibited from lobbying the Legislature for the first two years after leaving office.

Under the bill, legislators also would be prevented from going to work for firms to do jobs that are essentially lobbying, even if they don't officially register as lobbyists.

The two chambers remain apart over the future of fundraising organizations called committees of continuous existence, which the House has proposed eliminating in its election reform efforts.

The Senate bill prohibits lawmakers from living off their CCE’s by requiring them to be used for only campaign-related activities.

Gaetz said the CCE differences won’t be a "rock upon which anything perishes" – and, in fact, there's another Senate bill that does away with CCE's.

Gaetz, who declined to give an opening statement earlier to mark the start of session, praised Latvala’s work on the bill and told senators they “made their mothers and fathers proud of you today."

Latvala called the rule changes the most comprehensive since 1976, when the Sunshine Law was added to the state Constitution to require open meetings for government boards and open public records.

SB 2 also: prohibits lawmakers from taking jobs created because of their elected post; prohibits lawmakers from voting on issues that have a direct benefit to them or their family; requires all constitutional officers in Florida to undergo four hours of ethic training; requires the creation, by 2015, of an Internet database for all public disclosure finance records; and is expected to give the state Commission on Ethics some teeth to begin investigation and collect fines.

The bills have been in the works since November and sailed through three Senate committees.

Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, committee vice chair, credited Latvala for reaching out to Democrats for input in the bill.

“I’m proud of this bill, and I’m proud of the work we did,” Sobel said.