TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A proposal that would have prohibited governmental agencies from using lobbyists to influence the annual appropriations process in the Legislature was rejected Tuesday by a Constitution Revision Commission panel.
The CRC’s Style and Drafting Committee, which is reviewing 24 proposed revisions to Florida’s Constitution, supported an amendment from Commissioner Carolyn Timmann of Stuart that removed the ban on governments using lobbyists to secure budget projects from the Legislature from a broader ethics measure (Proposal 39), sponsored by Commissioner Don Gaetz, a former Senate president from Niceville.
Timmann, who is the Martin County clerk of the circuit court, asked for the provision to be removed, saying it was not considered while Gaetz’s measure moved through the CRC committee process and it was added in a 17-15 floor vote, which could jeopardize the overall ethics package.
Each proposal will need 22 votes from the CRC to be placed on the November general-election ballot.
The lobbying ban would have “varying impacts” on governments, including cities and counties, trying to secure budget items in the annual legislative process, Timmann said.
“I particularly heard from a lot of the smaller (governmental) entities, smaller counties, smaller municipalities,” she said.
The provision had been advanced by Commissioner Tom Lee, a state senator from Thonotosassa, who argued that lobbyists and their political ties to lawmakers were having an undue influence on the appropriations process.
Gaetz’s ethics proposal, which includes a six-year lobbying ban for former state lawmakers, agencies heads, local elected officials and others, remains under consideration by the CRC.
His plan also establishes a stronger ethics standard for public officials, prohibiting them from using their offices “to obtain a disproportionate benefit” for themselves, their families or their businesses.
The ethics measure is one of 24 proposals now being reviewed by the CRC’s Style and Drafting Committee.
The committee on Tuesday began debating how many of the proposals could be grouped together as one ballot measure, while taking into account the fact that the ballot title for each grouping is limited to 15 words and the ballot summary is limited to 75 words.
Barry Richard, a Tallahassee lawyer who is advising the CRC on the ballot language, said the key task is to make sure the ballot language reflects the intent of the constitutional changes and is not misleading.
Chris Altenbernd, a Tampa lawyer and a former state appellate judge who is also advising the commission, noted that the ballot titles and summaries from the two previous CRCs were not challenged in court.
Several committee members raised the issue of how to handle the measures that were advanced by the full CRC but fell short of the 22 votes they will eventually need to be placed on the November ballot.
Among those measures are a ban on greyhound racing (P 67), which cleared the CRC in the initial vote by an 18-14 margin, and a proposal (P 29) requiring employers to use a federal verification system to make sure their workers are not illegal immigrants, which passed 19-13.
Commissioner Gary Lester of Oxford said it would be unfair to group the less popular measures with more popular proposals. He said the more controversial proposals should stand alone.
Otherwise, the committee would be “artificially pushing something across that line” that did not have the full support of the CRC, Lester said.
The CRC, which meets every 20 years, has the unique authority to place constitutional changes directly on the November ballot. The 24 measures still under consideration this year will need support from at least 22 of the 37 CRC members to be placed before voters this year.
The commission faces a May 10 deadline for finishing its work. Ballot proposals will need support from at least 60 percent of the voters to be enacted.