Fla. Senate will have ethics training requirement

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - All state senators will have to complete at least one hour of ethics training under new Senate rules expected to be adopted this week.

The proposed rules, sent to senators Monday ahead of a Tuesday vote, are the first indication of follow through on what incoming Senate President Don Gaetz has suggested will be an effort to improve the ethical standing of the chamber during his term leading it.

The ethics course, which will have to be completed every other year before the session, starting in the coming year, will address all the requirements of the state Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees, as well as open meetings and public records laws and anything else the president wants to include.

The new proposed Senate rules also add language prohibiting senators from voting on matters if they know they would have a personal financial gain as a result of the vote, and requiring them to disclose why they're abstaining. The new rules also would require them to disclose any gain that might inure to a family member or an employer, although they'd still be allowed to vote.

An exception is the budget – members would be allowed to vote on it without worrying about a conflict buried within it, but they still would have to disclose conflicts and possibly abstain when voting on particular budget amendments.

Those new rules on abstaining from votes match new requirements in the proposed House rules, and requirements in state statutes.

In another change, the Senate will have a standalone Ethics and Elections Committee this year. In recent years, ethics issues were handled by a subcommittee of the Rules Committee.

Gaetz said last month that he planned to change the rules to require senators to avoid conflicts of interest, or at least declare them in some circumstances. Gaetz, R-Niceville, has suggested a number of new ethics and campaign finance proposals aimed at making the political process more transparent. He will be sworn in Tuesday during the Legislature's organizational session. The Senate and House also are expected to vote on the new rules on Tuesday, a vote that is nearly always a formality.

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