TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A House committee on Thursday began debate on slowing down the "revolving door" that lets lawmakers become lobbyists two years after they leave office.
The House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee reviewed a proposed constitutional amendment (PCB 17-01), which, if approved by voters, would extend the two-year ban on lobbying the Legislature to six years.
The measure, a priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, would also impose a similar six-year lobbying ban on former statewide elected officials and appointed state officials and would also prohibit lawmakers from lobbying state agencies for six years after they leave the Legislature.
Rep. Larry Metz, a Yalaha Republican who is chairman of the ethics panel, said the amendment is aimed at reforming a system in which former lawmakers use the experience and relationships they developed while in office to become lobbyists after a two-year hiatus.
Metz said while he is not implying any wrongdoing, it creates the appearance of a "revolving door."
"There is sort of a coziness or appearance of coziness that occurs that undermines public confidence in government," Metz said.
Metz said extending the lobbying ban would also eliminate the possibility of lawmakers of "ingratiating" themselves with lobbyists in the hope of later securing jobs with firms.
"They might be ingratiating themselves with lobbying firms during the time they are serving, hoping they will be able to land a position when their two years is up, to be able to come back in a lucrative position lobbying," Metz said.
Metz also explained why the amendment, which will be voted on the next time the committee meets, has a six-year limit, rather than a four- or eight-year ban.
"Two years seems too short to prevent those type of things from occurring," Metz told the committee. "With an eight-year (term) limit on service, six years gets you pretty far down the road and by that time most of the relationships you have built have been termed out."
The proposed amendment would have to be approved by a three-fifths vote of the Legislature before it can be placed on the 2018 general-election ballot. Sixty percent of the voters would have to approve it before it could be enacted.
In a related action, Metz said the committee will also consider a bill (PCB 17-02) revising state law in accordance with the proposed amendment. The bill would extend the lobbying ban for lawmakers, statewide elected officials and appointed state officials to six years, while also extending a ban to six years prohibiting former lawmakers from lobbying the executive branch.
Both the amendment and legislation keep a current exception to the ban that allows former lawmakers to appear before courts and other judicial bodies.
The Public Integrity and Ethics Committee will consider several other ethics measures during the 2017 session, which starts March 7.
One bill would increase financial-disclosure requirements for elected city officials, requiring them to file the same types of detailed disclosures now required for county commissioners, state lawmakers and other officials.
The bill also would require city governments and other local agencies, ranging from hospital districts to port authorities, to develop lobbyist-registration systems.
Kraig Conn, a lobbyist for the Florida League of Cities, raised several concerns with the legislation, noting it would require more than 2,000 elected city officials to file the new disclosure forms.
Conn suggested lawmakers consider a threshold for the higher ethics requirements based on the size of city governments and their budgets.
Another proposal, which has yet to take the form of a bill, would restrict the types of jobs that state lawmakers could hold while in office and for a certain time after they leave the Legislature, Metz said.
News Service of Florida