Florida Senate Committee Weakens Ethics Bill

Senate President Don Gaetz's promise of ethics reform is moving forward in the Florida Senate, but only after fellow lawmakers weakened an important part of the bill. (Photo courtesy of the Florida Legislature.)

Senate President Don Gaetz’s promise of ethics reform is moving forward in the Florida Senate, but only after fellow lawmakers weakened an important part of the bill. (Photo courtesy of the Florida Legislature.)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

A Florida Senate bill intended to improve ethics rules passed unanimously in committee — but only after legislators stripped out a provision that would have prohibited current state lawmakers from lobbying the governor immediately after they retire. This provision would have closed Tallahassee’s so-called “revolving door.”

Yesterday’s ethics bill, SB 2, is a top priority for Senate President Don Gaetz. However, much like a companion House bill — which increases the cap on campaign contributions to candidates — there are questions about how significantly state ethics laws will be strengthened.

While the Senate bill enacts tougher ethics rules for legislators and local officials, legislators considering the bill included an amendment that weakened an important part of the bill — a provision that would have required state lawmakers who retire from the Legislature to wait two years before they become lobbyists for the executive branch of Florida.

According to The Tampa Times/Miami Herald:

The amendment by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, postpones the two-year ban on legislators becoming executive branch lobbyists until after 2014. The change gives legislators who retire after this two-year term the opportunity to immediately join the ranks of the revolving door class.

A Herald/Times report found that there are more lobbyists registered to lobby the governor and his agencies than there are to lobby the legislature as a cottage industry has sprung up around the massive outsourcing of contracts in the state budget. Former House Speaker Dean Cannon is among the most recent who have gone to work as an executive branch lobbyist, a practice Latvala called a “revolving door” that his bill was designed to stop.

Current law require legislators to wait two years after they retire before they can return to lobby the legislature but there are no restrictions on lobbying the executive branch.

“As opposed to changing the rules in the middle of the game we are changing the rules in the beginning of a term of office,” Latvala said.

The bill does, however, prohibit legislators from voting on bills that benefit them personally. There are currently no safeguards in place to stop state legislators from writing legislation that benefit their personal interests. Gaetz has committed to closing such loopholes in Florida ethics law. The bill also gives the Commission on Ethics sharper teeth in handling ethics violations.

Integrity Florida, a nonpartisan group focused on fixing the state’s ethics problems, has said that 2013 could be the year ethics reform is finally passed.

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