Ethics Bill Becomes First To Clear Senate With A Unanimous Vote

Mar 5, 2013

The Florida Senate has passed its first bill of the legislative session. It’s a measure to ensure lawmakers follow ethical rules. But to get it passed so quickly they did have to bend the rules just a little bit and fast-track the proposal, skipping the first and second readings on the chamber floor.

“In 1976 the people of the state had to take it in their own hands and pass the sunshine amendment. And that’s the amendment that basically provided that legislators couldn’t just leave and lobby immediately. It provided some valuable guidelines on open meetings and open records," said Republican Senator Jack Latvala who sponsored the measure.

"And that’s kind of been the model for the country is many respects. But that’s really the last time anybody put a package together.”

The Senate’s ethics reform bill would give the Florida Ethics Commission more teeth to enforce rules and collect fines.  It would block lawmakers from voting on items when they have a conflict of interest and it aims to cut down on what’s known as the “revolving door.”

“Most people would think that if the constitution says you can’t lobby for two years, you can’t do it. But we all know there’ve been some loopholes created there too. This bill would close those loopholes," Latvala said.

Right now lawmakers must wait two years after leaving office before lobbying the legislature. But there’s no wait period before they can lobby an executive office or work with a firm that will lobby the legislature. Former House Speaker Dean Cannon is one recent example of that happening. But the Senate’s new bill would put a stop to that.

The measure also digs into lawmaker spending. The Senate bill would put more rules in place for how lawmakers can spend money put in a special campaign fund called a Committee of Continuous Existence or CCE. A House campaign finance bill would do away with CCEs completely, but Latvala says that wouldn’t close the loophole that’s leave some detractors accusing some lawmakers of paying for lavish lifestyles with the funds.

“The House elections bill deals with CCEs, but it doesn’t have this section in it. So, unless we pass this bill, this is the bill that passes the legislature, people will still be able to enjoy this bill in years ahead.”

The measure passed the full Senate unanimously with 40 lawmakers signing on as co-sponsors of the bill.  Senate President Gaetz says it’s a measure the legislators should be proud of. He thanked Latvala as well Senators for their bipartisan effort.

The measure now goes over to the House.

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