Floridians have four new ways to lodge ethics complaints against public officials. The change came as Gov. Rick Scott signed the final piece of a sweeping ethics reform package on Wednesday.
Scott’s signature opens up new avenues for people to report suspected government corruption. The new law allows the public to complain to law enforcement, U.S. and state attorneys or the governor’s office without their identity becoming public right away.
Dan Krassner, who directs the government watchdog group Integrity Florida, said, keeping complaints confidential throughout the vetting process is standard procedure.
“You don’t want the release of information that could be defamatory to individuals under investigation or cause unwarranted damage to their reputation while an investigation is taking place before they have a chance to respond,” he said.
Ethics complaints will become public once the state ethics commission finds probable cause to pursue them.
Until now, the only choice was to lodge a sworn complaint directly with the State Commission on Ethics. Krassner says, the new process should help boost credibility.
“These referral sources should reduce frivolous complaints, or at least ease the perception of frivolous complaints coming from a citizen without examination by a law enforcement agency,” he said.
Before, he said, law enforcement agencies could only do something about corruption it if it was a suspected criminal violation.
“In the past, law enforcement, even when they learned about a clear violation of the state ethics code, they were unable to do something about that,” he said. “But the new law allows them to do so.”
The new reporting power is part of a comprehensive package of ethics reforms passed this session. Krassner applauds provisions like the one that allows the ethics commission to garnish the wages of lawmakers who are late paying ethics violations fines.
But despite those and other things meant to hold people in power more accountable, ethics commissioners say they still want more investigative ability. During session, Commissioner Matt Carlucci testified before a House subcommittee.
He said, “Give the commission the ability to act upon its own investigations without complaints, because, I think, if you know the reputation, past and present, of the commission, we’re not looking for trouble. We’re not looking to cause people problems.”
The bill does a number of things, including requiring elected officials to go to ethics training.