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Corcoran Taking A Special Interest In Lobby Reforms

Speaker designate Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, is an unstoppable force about to meet an immovable object.

Corcoran is vowing to rein in lobbyists and change the budget writing process, and a week before his formal swearing in, sparks are already flying.

On the surface, Dave Mica and Richard Corcoran have a lot in common. Mica is an influential Tallahassee lobbyist whose brother, Congressman John Mica, is a powerful politician. Richard Corcoran is a powerful politician whose brother, Michael Corcoran, is an influential lobbyist.

But when Dave Mica the Tallahassee lobbyist wrote to Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran and offered to help write new lobbying rules, the two didn’t see eye to eye.

Corcoran didn’t even feel obliged to write back.

“If Dave Mica wants to sit at the table and have input, there’s a process. It’s called an election. “

If anything, lobbyists and lawmakers have been too eager to work together, the speaker designate told reporters this week.

“At the end of the day, we’re the enemy, we’re the problem. The only reason they have power is because we voluntarily abdicate and give to them what is rightfully ours. And what is rightfully ours belongs to the people.”

The House is expected to approve the changes in an organizational session next week and they would be the toughest since a 2005 gift ban. One change would beef up revolving door restrictions and make lawmakers wait even longer after leaving office before lobbying their old colleagues.

Lobbyists wouldn’t be able to text lawmakers during committee meetings and floor sessions.  And they would have to publicly document the bills and budget items they’re targeting. Freshman Representative Russell Barrington of Lauderdale Lakes speaks for most Democrats when he praises the reforms.

“One of the reasons we have all these typhoons and hurricanes in the political process is that transparency has not been up to par. And I think it’ s incumbent upon us, who are given this opportunity, this privilege to serve the people, is to be sure that what we do is in keeping with basic, standard, decent procedures.”

Lobbyists went to court to fight the gift ban and lost. Dave Mica says it’s too early to know whether his group, the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists, will file a lawsuit.

Corcoran isn’t stopping with lobbyists. He wants to ban House members from quietly slipping spending items into the budget at the last minute. Instead, they would have to file local projects as separate bills.

Incoming Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, has given Corcoran’s proposals a cool reception. 

“You know, I’m the one that got the Public Right to Speak bill passed so that the public can be heard. So I think that we share a commitment to an open and transparent process and we’ve got to figure out the best way to do it. “

Corcoran is no fan of compromise. He preferred blowing up a session in 2014 and going home early when the Senate insisted on expanding Medicaid.

Orlando Democrat Linda Stewart was just elected to the Senate, but she was serving in the House when the meltdown happened. She sees another potential train wreck.

“Two different approaches to the budget, two different approaches to workman’s comp, to the environment, to how you might be able to allocate your funds on behalf of your district. There’s a lot that’s going to be quite different.”

But newly elected Republican Senator Dennis Baxley of Ocala isn’t worried.  A veteran House member, Baxley says it always works out in the end.

“Well, it’s always a great discussion, and this is how 20 million people have a discussion.”

A Miami native, former WFSU reporter Jim Ash is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, most of it in print. He has been a member of the Florida Capital Press Corps since 1992.