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Officials push deadline for disclosing finances

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Seven state lawmakers were among more than 600 state and local officials and employees testing a two-month grace period to file personal financial disclosure forms.

Fines of $25 a day start to be imposed Saturday for those who don’t file or get their annual reports in the mail and postmarked Friday. Officials faced an initial July 3 deadline but were given until Sept. 1 to comply.

“The point of the law is transparency, it is disclosure,” Florida Commission on Ethics spokeswoman Kerrie Stillman said. “It’s a lot better to go ahead, to urge them to do everything possible to get it in on time than to go through the cost and additional work involved in fining people.”

In addition to certified letters that were required to go out to people missing the initial deadline, the Commission on Ethics sent out postcard reminders a month ago. And last week, agency employees spent a day attempting to personally call each person who had yet to file.

Reports filed by lawmakers and other elected officials list estimated values of personal assets, investments and liabilities, along with information about income. Among the seven legislators whose reports had yet to be received by the Commission on Ethics as of Friday morning were Fort Lauderdale Democratic state Sen. Gary Farmer and House Education Chairman Michael Bileca, a Miami Republican who is one of the wealthiest lawmakers.

Bileca’s legislative assistant Zulema Delgado said Friday the representative sent his paperwork to the state via FedEx Thursday.

The co-founder of Towncare Dental Partnership, Bileca reported a net worth of $18.4 million in 2015.

Farmer, with a net worth of $4.4 million in 2015, was the only member of the Senate who had not submitted a report as of Friday morning. His office did not immediately return a call for comment.

With more than 38,000 people in Florida required to file, the overall number of officials and employees pushing the grace period is about average.

Stillman said compliance is typically about 99 percent before fines begin.

“It’s a darn good compliance rate, to be frank and that’s a good thing,” Stillman said.

The reports filed this summer typically reflect the net worths of lawmakers and other officials as of the end of 2016.

Of the reports available Friday from state legislators, 127 have reported increases in net worth, while 26 show they have lost money year to year.

Republish with permission of the News Service of Florida.

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