After waiting a month, House weakens Senate ethics bill

in Uncategorized by

In the waning days of the 2014 legislative session, negotiations are in high gear as the Florida House takes up a high profile Senate ethics bill — which was on hold for over a month — and advancing a weaker version of their own.

After removing some of the harsher language in SB 846, sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, the House State Affairs Committee passed a modified version of the ethics bill, reports Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times.

A 33-page “striker” amendment – where the House stripped all the language from the bill, replacing it with new legislation – was submitted Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, chair of the House ethics subcommittee.

The bill, which Bousquet says many House members had not read, wound up having little significance this session. The Senate addressed the bill in the first week of session, perhaps proof that the House is not nearly as excited as the Senate for ethics reform.

The House version cuts out the “Ken Pruitt” proviso, which prohibits elected officials from simultaneously lobbying for profit.

Pruitt was the former Senate president and current property appraiser in St. Lucie County who runs a Tallahassee lobbying firm. Also out of the House bill are restrictions on post-employment lobbying by Enterprise Florida officials and board members, as well as lobbyist registration and fee disclosure provisions from a majority of special taxing districts. The House bill does retain the restriction on five water-management district boards.

Democratic Rep. Jim Waldman voted against the House proposal because it also dropped Senate language banning legislators from lobbying for cities in their districts or local officials from lobbying neighboring cities.

Calling the bill “too weak,” Waldman told reporters, “They’re trying to put together something they can trade with over in the Senate.”

Praising the House for finally taking up SB 486 — after a month of inaction — was Common Cause Florida, the nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to holding elected leaders accountable to the public interest.

“While the new language adopted this morning is significantly weaker than the version produced by the Senate we continue to support the bill as it still contains many provisions that would strengthen Florida’s ethics laws and lawmakers still have several weeks to strengthen the bill with amendments. We urge them to do so,” said Common Cause Legislative Advocate Brad Ashwell.

“On a positive note,” Ashwell added, “the new bill language continues to expand the powers of the Ethics Commission to self-initiate investigations of officials who fail to file financial disclosures. It still requires local officials to attend ethics trainings. It still contains ethics requirements for the quasi-governmental agencies and direct support organizations and would still create more transparency over the lobbying of special districts.

“Unfortunately, the new house version removes ‘The Pruitt Amendment,’ which prohibited local officials from lobbying the Legislature and Executive Branch for compensation.”

Ashwell noted that the new House version also weakens  transparency provisions around lobbyists who work to influence special districts, and removes important revolving-door restrictions applying to Enterprise Florida, Citizens Property Insurance and other quasi-governmental agencies.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.