Bill aimed at cutting public corruption goes to Gov. Scott

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A bill aimed at reducing corruption by Florida public officials is headed for Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.

The state Senate passed the bill by unanimous vote Wednesday.

It’s a smaller, less comprehensive version of an omnibus anti-corruption bill pushed by Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, which died in committee.

Both would implement some of the recommendations of a 2009 statewide grand jury on public corruption, appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist after a spate of public corruption cases. That grand jury said Floridians pay what amounts to a corruption tax amounting to millions of dollars a year because of the cost of misconduct by public officials.

The bill changes the definition of corruption in Florida law to make it easier for prosecutors to prove cases, a change sought by Florida’s state attorneys. It eliminates the requirement that prosecutors show a defendant acted “corruptly.”

“That requires you to go into the mind of that defendant to prove their motivation,” said 18th Circuit State Attorney Phil Archer.

The bill also expands Florida law on bid tampering and official misconduct to make it applicable to government contractors.

Gaetz described those as the most important provisions in both versions of the bill, but the longer version included several others.

It added restrictions on legislators taking jobs with private companies that receive state money, if there are indications the job is being offered because of the legislator’s position.

The comprehensive bill increased financial reporting requirements for local government officials; tightened restrictions on governments contracting with companies in which a government official or employee has an interest; broadened lobbyist registration requirements to apply to special districts; and placed new requirements on local governments to investigate and report on fraud, waste and abuse of public funds.

The longer bill passed the state House, but died after failing to receive a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Gaetz said the committee ran out of time to hear the bill as the session neared its end.

“All ethics bills have many people object to them. They just don’t object publicly,” he said.

He called that disappointing but described the shorter version as “a significant accomplishment,” the first significant update to state ethics laws since the 1970s.

“It’s long overdue,” he said.

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