Ethics panel zeroes in on legislative changes

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Tired of being what one member described as a “paper tiger” in getting laws passed, the state ethics commission said Friday it will try to more narrowly focus its lobbying efforts during the 2013 legislative session, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

The Commission on Ethics will particularly focus on trying to get lawmakers to increase its power to collect fines from state and local officials who fail to file required financial-disclosure reports. That could include seeking approval to place liens on the scofflaws’ property.

Commissioner Matt Carlucci, who will help lead the lobbying efforts, said such disclosure forms are needed to make public any potential conflicts of interests. He said Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, has agreed to file a bill that would increase the commission’s enforcement powers.

“It (the requirement to file financial disclosures) is there for a purpose,” said Carlucci, a former Jacksonville City Council president. “It’s there for a reason.”

Also, the commission likely will push to increase maximum penalties for ethics violations from $10,000 to $25,000. In the past, the commission has called for maximum penalties of $100,000, but Carlucci said he did not think lawmakers would go along with that idea.

The discussion of a legislative agenda came during a meeting in which the commission also elected a new chairwoman, Fort Lauderdale attorney Susan Maurer. She replaces Tallahassee attorney Robert Sniffen in leading the appointed panel.

Commissioners expressed frustrations at being unable to persuade lawmakers in recent years to change ethics laws. Edwin Scales III, a Key West attorney, suggested focusing on one or two priorities and offered the “paper tiger” description in getting legislation approved.

“We have not been successful in having the Legislature adopt any of our recommendations,” Scales said.

The commission in the past has sought at least limited power to initiate investigations without having to receive complaints. Commissioner Linda Robison, a Pompano Beach attorney, said she thinks such additional power is important, but Carlucci and Scales said they would rather focus on the issues of collecting fines and increasing potential penalties.

Commissioners hammered the fine issue during the meeting, with panel member Morgan Bentley even reading off a list of officials from throughout the state who owed tens of thousands of dollars for failing to file financial disclosures. Florida has a four-year statute of limitations on such fines, but the commission Friday refused to write off fines that have gone uncollected beyond that time period.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.