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House panel takes on impeachment power, local government ethics reforms

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A new House panel on Tuesday moved two measures aimed at tightening ethics requirements at the local government level.

The Public Integrity and Ethics Commitee, chaired by Yalaha Republican Larry Metz, OK’d proposals (PCB PIE 17-03, PCB PIE 17-04) that would increase local officials’ financial disclosure, clamp down on potential conflicts of interest and create a Local Government Lobbyist Registration Trust Fund.

Moreover, the committee continues to show an interest in the House possibly exercising its constitutionally-granted impeachment power. Metz had revealed last month he was looking into articles of impeachment against a Jacksonville judge before he quit the bench.

His committee also on Tuesday heard a case study of a trial judge under investigation for three years for alleged attorney-ethical lapses before he became a judge. That’s despite a rule of judicial administration that encourages matters to be resolved within 180 days.

Some members expressed surprise that 3rd Circuit Judge Andrew Decker was still sitting on the bench with his ethics case pending. The Florida Supreme Court has had the case for 13 months without taking final action, records show.

Metz admitted, however, that the House can only act on “misdemeanors that occur in office,” not on earlier behavior.

One representative, Republican Randy Fine of Brevard County, was concerned Decker had not been made aware he was going to be used as an example.

“It does trouble me we don’t at least them know we’re going to be laying out all the bad things they’ve done,” he said. 

Metz said Decker has been investigated by the Judicial Qualifications Commission, specially charged to look into claims of judicial misconduct.

“Their scope is different than ours … (but) it’s our duty to shine light on this,” Metz said. “We’re sort of parallel-tracking it.”

The committee previously moved a bill to increase the ban on former lawmakers and statewide elected officers lobbying their colleagues after leaving office from two years to six years by way of a constitutional amendment.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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