House panel passes ethics bill, Jennifer Carroll speaks about disclosures

in Uncategorized by

The House began its work on ethics reform Tuesday, unanimously approving legislation that is already facing charges that it’s too weak and getting tangled in the politics of the resignation of former Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.

The House Ethics and Elections Subcommittee voted to move forward with the measure (PCB EES 13-02) even with some members saying they were uneasy with parts of the legislation.

One departure from the Senate measure (SB 2) would limit the so-called “revolving door” portion of the legislation. The upper chamber’s bill would bar all members of the Legislature from lobbying agencies or taking quasi-lobbying jobs with firms looking to influence lawmakers for at two years after the member left office. The House measure would apply that prohibition only to the Senate president and House speaker.

“This change was made after we heard from members who were concerned that the provision was so broad and vague that it might unfairly prohibit former legislators from legitimate and lawful employment opportunities,” said Rep. Jim Boyd, the Bradenton Republican who chairs the subcommittee.

After the meeting, Boyd told reporters that House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, “brought [the change] to the table.”

The bill has also come under fire for a provision that is shared with its Senate counterpart — one that would allow public officials to correct small errors on their financial disclosure forms by Sept. 1, even if a complaint has already been filed. Critics say that could lead to unintended consequences.

“In other words, your next campaign opponent can wait until after the primary election to file an accurate financial disclosure,” former ethics commission Executive Director Philip Claypool told the committee. “There would be nothing the ethics commission or anybody else could do about that.”

To make their point, supporters of strengthening the bill have pointed to the jumbled personal financial disclosure forms filed by Carroll, who resigned last week after being questioned by law enforcement as part of an unrelated inquiry into a business Carroll had consulted for.

That brought a sharp statement late Tuesday from Carroll, who ripped Integrity Florida Executive Director Dan Krassner, who recently pointed to problems on Carroll’s personal financial disclosures as an example of evidence for the need for stronger ethics laws. 

“I find it offensive, degrading and objectionable that Mr. Krassner suggests that, because of how I filled out these forms five-to-10 years ago, I should now be considered the “poster child” for ethics reform and corruption,” Carroll said in a lengthy statement, her second in a week. “My resignation last week as lieutenant governor had absolutely no connection to that.”

Carroll conceded that she was “sloppy” with the forms, but not corrupt, and endorsed Integrity Florida’s proposals.

“On other points made during his press conference, he should be applauded and supported,” she said. “But, on the matter of citing me as an example of what is wrong in Florida with regard to ethics and corruption, Mr. Krassner should be ashamed of himself.”

Boyd said he might be open to some changes on the disclosure language.

But there is resistance to a wider bill. Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said that he didn’t want the ethics commission to be able to initiate investigations on its own, another suggestion by the legislation’s critics. Baxley also questioned some of the media coverage of ethics.

“A lot of the news stories about the need for this legislation because of all these convicted crooks — I’m puzzled by that approach,” said Baxley. “Because if they’re in jail, then the system already worked.”

Baxley said he was more worried about unethical behavior that might be going undetected.

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.