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Florida Senate Passes Most Comprehensive Ethics Reform in 30 Years

March 4, 2013 - 6:00pm

The Florida Senate hit the ground running to start the 2013 legislative session Tuesday, unanimously approving an ethics reform package.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, called SB 2 the most comprehensive reform package since the Sunshine Amendment of 1976, containing an array of what he deemed common-sense provisions.

Latvala, chairman of the Ethics and Elections Committee, said the bill addresses issues both technical and substantive and was developed by each and every member of his committee.

A top priority of the Senate this year, the ethics bill:

  • Tackles issues of dual public employment by prohibiting elected officials from getting a second job at another governmental entity when the official knows that job is made possible due to his or her elected position.
  • Prohibits executive branch lobbying by former legislators for a period of two years after leaving office.
  • Confronts the revolving door issue by prohibiting legislative members from associating with any firm for a purpose related to the legislative process.
  • Requires a minimum of four hours of ethics training for constitutional officers annually Cabinet members, state attorneys, public defenders, sheriffs, tax collectors, property appraisers, supervisors of elections, clerks of circuit court, county commissioners, school board members and school superintendents.
  • Permits elected officials to designate a blind trust to eliminate conflicts.
  • Prohibits members from voting on issues that would lead to their own private gain.It also defines in statute special private gain.
  • Provides more transparency the ethics commission will scan and publish online all disclosure forms.
  • Enables the ethics commission to collect fines by garnishing wages.
  • Closes the gift ban loophole so CCEs and political committees cannot give to reporting individuals.
  • Provides that a complaint may not be filed against a candidate for 30 days preceding an election unless the complaint is based on personal information or information other than hearsay.
  • Authorizes commission to initiate an investigation based on a referral from the governor, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, state attorney or U.S. attorney if a supermajority of the commission deems the referral sufficient.

Prior to the full Senate approving the ethics reforms, 40-0, Latvala thanked Senate President Don Gaetz for making the ethics bill the first of the session.Latvala also thanked his committee, saying, Its quite an undertaking to get a bill as potentially controversial as this, and as comprehensive as this, together and through three committees since we were elected and sworn in in November.

The Senate also unanimously approved SB 4 a public records exemption bill that provides the same safeguards for referrals to the Florida Ethics Commission that already exist when the commission receives a complaint.

Gaetz, R-Niceville, who made ethics reform a priority, told the senators, You have changed the code of public conduct in Florida forever and for the better.

Anne Smith writes special to Sunshine State News.

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