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Politics

House Business No. 1: Corcoran's Sweeping Ethics Reforms Pass

November 22, 2016 - 2:30pm

The Florida House of Representatives today adopted "sweeping and monumental" ethics reform immediately following the election of Richard Corcoran as new speaker of the House.

Upon election and passage of the reforms, Corcoran said this:
 
“Today, the Florida House took the first steps on the road to fundamentally reforming the way business is done in our government. With the passage of the new House Rules, the legislative process will be more open, the influence industry will operate in the sunshine, and temptations for corruption will be greatly diminished. Today’s extraordinary bipartisan effort is just the first in a line of reforms the House will take up.”
 
Corcoran also said, “It is the honor of a lifetime to be selected by my colleagues to lead such a wonderful and talented group of legislators. I ask them, and all Floridians, to pray for us in the House, that we might be granted wisdom and always seek the best for our fellow citizens -- putting service before self. I want to thank my colleagues for the trust and faith they’ve placed in me and commit to them my very best from day one. Together, we will take action and give Floridians the most open, professional, accountable, and streamlined government in the history of our great state.”
 
Here are the reforms adopted Tuesday:

Appropriations Projects & Recurring Appropriations Rule
(Rule 5.14)

 
All appropriations projects must be filed as stand-alone bills and made as non-recurring appropriations. If a House budget or conference report contains an appropriations project not filed as a House bill and/or is not made as a non-recurring appropriation, the entire bill or conference report is out-of-order.
 
Why it's needed:
 

  • Greater time and ease of public and press scrutiny
  • Will save taxpayer money
  • Will require all new member projects to be justified each year
  • New forms will provide substantial detail on each project to put all spending in the sunshine
  • Previously, members could slip millions of dollars into the budget at the last minute


Ex Officio Members
(Rule 7.7)

 
Allows the minority leader to serve as or designate an ex officio member on a committee for an absent minority conference member.  
 
Why it's needed:

  • Gives the minority greater rights and flexibility 
  • Ensures minority is fully represented on committees

 
Lobbyist Issue Disclosure
(Rule 7.20)
(Rule 17.1(h))

 
Before being allowed to lobby the House on a specific issue, a lobbyist would be required to file an electronic notice of appearance that discloses they are lobbying on that specific issue.
 
Why it's needed: 

  • Unprecedented transparency
  • Eliminates the mystery of who is lobbying what issue
  • Gives the public easy and clear access to lobbyist activity

 
Add a Day to Special Order
(Rule 10.11)

 
During the first 55 days of session there will be a day between the expiration of the amendment filing deadline and the bill being heard on Special Order.

Why it's needed:
 

  • Adds time for Members to truly research and read the bills for debate/vote
  • Increases the public’s ability to scrutinize

 
Travel Restrictions
(Rule 15.3(b))

Members will not fly on private planes owned by lobbyists or principals even if they pay the commercial rate.

Why it's needed: 

  • Ends a practice that creates an unacceptable level of influence
  • Currently, Members may pay the commercial ticket cost to satisfy ethics requirements.  That practice ends 

 
Member Employment Disclosure
(Rule 15.4(d))

Members must disclose new employment from any public entity that receives appropriations.

Why it's needed:
 

  • Public entities hiring legislators creates a perception of using  taxpayer dollars to influence elected officials
  • Disclosure will be public and accessible online

 
Local Lobbying Ban
(Rule 15.4(e))

 
While in office, House members will be prohibited from lobbying local governments except to the degree that they are engaged in professional work that requires them to register as lobbyists under local rules (i.e. land use planning).
 
Why it's needed:

 

  • Local governments are created and in many ways overseen by the state government.  The lobbying of local government by state legislators creates a potential danger of conflicts or undue influence
  • Legislators employed as lobbyists represent an appearance of impropriety that voters are tired of seeing

 
Lobbyist/Member Business Deals
(Rule 15.5)
(Rule 15.6)

Members will be prohibited from entering into business deals or investment relationships with registered lobbyists or principles.

Why it's needed:
 

  • A financial relationship with someone tasked with influencing the legislative process is unacceptable
  • Eliminates even the perception of undue influence or unethical financial relationships


Sexual Harassment
(Rule 17.1(a))

Conduct of lobbyists will be subject to scrutiny to minimize harassment and discrimination on House premises. They will now be held to the same standard as members and House employees.

Why it's needed:
 

  • An issue of safety, civility, and professionalism
  • The “good old boy” culture will be a thing of the past
  • Zero tolerance for bad behavior will be practiced

 
Electronic Communications Ban
(Rule 17.1(f))

 
Lobbyists may not lobby a member via email, text message, or other form of electronic communication when the House is in session or the member is in a committee or subcommittee meeting.

Why it's needed: 
 

  • Members will be free from undue influence during votes and debate
  • Prohibits a practice that, if widely known to the public would engender justifiable outrage

 
6-Year Ban
(Rule 17.1(g))

 
Individuals will be prohibited from lobbying in the House if they served in the Legislature in the prior 6 years; applies to members who serve in the 2016-2018 Legislature or thereafter.

Why it's needed:
 

  • Eliminates the “looking to lobby” mentality that can manifest in a final term
  • Engenders greater public confidence -- coupled with other reforms -- in the purity of a members’ vote and policy positions

 
Disclosure for Lobbyists who Represent Public Entities
(Rule 17.1(i))

Lobbyists who represent a public or semi-public taxpayer-supported entity, or their DSOs or foundations, will be required to disclose their lobbying contracts

Why it's needed:
 

  • Taxpayer money being used to lobby the Legislature for more taxpayer money is a vicious cycle
  • Taxpayers deserve to see the full contracts lobbyists receive so they can judge the propriety and competence of the elected officials voting on those contracts

 
Impeachment
(Rule 19)

 
Article III, Section 17 of the Florida Constitution states that, “The House of Representatives by two-thirds vote shall have the power to impeach an office.” This new rule clarifies that the constitutional term “misdemeanor in office” includes failure to publicly disclose gifts above a specific dollar threshold.

Why it's needed:

  • Reasserts a prerogative of the people’s House
  • Allows voters -- through their Representatives -- to hold government accountable
  • Reinforces the truth that no government official is above the law -- whether elected or retained 

Comments

Should we be looking forward to Senate President Negron providing similar leadership in the Senate?

About time!

Comments are now closed.

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