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Politics

Lobbying Ban Expansion Won’t Impact Current Legislature

February 18, 2013 - 6:00pm

The proposed sweeping ethics changes that would expand the prohibition on legislators lobbying for the first two years out of office wont take effect until after the 2014 election.

The Senate Rules Committee agreed to set the lobbying ban timeline on Tuesday as they advanced, with little debate, the ethic reform package that may be one of the first pieces of legislation voted on by the entire Senate when the regular session begins March 5.

An amendment added to the bill expands the ban to include the executive branch of the state government, a rule some have tied to former House Speaker Dean Cannon who quickly built a Tallahassee-based lobbying firm, Capitol Insight LLC, after he left office last fall.

Legislators are already barred from lobbying their fellow lawmakers for the first two years after leaving office.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, the sponsor of ethics-relatedSenate Bill 2and the accompanying Senate Bill 4,said the amendment wasnt done for any one persons behalf.

We might as well start with a clean slate. Why change the rules in the middle of the game, Latvala said after the meeting.

There may be people here now who planned on leaving in the next year and doing something like that. Everybody runs. They ought to know what the rules are when they run. This just makes the rules clear to everyone who runs next year that that is what theyre going to have to deal with.

Rules Committee members also tweaked Senate Bill 2 to require the Commission on Ethics to devise the training program of county constitutional officers who would also have to follow the law if approved.

The bill does not alter the existing gift ban rules, an issue Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, is expected to address in a separate bill.

A priority of Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, the ethic reform bill also:

Prohibits legislators from accepting a job with a government or government entity -- such as university or water district -- unless that person already was professional in the field and the new job was publicly advertised. The position must have also existed before the job was offered to the legislator.

Expands the lobbying ban to include a two-year prohibition on lobbying the executive branch and from doing strategy and public relations work for a lobbying firm primarily focused on state lawmakers.

Requires lawmakers to abstain from voting on issues that directly benefit them or their family. The rule would not require lawmakers to abstain if voting on most issues that could impact large publicly held corporations due to the volume of publicly available shares.

Prohibits using political committees or Committees of Continuous Existence for gifts, dinner, travel or entertainment outside of campaign-related activities.

Allows the Florida Commission on Ethics to begin investigations upon referrals from the governor, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, state attorney or U.S. attorneys office.

Allows the Commission on Ethics to garnish wages on elected officials who fail to pay fines for violating ethics or election laws.

Requires mandatory ethics training, of four hours, for all public officials.

Prohibits the majority of complaints being filed with the Commission on Ethics 30 days prior to an election, up from the current five days.

Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, said the state needs to consider imposing fines or actions upon anyone found filing frivolous ethics complaints as a means to muddy an election.

Its become a campaign strategy, Ring said.

We talk about this in the legal system all the time. We try do everything we can to stop frivolous lawsuits and the other side has to pay the legal fees.


Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.

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