Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a package of reform bills Wednesday night, bringing final approval for the first major overhaul of the state’s ethics laws in more than three decades. The two bills give significant new powers to the state’s ethics commission, extend a ban on lobbying for lawmakers after they leave office and rework the state’s campaign finance limits.
The new ethics legislation will address at least some of the weaknesses responsible for Florida’s overall grade of C- from the State Integrity Investigation, a state-by-state ranking of ethics and accountability released last year by the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International. In the specific category of ethics enforcement, the Sunshine State had received an F.
SANTA FE — On February 20, New Mexico’s House Energy and Natural Resources Committee gathered for one of its regular meetings in a drab room here at the capitol, a circular building known as the Roundhouse. On the agenda: a bill that would hike fees and penalties for energy companies drilling wells in the state.
The votes fell along party lines, with five Republicans lining up against the bill and the committee's Democratic majority voting to send the legislation to the House floor. The Republicans argued the bill would stifle business and cost jobs, and for one lawmaker, the issue hit particularly close to home. Rep. James Strickler spends most of the year running his own small oil and gas production company, JMJ Land & Minerals Co. The bill would directly affect his profits.
Documents released this week appear to show that Florida legislative leaders worked with state Republican officials to manipulate redistricting efforts, in apparent defiance of a constitutional amendment that banned such coordination.
The documents, the contents of which were first described by the Herald/Times of Florida, were ordered released by a judge presiding over a suit against the state filed last year by both individuals and government watchdogs. That suit alleges that new boundary lines for both congressional and state Senate districts are illegal because they came about partly as a result of politically-driven activities forbidden by the amendment. Among the documents are emails between political consultants, the staff of Republican leaders and two state representatives discussing the new district lines.
As lawmakers in three Southeastern states prepare for the 2013 legislative session, they’re finding bipartisan agreement on an unlikely agenda: ethics reform. Leaders in South Carolina and Florida have begun work that lawmakers and watchdogs say could lead to the states’ first meaningful reforms in decades. And in Georgia, proponents of stronger rules are rallying behind a slate of measures they hope may finally pass in what has long been a recalcitrant Legislature.
The initiatives all seek some regulation of money and influence. The proposals take aim at independent political spending, asset disclosure and gifts from lobbyists in an effort to bolster transparency and rein in the spiraling costs of running campaigns. In some cases the reforms could go deeper, as lawmakers try to attack the roots of corruption by strengthening ethics oversight and enforcement.
On October 26, 2011, the Illinois legislature passed a bill that authorized construction of a multi-billion-dollar smart grid and reshaped how utility companies seek approval for raising electricity rates. Consumer groups opposed the measure, saying it was a handout to utilities.
But the final blow for opponents came three months later when former state Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who had pushed the bill through the legislature only to resign after winning its passage, registered his own lobbying firm and signed his first clients. Prominent among them: Commonwealth Edison, one of the state’s largest utilities.
Florida’s Senate approved a new set of ethics rules today that will strengthen the body’s conflict of interest guidelines. The vote marked the first action to emerge from a vocal push for ethics reform by the state’s incoming legislative leaders.
Senate President Don Gaetz, who took control during today’s organizational meeting, proposed the rules Monday after committing to reforms during the election season.
By Caitlin Ginley
Citing the Center for Public Integrity’s States of Disclosure project and State Integrity Investigation as a basis for reform, the nonpartisan research group Integrity Florida has issued a report calling for stronger financial disclosure requirements in the Sunshine State.
Among the report’s recommendations: requiring Florida state officials to fill out more detailed financial disclosure forms and making that information available online in a searchable database format.
On Wednesday, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater unveiled a new web site that details most of the state's contracts so the public can determine if they are being held accountable for the services they are offering. The goal, he said, is to put the heat on the flawed contracting system by turning the public into watchdogs and inviting more competitors to the table.
The hope is "this improves accountability because there's no place to hide," Atwater said at a news conference in Tallahassee.
Read the rest of the story at the Tampa Bay Times.
State Integrity news for Florida from WFSU:
Reccently, the government watch dog group, Integrity Florida, named Florida number one for government corruption. The group’s executive director, Dan Krassner, says the organization looked at a number of things when making that ranking.
"An entity called State Integrity Investigation, a separate group from Integrity Florida, released a Florida Corruption Risk report card. On that report card, they gave our state a failing grade for ethics enforcement agencies," Krassner said.
Read and hear more from WFSU - Tallahassee.
The Florida Commission on Ethics, the agency charged with enforcing ethics laws, meets Friday and plans to adopt an agenda for the next legislative session. Between ideas from Integrity Florida, the grand jury and a few reform-minded lawmakers, there are plenty of worthy proposals for the commission to endorse, including:
Give the ethics cops more muscle. Under current law, the commission can't investigate possible violations unless someone files a complaint. Imagine a police officer who witnesses a crime but can't respond unless someone calls 911.
Read the rest of the story at the Orlando Sentinel.