UPDATE: House passes ‘Corruption County’ priority ethics bill, Senate committee OKs tougher approachby Dara Kam | April 22nd, 2010
UPDATE: The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee unanimously approved (SB 902) a tougher measure than the House’s version.
The Florida House approved a measure that would allow counties and cities to go beyond current state law in fines and jail time for county officials and staff who violate local ethics ordinances or financial disclosure requirements.
Under the measure, counties like Palm Beach could double the current fine from $500 to $1,000 and extend jail time from 60 days to one year for corrupt officials.
The House approved the bill (HB 1301) – one of Palm Beach County’s top priorities this session – by a 111-1 vote today, but the Senate is taking a different approach.
The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee is about to combine the ethics proposal with two measures that would impose much harsher penalties on corrupt officials pushed by Palm Beach State Attorney Michael McAuliffe.
Both anti-corruption proposals are being blended with a measure (SB 902) that would increase the legislature’s oversight over state agencies’ contracting, a priority for powerful Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander, chairman of the committee.
One of the harsher measures would make it a crime for any public official to knowingly withhold information about a financial interest in something on they vote or cause to take place. It would would also require disclosure of financial interests that could benefit a family member.
Another would enhance penalties for crimes, such as official misconduct, that public officials commit in their official capacity.
The two stricter measures are sponsored by Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, a former federal prosecutor who specialized in corruption cases. The PBC-backed proposal is sponsored by Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres. The two colleagues are running against each other in a Democratic primary for attorney general.
McAuliffe said the changes in the law would make it possible for the state rather than federal officials to prosecute officials like the three former Palm Beach County commissioners and two city commissioners who went to prison on federal corruption charges.
Palm Beach County officials said those bills aren’t a priority and aren’t working to make sure those bills (SB 1076, 734) pass.