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Watchdog groups urge action on ethics bills in session’s homestretch

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Watchdog groups Wednesday urged Florida lawmakers to finalize ethics proposals that would strengthen access to public records and require more lobbyists to register and disclose how much they get paid.

Both measures have cleared the Senate, but are languishing in the House. The Legislature returns from a Passover-Easter break on Monday to begin the session’s last scheduled two weeks.

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, have touted ethics reforms as a central part of their two-year term as leaders. This year’s proposals could represent a postscript to steps taken last year, which included a revamping of how political fund-raising committees operate.

Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida, a government oversight group, said lawmakers need to enhance last year’s moves.

“We encourage our legislative leaders to build on these small steps and pass major ethics reform and open government legislation in the remaining two weeks,” Krassner said.

Among those calling for action were representatives of the First Amendment Foundation, Common Cause of Florida, the Citizens Awareness Foundation and Tea Party Network.

Barbara Petersen, president of the news organization-backed First Amendment Foundation, said that while 250 public records exemptions existed in 1985, that number could climb to 1,100 if some two-dozen proposed loopholes are created this year.

One bill (SB 1648) pushed by advocates Wednesday clarifies issues involving fees for public records, including those sought by citizens and later costs run up by attorneys seeking documents. It also requires more training of government employees to satisfy the demands of Florida’s open records laws.

The other measure (SB 846) seen as a priority by open government advocates would require lobbyists working the state’s almost 1,000 independent special districts to register and publicly disclose how much they get paid.

Palm Beach County, alone, has more than 60 such districts, ranging from the huge South Florida Water Management District to municipal airport, port, drainage and community development districts.

Billions of taxpayer dollars flow through these districts.

“Certainly, our state lawmakers are outnumbered by lobbyists nearly 12-to-1,” Krassner said. “The lobbying community…is very powerful in our state Capitol. Any measure that looks to require more disclosure from lobbyists is going to face some resistance.”

On Senate Reunion Day, Pruitt slapped by former colleagues

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Former Senate President Ken Pruitt's double-duty as lobbyist could be barred.

Former Senate President Ken Pruitt is a loser in new ethics standards for local government officials unanimously approved Wednesday by the Florida Senate.

The legislation (CS/SB 846) sets a new code of conduct for members of quasi-government boards like Enterprise Florida, requires city council members to take four hours of ethics training,  and would force lobbyists working for such special districts as the South Florida Water Management District and Port of Palm Beach to register with the state and submit quarterly financial disclosure reports.

The measure still has to clear the House before going to Gov. Rick Scott. But sponsor, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said the legislation was a logical extension of the tougher ethics standards lawmakers adopted for themselves last year.

“There’s no reason for the people who serve on these boards not to have the same code of conduct,” Latvala said.

But an amendment added Wednesday and sponsored by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, also toughened the bill by prohibiting local officials from lobbying the Legislature for other special interests. The measure would affect state attorneys, county commissioners, constitutional officers, school superintendents, school board members and others.

Although not specifically named, a target of the prohibition is Pruitt, who as St. Lucie County Property Appraiser also has built a large and lucrative lobbying practice.

Pruitt, who was not immediately available following the Senate vote, works the halls in Tallahassee while on temporary leave from his St. Lucie post but represents 15 clients, including the city of Boca Raton, sugar giant Florida Crystals and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.

Pruitt was Senate President from 2006-08 and represented parts of Palm Beach County in the Legislature for most of two decades. His lobbying practice has rankled some senators. The bill would prohibit these officers from lobbying after their next election.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, unsuccessfully sought to have Sobel’s amendment softened by shielding any local officers currently lobbying — making it only apply to those who seek double-duty in the future. She said only three officials — presumably Pruitt among them — would be protected by the measure.

But it was a no sale with fellow senators.

The legislation was approved 39-0 by the Senate, about two hours before the chamber ended its day early and paused to honor its past members on Senate Reunion Day.

 

 

 


Clemens’ ethics rewind draws heat — in a hurry

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014 by John Kennedy

House and Senate Republican leaders hailed a new, tougher ethics standard for public officials as one of the top achievements of the 2013 session.

But legislation filed earlier this month by Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, is drawing heat for clashing with the freshly minted theme of reform.

Clemens’ proposal (SB 606) would lift most gift-reporting requirements for state and local elected officials and public employees; shield officials from ethics complaints if they acted after getting advice from a lawyer; and allow for penalties of as much as $5,000 against someone who files an ethics complaint “with malicious intent.”

Ethics advocates are warning Clemens’ proposal would lower watchdog standards and have a chilling effect on anyone looking to complain.

Clemens said the legislation was sought by the Florida League of Cities. But a lawyer who formerly was the executive director of the Florida Commission on Ethics said claims that the measure is harmless don’t make sense.

“I have to say at the outset, the claim by the League of Cities that ‘the provisions of SB 606 in no way weaken the laws that are on the books’ is simply absurd. It is preposterous to say that this bill would ensure ‘full transparency’ or provide ‘the right tools to enforcement agencies to root out corruption,’ as the League proclaims,” said Phil Claypoole in a memo to Integrity Florida, good government advocates who oppose Clemens’ bill.

Clemens, a former Lake Worth mayor, said he was willing to run bill “up the flagpole.” But given the backlash the legislation is drawing, Clemens said he may reconsider.

He has a meeting scheduled this week with the Ethics Commission’s current executive director, Virlindia Doss, and a representative of the League of Cities.

“It’s still early, and we have time to tighten up the language,” Clemens said. “It’s not my intent to move this bill forward if there are problems.”

Clemens also said he wasn’t looking to scrap ethics laws. But Clemens said that defenses should be enhanced for elected officials who get slapped with unfounded complaints that are politically motivated or aimed at harassing them.

“Politics is a high-stakes game in Florida,” Clemens said. “I was trying to file something that at least could stop these serial complainants from acting.”

Deal on campaign finance, ethics doubles contributions

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Florida House and Senate leaders have reached a deal on campaign finance and ethics reforms, Senate Ethics and Elections Committee Chairman Jack Latvala announced on the floor this morning.

The agreement doubles the current $500-per-election cycle campaign contribution limit for local and legislative candidates and hikes the limit to $3,000 for statewide candidates and Supreme Court justices up for merit retention.

The bill (HB 569) also does away with committees of continuous existence, or “CCEs,” and replaces them political committees that can accept unlimited contributions.

The ethics and campaign finance reforms are the top priorities of House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who wanted the campaign changes, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.

The Senate had balked at raising the contribution limits after Gov. Rick Scott, who spent more than $70 million of his own money financing his 2010 campaign for governor, indicated he did not support lifting the caps.

But Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, said Wednesday his chamber agreed to the changes to get the House to pass the ethics proposal.

The new campaign limits put back caps in place before lawmakers imposed the lower amounts at the urging of the late Gov. Lawton Chiles in 1992.

Latvala called the deal far better than the original House plan, which would have hiked the contribution limits to $10,000.

“You’re not going to be able to take money out of politics,” he said.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing corporate money to flood campaigns with cash means that “we are heading in the direction of unlimited money in politics,” Latvala, a veteran campaign consultant, said. “So the best we’re going to be able to do in the long run is provide the transparency to go with that, to have good reporting.”

The measure would also require more reporting of campaign finances, including daily reporting in the final week leading up to an election “where a lot of the monkey shines go on,” Latvala said.

The proposal would also allow candidates to “rollover” $20,000 after a campaign ends and hold onto that amount for up to two years.

Palm Beach County Democratic Sens. Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth and Joseph Abruzzo of Wellington cast the only “no” votes in the 37-2 tally.

“I couldn’t see myself going back to Palm Beach County and telling people that I voted to double the campaign contribution limits. I think that puts more money in the system and that’s the opposite direction that people want us to move in,” Clemens said.

And, he said, the allowing candidates to carry over $20,000 “puts challengers at a tremendous disadvantage.”

Lawmakers are expected to take final votes on both measures today and send them to Scott, meaning he would have just seven days to act on the bills. Scott has 15 days to act on bills received after the legislative session ends.

Ethics commissioner urges lawmakers to act on reform

Friday, April 12th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Florida Commission on Ethics member Matt Carlucci is asking the Legislature to move forward on legislation that would strengthen the panel’s ability to collect fines and probe possible wrongdoing by elected officials.

The ethics proposal is a priority of Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. But it’s caught up in horsetrading over a campaign finance measure that’s the priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. And Gov. Rick Scott’s opposition to the campaign finance changes may doom both measures.

Carlucci penned an editorial today urging lawmakers to act on the ethics proposal.

“As a member of the Florida Commission on Ethics, I am grateful and encouraged that we are on the cusp of dramatic and necessary ethics reform. The Senate, under the leadership of Senate President Gaetz and Senator Latvala, created a strong base on which the House, with the leadership of Speaker Weatherford and subcommittee Chair Boyd, built further improvements. The result, House Bill 7131, is a good work product that with a few changes, could be a great work product.
News reports suggest that the House, Senate, and Governor have disagreements over changes to the elections laws, and that those disagreements are putting HB 7131 in jeopardy. On behalf of the Commission, I urge all the parties not to let differences in philosophy in one arena stand in the way of progress on things we all can agree on. I would also ask that the Legislature make the following changes that would make HB 7131 a true and lasting achievement:
• Restore the language that would allow the Commission to record its final order as a lien in cases where there are unpaid fines for failing to file financial disclosure;
• Delete the language that allows officials the opportunity to re-do their financial disclosure after a complaint has been filed, or at least make allowing such a second chance discretionary with the Commission;
• Give the Commission the ability to investigate complaints on its own initiative, subject to a vote of seven of its nine members.
These three changes will move HB 7131 from good to outstanding. A great deal of hard work by the House and Senate has been poured into ethics reform this year. I encourage the parties to make these three changes, and then make it the law.
Sincerely,
Matt Carlucci

League of Women Voters hears about guns, Louboutins and elections

Thursday, April 11th, 2013 by Dara Kam

The League of Women Voters of Florida heard from both sides on the gun debate and elections and ethics reform during their annual gathering in the Capitol this morning.

National Rifle Association Florida lobbyist Marion Hammer addressed the crowd after Quincy Police Chief Walter McNeil, a former president of the International Police Chiefs Association who’s helped the White House craft a gun control policy.

It’s the first time Hammer’s been asked to appear before the League in her nearly four decades of lobbying.

She told the group, which backs stricter gun control measures, that semi-automatic weapons function the same as traditional guns but look fancier.

“It’s technology that’s been around for over 100 years and the only diffrerence is cosmetics. The cosmetics are new,” Hammer said. She said that a gun with the plastic stock replaced by a wooden stock would fire the same way.

“That’s no different than a lady in an elegant dress and nylon stockings and Christian Louboutin high-heeled shoes and expensive jewelry changing clothes into blue jeans, a sweatshirt, Nikes and a Timex watch. The only difference is the way she looks,” she said.

Hammer also said that Florida’s first-in-the-nation “Stand Your Ground” law does not need to be changed. Gov. Rick Scott appointed a task force to look into the law in response to an outcry over the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old unarmed black teenager killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.

“If criminals don’t want to get shot, they should leave people alone,” Hammer said.

Rep. Mark Pafford, celebrating his 47th birthday on Thursday, spoke about elections and health care.
(more…)

Will Rick Scott’s opposition to campaign reform doom ethics overhaul?

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott’s opposition to proposed campaign finance changes will also doom an ethics reform, the two top priorities of House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, according to the lead GOP senator on both issues.

The campaign finance proposal, a priority of Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, approved by his chamber last month would boost individual contribution limits from $500 to $3,000 for local and legislative candidates and to $5,000 for statewide candidates.

Scott spokeswoman Melissa Sellers on Monday told The Associated Press that the governor “can’t imagine signing a bill” that would raise contributions by any amount.

The Senate proposal, approved by the Rules Committee Tuesday, would keep the contribution levels but impose more frequent reporting requirements for political committees.

“My feeling is that the governor has probably sapped the energy out of campaign any campaign fiannce bill this session,” Senate Ethics and Elections Committee Chairman Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg. told reporters Tuesday.

The House hasn’t moved on the ethics package, a priority of Gaetz, R-Niceville, since receiving it from the Senate, which passed it on the first day of the legislative session 31 days ago.

“Unfortunately, the House is tying their campaign finance bill to our ethics bill, which we passed as our first order of business on the first day of session and has now been over there for 31 days, just sitting,” he said. “They wanted these changes in campaign finance in return for doing some fairly sensible, easy to understand things on ethics. That’s a shame. What I’ve been told is they had to have campaign finance to pass our ethics package.”

Florida Senate unanimously approves President Gaetz priority ethics reform

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Calling it the most comprehensive reform in Florida in three decades, the state Senate unanimously approved a sweeping ethics package, a priority of Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.

Gaetz said he skipped the traditional president’s speech to take up and pass the bill.

“You have made your mothers and fathers proud of you today,” Gaetz said after the bill passed. “You have brought by your vote today honor to this Senate and to the people who you serve with. You have changed the code of public conduct in Florida forever and for the better and I thank you.”

The measure (SB 2) would give the ethics commission more teeth to the Commission on Ethics, bar legislators from voting on bills that would inure to a special private gain for them and ban lawmakers from getting special jobs at public institutions such as universities just because of their position.

The plan would also close the “revolving door” that allows lawmakers to lobby after they leave office. An amendment approved on the floor Tuesday afternoon would make that provision apply to all lawmakers instead of the original version that only applied to those elected after 2014.

“You can look any constituent in the eye with conviction and tell them that you have taken a firm stand for improved ethics in government,” Senate Ethics and Elections Committee Chairman Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, said while explaining the bill on the floor.

The Senate bill also includes something not in the House’s companion measure: Closing the loophole in the lobbying gift ban.

The measure would ban lawmakers from accepting contributions from lobbyists in their political committees, or CCEs, and using the money for swank dinners or parties.

Latvala urged his colleagues to convince the House “that we want real, meaningful ethics reform in the Florida Senate and we don’t want it watered down.”

Gift ban tweak stays out of Senate ethics reform

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Seven years ago, then-Senate President Tom Lee pushed a gift ban that essentially barred lobbyists from giving gifts of any kind – except flowers and plaques on the opening day of the legislative session – to lawmakers.

Lee, a Brandon Republican, wanted to put an end to what he called lawmakers out-of-control wining and dining at the expense of lobbyists perhaps looking for a payback for lavish meals.

After returning to the Florida Senate as a freshman this year, Lee is willing to modify the ban after hearing “a parade of horribles” from lawmakers who say the gift ban bars them from participating in receptions held by groups as innocuous as the Boys and Girls Clubs because they fear violating the ban.

Lee had hoped to include the tweak in an ethics reform package, a priority of Senate President Don Gaetz, headed to the floor after the Senate Rules Committee unanimously signed off on the measure this afternoon.

But Lee said including changes to the gift ban in the ethics bill was “a non-starter from the president’s perspective” and will instead file a stand-alone bill to deal with the issue instead.

Gaetz didn’t want his fast-tracked priority ethics reform, expected to get a Senate floor vote possible on the first day of the legislative session in two weeks, to get bogged down in a debate over whether the Legislature was watering down the gift ban.

“I would have been happy with it being in this bill. But it’s just taken a while to get it together. And this bill is moving pretty rapidly. So we’re going to make sure he’s got a bill spot for that,” Sen. Jack Latvala, the St. Petersburg Republican who sponsored the ethics package (SB 2), said.

Lee said he’s trying to “find a way to ensure that the public and organizations get access to legislators but that that access isn’t clandestine and it isn’t in violation of the law, which was predominantly what was going on at the time” his signature legislation was passed.

But any rewrite of the gift ban is a “briar patch,” Lee cautioned.

“It is very, very difficult to create exemptions to the gift ban that you can’t drive a truck through. And therein lies the problem,” he said. “And while a lot of people are talking about the bottle of water or the cup of coffee, I guarantee you an amendment to the gift ban that allows them to take a bottle of water and a cup of coffee will not satisfy them.”

Lee said lawmakers may be skirting the gift ban already.

“I really wanted to get through one session before I had this discussion. But I’m trying to be accommodating. Some of this has resulted in behavior being driven underground into lobbyists’ homes and into the Governor’s Club. There’s a point at which you can’t legislate morality,” he said.

Lee said he’s sympathetic to lawmakers who say they run into trouble particularly in Tallahassee when groups from home who have lobbyists hold receptions. He’s open to allowing lawmakers to attend those “highly public” events provided there is a record of attendance and “as long as the gift that’s being received by the legislator is de minimus.”

Senate ethics package ready for floor vote

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013 by Dara Kam

A sweeping ethics overhaul is headed to the Florida Senate for a floor vote, possibly on the first day of the legislative session that begins on March 5.

The Senate Rules Committee unanimously approved the plan, a priority of Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, Tuesday afternoon.

The omnibus measure (SB 2) would impose new restrictions on legislators who become lobbyists; on state and local officials who take jobs with universities or other public agencies; and on candidates who dip into political committees for what require Gaetz calls a “filet mignon lifestyle.”

Lawmakers would also be required to disclose when voting on bills that would result in a special benefit for them, their business partners or their immediate family members.

Constitutional officers including sheriffs and elections supervisors would have to undergo four hours of ethics training. The proposed ethics code would also require candidates or officeholders to set up “blind trusts.”

And the measure gives more teeth to the state’s Commission on Ethics by allowing the authority to initiate investigations and impose liens or garnish wages of wrongdoers who don’t pay fines.

The commission would also be required to update its financial disclosure system by putting all the forms online in a searchable database.

The employment restriction is designed to keep public agencies from creating jobs for powerful politicians. The proposal would allow elected officials or qualified candidates to get public employment if the job is publicly advertised, the position was already created and if they are subject to the same requirements as other candidates.

“They can basically apply for any job that’s out there advertised in government as long as they’re qualified for the job, as long as it’s an open application period. We just want to discourage those kinds of things that happened with Ray Sansom” or in a Panhandle county where a commissioner got a special job with the city, Senate bill sponsor Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, said.

Former House Speaker Ray Sansom was hired by Northwest Florida State College for a $110,000-a-year job on the day he became speaker. The Destin Republican was forced to resign as speaker in 2009 after he was charged with conspiracy and grand theft for spending that benefited the college that onetime appropriations chairman Sansom tucked into the state budget. Prosecutors later dropped the charges against Sansom.

Latvala called the ethics overhaul “a significant piece of legislation” aimed at improving the public’s confidence in elected officials.

New Senate prez poses ethics reforms

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Senate President Don Gaetz is exploring a sweeping ethics proposal that could do away with political committees used by legislative leaders, bar elected officials from getting second jobs outside their fields of expertise and strengthen conflict of interest disclosure for state senators.

The Niceville Republican said Tuesday he’s considering changes to campaign finance laws that might eliminate “committees of continuous existence” while increasing the amount of money individuals can contribute to political campaigns, now capped at $500.

Gaetz, who officially takes over his chamber after the November election, told reporters he hasn’t drafted a bill yet for the 2013 legislative session but wants to strengthen ethics laws not only for the legislature but for other elected officials, including school board members. Gaetz formerly served as the superintendent of schools in Okaloosa County.

Gaetz said he’s also considering putting public officials’ financial disclosures online in a way that’s easy for the public to find.

Read about Gaetz’s preliminary ideas about an ethics package after the jump.
(more…)

Senate panel OK’s new limits on lawmakers working for universities

Monday, January 23rd, 2012 by John Kennedy

In the latest swipe by public officials at the state higher education system, a Senate panel Monday narrowly approved a measure to bar legislators from working for Florida colleges or universities while in office — and for as much as two years after they leave office.

The legislation (SB 1560) was approved in a 7-5 vote by the Ethics and Elections subcommittee. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, has joined Gov. Rick Scott, incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and other lawmakers who have been turning up the heat on Florida schools for how they spend their money.

Thrasher said having lawmakers on the payroll of colleges and universities has the “perception” of a conflict-of-interest, especially when they vote on legislation or budget matters that effect a school that employs them.

“It’s been the subject of a lot of concern,” Thrasher said. “It’s something that needs to have this conversation.”

Several House and Senate members work for colleges and universities — the most prominent being Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, an instructor at the University of Florida. But Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, was among several lawmakers who questioned how far Thrasher wanted to go in restricting legislators’ outside employment.

“I have a real problem with this bill,” Detert said.

Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, said, “I believe this is discrimination against a whole class of people. What’s next?”

Colleges and universities have been under the microscope since last summer, when Scott first started questioning whether schools were putting enough focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs, saying such STEM disciplines were the key to building a future workforce. Scott also posted online the salaries of State University System employees.

Lawmakers currently employed by colleges or universities would be allowed to retain their jobs, under the bill. But it would clearly affect those who might be angling for work once they leave office.

Defending his call for the measure, Thrasher cited a 2010 statewide grand jury report which questioned the scope of the state’s current ethics’ laws, and suggested ways to toughen them.

 

Fla Dems want to know more about Scott’s assets

Thursday, April 14th, 2011 by John Kennedy

A day after Rick Scott agreed to sell his family’s shares of Solantic, the chain of urgent care clinics that engulfed the governor in a swirl of ethics questions, Florida Democrats say they want to know more about the multi-millionaire’s assets.

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith wrote the Republican governor Thursday, saying he should disclose more about other assets that he and his family control.

“ To show Floridians that you aren’t further profiting from your actions as Governor, it is incumbent upon you to fully disclose all of the assets which are controlled by your immediate family, including those assets held in trust accounts,” Smith wrote.

“While I understand that Florida’s very weak and loophole-ridden ethics laws do not explicitly require this, given the many ethical questions that have arisen since you have been in office, it is your responsibility to do the right thing,” the Democratic chief concluded.

Scott reported a net worth of $218 million last year as a candidate for governor.

Included was his $62 million share of Solantic,  a stake in equipment manufacturer Drives Acquisition LLC, worth $20 million; an entity called RLSI-CSP LLC, worth $19 million; and money market funds at Merrill Lynch totaling $19 million.

Scott to unload Solantic amid ethics questions

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Republican Rick Scott has agreed to sell his family’s ownership of Solantic, the chain of urgent care health clinics miring him in conflict of interest questions, a spokeswoman for the governor said Wednesday.

Amy Graham said Scott expects to complete the sale by April 29 to Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe, a New York City-based private equity investment firm that is a minority shareholder in the company. Graham said Scott is selling his family’s 70 percent share for less than $60 million.

During his campaign for governor, Scott valued his share of the company at $62 million.

But in the deal, Scott apparently has had to walk away from his earlier pledge to bar Solantic from soliciting state contracts.

Brian Burgess, Scott’s communications director, said Wednesday that while the governor sought the prohibition, he has learned state law disallows such standards.

“Legal counsel has told us you can’t prevent people from bidding on contracts, Florida law takes precedent over any business agreement,” Burgess said.

But Burgess added, “The governor recognizes that he has to remain beyond reproach on this stuff.”

Scott’s interest in Solantic has clouded the governor during his first three months as chief executive, with concerns spiking after he called for drug-testing of state employees, a service the company provides.  Legislative proposals to overhaul Medicaid, which Scott also supports, could have caused the governor’s public role to collide with his private interests.

Scott said he has tried to be “transparent” on matters involving Solantic. Before he took office, Scott representatives met with Florida Commission on Ethics in December, a meeting at which no public records were created.

 Shortly after that meeting, the governor-elect’s Solantic shares were quietly moved into the Frances Annette Scott Revocable Trust, his wife’s account.

Statewide grand jury calls on lawmakers to beef up ethics laws

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The statewide grand jury looking into public corruption issued its preliminary report today and called on the legislature to beef up Florida’s ethics laws.

The 127-page preliminary report suggests that lawmakers take a page from Palm Beach County’s anti-corruption measures enacted after three county commissioners wound up behind bars for misusing their office.

The statewide grand jury, at work for nearly a year and set to expire in February, report recommended requiring employees at private businesses that have government contracts to be subject to the same ethics laws as public employees.

Other recommendations include:
- Tougher sentences for officials who use their public office to commit crimes;
- Creating an independent Inspector General to oversee agency inspectors general;
- Expanding bid-tampering laws to include bid-rigging schemes;
- Giving the Ethics Commission the power to initiate investigations.

‘Corruption County’ ethics package en route to governor

Friday, April 30th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The Senate gave final approval to a measure pushed by the Palm Beach County Commission 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.

The measure now heads to Gov. Charlie Crist.

Sen. Dave Aronberg, a Greenacres Democrat running for attorney general, said he sponsored the bill (SB 1980) on behalf of county officials after “three of the seven county commissioners ended up in jail” on public corruption charges.

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 refused to pass a harsher public corruption measure (SB 902) pushed by Palm Beach County’s State Attorney Michael McAuliffe.

His anti-corruption proposals, sponsored by former federal prosecutor and Aronberg primary opponent Sen. Dan Gelber, would have made 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 have required 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.

UPDATE: House passes ‘Corruption County’ priority ethics bill, Senate committee OKs tougher approach

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010 by Dara Kam

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.

‘Corruption County’ crackdown cruises through House committee

Monday, March 22nd, 2010 by Dara Kam

A “Corruption County”-inspired bill that would beef up penalties for county officials who violate ethics ordinances moved forward in a House committee this afternoon.

The changes that would allow counties 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 Public Safety and Domestic Security Policy Committee unanimously approved Rep. Kevin Rader’s bill (HB 1301) today.

Rader, D-Delray Beach, and fellow Palm Beacher Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, sponsored the proposals at the request of Palm Beach County officials.

A $1,000 fine may not seem like much of a price to pay for politicos who’ve been convicted of taken thousands of dollars in bribes, steering hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts to their buddies or voting on multi-million dollar deals in which they have a financial stake.

But, Rader said, the fine “and a year in jail is a step in the right direction.”

Palm Beach County recently established an ethics panel in an effort to shed its “Corruption County” image. In the past four years, three former county commissioners and two West Palm Beach city commissioners were sent to prison on corruption charges.

Corruption County: New ethics commission debuts Tuesday

Monday, February 22nd, 2010 by George Bennett

A new Palm Beach County Ethics Commission, created by county commissioners last year in response to the corruption convictions of five local elected officials between 2006 and 2009, holds its first meeting Tuesday in West Palm Beach.

Among the first orders of business for the five-member commission will be choosing a chairman and vice-chairman.

The ethics panel, plus representatives from the State Attorney and Public Defender offices, will sit as the selection committee for a new inspector general position. The inspector general post, modeled after one in Miami-Dade County, is the centerpiece of reforms approved Dec. 1. Applications for the inspector general’s job and for a new executive director for the ethics commission are due Friday.

The ethics panelists were chosen by a variety of groups outside county government. Read about them after the jump…..

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Ex-sheriff Bieluch applies for seat on new ethics commission

Friday, January 22nd, 2010 by George Bennett

Bieluch

Bieluch

Rev. Ed Bieluch, the former Palm Beach County sheriff who was later ordained as a priest in the Anglican Catholic Church, is applying for a seat on the new county ethics commission.

The five-member commission is to include one seat for a former elected official to be named by the Palm Beach County League of Cities. The league is accepting applications through 5 p.m. Monday and plans to choose a candidate Wednesday.

Six other former elected officials are also applying.

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