The Florida legislature continues to prepare for the 2016 legislative session holding a final week of committee meetings. Also this week, the Florida Supreme Court upheld Circuit Judge Terry Lewis’s decision in favor of a congressional district map submitted by Common Cause Florida and the League of Women Voters of Florida. The Supreme Court’s decision means the Common Cause/League of Women Voter’s map is now the new congressional district map for Florida, barring any successful future legal challenges.
A mid-December hearing has been scheduled by Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds to consider proposed versions of a Senate redistricting plan. The House and Senate failed to reach agreement on a Senate district map during a special session last month. A coalition of voting rights groups including Common Cause Florida has submitted six maps for consideration by Judge Reynolds. The Florida Senate has also submitted a map. The map chosen by Reynolds will ultimately go before the Florida Supreme Court.
With the redistricting drama as a backdrop, the legislature is now set to convene the 2016 legislative session beginning on January 12.
2016 Legislative Session
The 2016 legislative session is shaping up to be a banner year for Common Cause Florida and ethics reform. This will be the fourth year in a row that ethics reform in Florida government has seen legislative attention and 2016 has the potential for truly significant improvements.
The Senate Government Oversight and Accountability Committee took up Senate Bill 582 this week. The anti-corruption measure, which Common Cause Florida strongly supports, was originally proposed by Gannet News Service.
Senator Don Gaetz (R-Destin) is the sponsor of the bill in the Senate. The bill (SB 582) would put into law two anti-corruption recommendations that were in the 2010 Nineteenth Statewide Grand Jury Report titled A Study of Public Corruption in Florida and Recommended Solutions. The bill would expand the definition of "public servants" so government vendors and contractors could be prosecuted under bribery and misuse-of-office statutes.
It also removes language in the statutes that requires prosecutors prove defendants acted "corruptly" or with "corrupt intent." The grand jury described that language as an extra burden of proof that has limited the effectiveness of corruption laws. Instead prosecutors would only have to meet the standard burden of proof that someone acted "intentionally or knowingly."
The bill faced some opposition in the committee, mainly from a group of transportation contractors who do business with the state. They argued that the bill could make them subject to prosecution for bribery just by doing normal business practices like buying someone dinner. Senator Gaetz and a representative of the State Attorney’s Association assured committee members that was not the case, but the bill was temporarily postponed to allow clarifying language to be drafted. The committee chair pledged to bring the bill up again at its first committee meeting once session begins.
Although it has yet to be heard in committee, Senator Gaetz has also filed (SB 686), a major ethics reform measure titled the Florida Anti-Corruption Act of 2016. It includes the two provisions in SB 582 and a number of other provisions including some of the Florida Commission on Ethics legislative priorities.
Among other things it requires city officials in Florida to file the full financial disclosure form as constitutional officers are required to do, applies lobby registration requirements to special districts and prohibits members of the Enterprise Florida Board from lobbying the agency for two years after they leave the Board. The bill has four committee references including Ethics and Elections, Governmental Oversight and Accountability, Community Affairs and Appropriations. Representative Larry Metz (R-Groveland) has filed an identical bill (HB 593) in the House.
Florida Commission on Ethics 2016 Legislative Agenda
The Florida Commission on Ethics presented its legislative priorities last month and Common Cause Florida supports the recommendations. They include giving the Commission on Ethics limited authority to initiate an investigation without first receiving a complaint. An extraordinary majority of the Commission would have to agree to initiate the investigation.
The Commission's legislative agenda also includes increasing the maximum fine for an ethics violation from $10,000 to $20,000 and adding liens on personal property to the Commission's toolkit to collect unpaid financial disclosure fines. The Commission also wants all elected officials to file the more informative form 6 financial disclosure form rather than the less informative form 1. Currently only constitutional officers are required to file form 6. Common Cause Florida is hopeful the legislative priorities of the Commission on Ethics will be the subject of legislation in the 2016 legislative session.
Earlier this year, Florida House Republicans unanimously elected Representative Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, as the next Speaker of the House of Representatives. In his speech to the members, Speaker-Designate Corcoran laid out several proposed lobbying and ethics reforms aimed at "cleaning up our own house."
Specifically, Common Cause Florida supports the following reforms proposed by Speaker-Designate Corcoran:
- Requiring lobbyists to disclose which bills, amendments and appropriations they are trying to influence.
- Banning lawmakers for six years after they leave office from taking jobs in government, unless they are elected to an office.
- Prohibiting legislators from taking a job with any company or group that receives funding from the state.
- Passing a constitutional amendment that bans any state elected official from lobbying the legislative or executive branch for six years after they leave office, up from the current two-year ban.
Corcoran will serve as speaker from 2017 through 2018 so it’s not likely that these reforms will be acted on by the 2016 legislature. Common Cause Florida will work to build momentum for Speaker-Designate Corcoran’s reform effort in 2017.
This year, Common Cause Florida and a coalition of voting rights groups successfully worked for passage of a bill that creates an online system for voter registration by October 2017. The legislature typically does not take up major election reform in an election year like 2016. Common Cause Florida will monitor the implementation of the online voter registration law and stay vigilant for any attempts by the legislature to make it harder for people to vote.
Campaign Finance Reform
Common Cause Florida is working with coalition partners on a campaign finance transparency bill for consideration in 2016. The bill, (HB 631) would place additional disclosure requirements on political committees. Political committees would be required to report the target (candidate or issue) and purpose (for or against) for any advertising expenditures. Other states have adopted similar disclosure requirements. In Florida, where political committees are able to raise unlimited amounts of money, candidates set up political committees to get around the limits that have been placed on direct contributions to candidate accounts.
Representative Amanda Murphy (D-New Port Richey) is sponsoring the bill in the House and Senator Darren Soto (D-Kissimmee) is sponsoring the bill (SB 892) in the Senate.
Common Cause Florida is tracking the following bills that have been filed for the 2016 legislative session. They include:
- SB 582 - The bill would put into law two anti-corruption recommendations that were in the 2010 Nineteenth Statewide Grand Jury Report titled A Study of Public Corruption in Florida and Recommended Solutions. The bill would expand the definition of "public servants" so government vendors and contractors could be prosecuted under bribery and misuse-of-office statutes. It also removes language in the statutes that requires prosecutors prove defendants acted "corruptly" or with "corrupt intent." The grand jury described that language as an extra burden of proof that has limited the effectiveness of corruption laws. Instead prosecutors would only have to meet the standard burden of proof that someone acted "intentionally or knowingly."
- SB 686/HB 593 – This bill is a major ethics reform measure titled the Florida Anti-Corruption Act of 2016. It includes the two provisions in SB 582 and it contains a number of other provisions including many from the ethics reform bill that died in 2015. Among other things it requires city officials in Florida to file the full financial disclosure form as constitutional officers are required to do, applies lobby registration requirements to special districts and prohibits members of the Enterprise Florida Board from lobbying the agency for two years after they leave the Board.
- HB 631/SB 892 – This bill would require political committees to disclose the target and position taken for advertising expenditures.
- HM 457 and Senate Companion SM 694 – A memorial urging Congress to propose to the states an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to provide that political contributions and expenditures by corporations be regulated by federal, state and local governments and establish that corporations are not human beings entitled to constitutional rights.
- HB 21/SB 164 – This bill creates an independent commission for legislative and congressional redistricting.
- SB 112/HB 361 – This bill changes the terminology of “absentee ballot” to “vote by mail.”
- SJR 192/HJR 729 – This a proposed constitutional amendment that would automatically restore voting rights to convicted felons.
- SB 532/HB 369 – This bill would allow a voter to sign an affidavit to “cure” an unsigned provisional ballot.
- SB 666/HB 505 – This bill would expand the list of voter IDs to include gun licenses and military health cards.
Capitol Report will be filed weekly when the legislature holds committee meetings and during the legislative session. We will let you know if there is any recommended action that can be taken by Common Cause members that would be helpful to our lobbying efforts.
Office: Common Cause Florida