Capitol Report for Week Ending February 12, 2016

Written by Ben Wilcox on February 12, 2016


Overview

Week five of the 2016 Florida legislative session is over and there was action on issues of interest to Common Cause Florida. This week, Common Cause Florida hosted a press conference in support of the ethics and campaign finance reform bills that have been filed in the 2016 legislative session. Joining Common Cause Florida was an anti-corruption coalition of groups including The Tea Party Network, the League of Women Voters of Florida, Liberty First Network, Progress Florida and the Republican Liberty Caucus.

Common Cause Contract Lobbyist, Ben Wilcox and Senator Darren Soto (D-Kissimmee) address the Capitol Press Corps outside the Florida Senate Chamber on February 9, 2016. Also in attendance were members of the Tea Party Network, Progress Florida, the League of Women Voters, the Republican Liberty Caucus and Tea Party affiliates. Common Cause Florida Chair, Peter Butzin, was the photographer.

The politically diverse coalition held the press conference to show support for several bills that are priorities of Common Cause Florida including SB 892 by Senator Darren Soto (D-Kissimmee) who attended the press conference. The bill would require political committees to disclose the target and position of political advertising expenditures. Currently political committees in Florida can raise unlimited amounts of money and often buy ads to influence multiple races. The bill would make the intentions of the advertising expenditures more transparent.

Ethics Reform/Anti-Corruption legislation

This week the Senate Rules Committee passed (SB 582) by Senator Don Gaetz (R-Destin), one of four bills being proposed this year to address public corruption.  The bill would put into law two recommendations of the Nineteenth Statewide Grand Jury. It would expand the definition of public servant to include those who contract with the government to perform a public function. It would also remove the requirement that state prosecutors prove that those accused of fraud, bid rigging, bid tampering or bribery acted “corruptly” or with “corrupt intent.” Instead they would only have to prove they acted “knowingly and intentionally,” a lessor burden of proof. Florida’s state attorneys argue they need these changes so they can better prosecute public corruption.

The bill’s counterpart in the House is House Bill 7071. It has already been passed by the full House and is now in the Senate. Passage of these bills is a priority for Common Cause Florida.

Another bill by Senator Gaetz is SB 686 is another major ethics reform measure that includes the two provisions in SB 582 plus a number of other reforms.

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.

That bill was temporarily passed last week by the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee. This week the committee passed the bill unanimously. It still faces two more committee hearings in the Community Affairs and the Appropriations Committees.

The House version of this bill, HB 593, by Representative Larry Metz (R-Groveland) will be heard next by the House Appropriations Committee.  Both bills are top priorities for Common Cause Florida.

Elections

Common Cause Florida is tracking two bad elections bills, one of which is slated to come before the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee next week. The bill, SB 702, would exempt certain voter registration information from the public records law. The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee temporarily passed the bill two weeks ago. It was the third time SB 702 by Senator Thad Altman (R-Cape Canaveral) was pulled from consideration before the committee vote.

Common Cause Florida opposes the bill because it’s an unnecessary public records exemption that will make it harder for third party groups like the League of Women Voters to do voter registration drives. There is an amendment that has been filed that significantly improves the bill, and if it passes, Common Cause Florida will consider supporting the bill.

Another election bill that Common Cause Florida once considered problematic appears to be resolved. HB 541 would have required that voter registration applications contain the applicant’s “address of legal residence” including information that differentiates one residence from another including apartment numbers, dorm room numbers etc.

Common Cause Florida opposed the bill both as unnecessary and because it could potentially prevent citizens from registering to vote if they don’t include a room number or list a wrong room number. This could impact anybody who lives in a dorm, apartment, assisted living facility, mobile home park or condominium. Both the House Bill and the Senate Bill (SB 744) now include an amendment that “fixes” the bill. The amendment states that failure to include a room number “does not impact a voter’s eligibility to register to vote or cast a ballot.”  The bill has passed the House unanimously.

The Senate Rules Committee passed the Senate version of the bill earlier this week.

Public Records

Common Cause Florida is also opposing two bills that would weaken Florida’s public records laws by stripping out a guarantee that people could recover legal fees if they won a court fight to obtain records. Florida law now allows people to sue agencies for records and guarantees payment of legal fees if a lawsuit is successful. The bills, SB 1220 and HB 1021, would give a judge the option of awarding legal fees.  Common Cause Florida believes these bills will have a chilling effect on the enforcement of our public records laws. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill this week, but not before it was amended to restore the guarantee of legal fees. Common Cause Florida continues to oppose the bill because it sets conditions by which a judge could deny legal fees. Common Cause Florida is asking its members to contact the Fiscal Policy Committee where the bill will be heard next and ask the members to “Vote No” on SB 1220! The House bill will be heard next in the State Affairs Committee.  

Campaign Finance Reform

Common Cause Florida is working with coalition partners on a campaign finance transparency bill. 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 avoid 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. 

Legislation

Common Cause Florida is tracking the following bills that have been filed for the 2016 legislative session. They include:

  • SB 582/HB 7071 - 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. 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.   
  • HJR 609 – This resolution would put a proposed constitutional amendment before voters that would create a process for citizens to pass laws through the initiative process.
  • SB 744/HB 541 – This bill requires that voting applications contain the applicants “address of legal residence” including information that differentiates one residence from another including apartment numbers, dorm room numbers etc. Common Cause Florida opposes this bill as unnecessary and will potentially keep people from voting.
  • SB 702/HB 647 – This bill exempts certain voter registration information from the public records law.  
  • SB 1220/HB 1021 – This is a bad public records bill that changes the requirement for awarding attorney’s fees in a successful public records lawsuit and leave it to the judge to decide. Current law says attorney’s fees “shall” be awarded. The bill changes it to “may” be awarded. Common Cause Florida opposes this bill.  

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. 

State Board News

We welcomed to the board Jabari Paul, the North Florida Regional Director and Political Director for Faith in Florida. Liza McClenaghan will be taking over as Chair effective April 1st. Peter Butzin will remain on the board as Treasurer. Other officers include: Brad Ashwell, Vice Chair and Richard Grosso, Secretary.

Brad Ashwell is chairing a special committee of the board to consider strategies and language for creating an independent redistricting commission in Florida.  The committee’s work is intended to guide the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, which is constituted every 20 years and will begin work next year to consider Constitutional amendments to place on the ballot in 2018.

Office: Common Cause Florida

Issues: Ethics, Money in Politics, Voting and Elections

Tags: State Ethics, Redistricting

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