Capitol Report for Week Ending March 11, 2016

Written by Ben Wilcox on March 11, 2016


Overview

Week nine of the 2016 Florida legislative session will soon be over and there was action on issues that are priorities for Common Cause Florida. One of our top priorities is now on the Governor’s desk awaiting his signature. Another priority failed to make it out of its last committee stop and is dead for the 2016 session. After passing an $82 billion budget, the legislature is expected to adjourn on Friday afternoon.  

Ethics Reform/Anti-Corruption legislation

First the good news. House Bill 7071, one of the four bills proposed this year to address public corruption has been passed by the legislature and now awaits the signature of Governor Rick Scott. It’s House sponsor was Representative Ritch Workman (R-Melbourne). It’s Senate companion was  SB 582 by Senator Don Gaetz (R-Destin).

The bill puts into law two recommendations of the Nineteenth Statewide Grand Jury. It expands the definition of public servant to include those who contract with the government to perform a public function. It also removes the requirement that state prosecutors prove that those accused of fraud, bid rigging, bid tampering or bribery acted “corruptly” or with “corrupt intent.” Instead, prosecutors 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 was a top priority of Common Cause Florida and its passage represents a significant victory.

Now the bad news. Two of the four bills that Common Cause Florida strongly supported are dead for the 2016 session. SB 686 by Senator Don Gaetz (R-Destin) was a major ethics reform measure that would have required city officials in Florida to file the full financial disclosure form as constitutional officers are required to do, applied lobby registration requirements to special districts and prohibited members of the Enterprise Florida Board from lobbying the agency for two years after they leave the Board.

The bill was on the agenda of the Senate Appropriations Committee when the committee held its last scheduled meeting. It had passed unanimously in every previous committee stop. The Appropriations Committee set aside two hours for its last committee meeting, but it had 24 bills on its agenda including SB 686. The clock ran out without the committee taking up the bill.  

The House version of the bill, HB 593, by Representative Larry Metz (R-Groveland) was passed by the full House this week. Several amendments were adopted to the bill including extensive lobby reform provisions. While it’s disappointing that SB 686 and HB 593 did not become law, it’s still significant that the legislature advanced this legislation. It was the subject of discussion during several committee meetings and while Senator Gaetz will not be back next year to champion ethics reform, it’s likely some of the concepts in this legislation will be back. Common Cause Florida was instrumental in forming an ethics reform coalition to work in support of this legislation that includes the League of Women Voters of Florida, The State Tea Party Network, Progress Florida, Liberty First Network and the Republican Liberty Caucus.

Elections

Two bad election bills that Common Cause Florida opposed were neutralized in the 2016 session. SB 702 would have exempted voter registration information from the public records law. Common Cause Florida opposed the bill as an unnecessary public records exemption that would make it harder for third party groups like the League of Women Voters to do voter registration drives.

An amendment was adopted that significantly improved the bill exempting only a voter’s social security number, driver license number or Florida Identification number. It also would have exempted all information of 16 and 17 year olds who have preregistered to vote. The sponsor of the bill, Senator Thad Altman (R-Cape Canaveral), was concerned that the information of minor preregistered voters could be misused by someone to harass, stalk, solicit or intimidate them. The bill eventually died after the House State Affairs Committee failed to take it up.  

Another election bill that Common Cause Florida once considered problematic was also resolved. HB 541 would have required 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 as unnecessary and one that could potentially prevent citizens from registering to vote if they don’t include a room number or list a wrong room number. This could have impacted anybody who lives in a dorm, apartment, assisted living facility, mobile home park or condominium.

An amendment was eventually added that “fixed” 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 amended bill was passed unanimously and has been signed by the Governor. This represents a victory for Common Cause Florida.

Public Records

Common Cause Florida was also opposing two bills that would have weakened 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 have given a judge the option of awarding legal fees. 

A compromise amendment was adopted by the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee that neutralized the bill by restoring the guarantee of legal fees. In the end, Common Cause Florida was neutral on the bill, but it was not passed by the legislature.    

Campaign Finance Reform

Common Cause Florida worked with coalition partners on a campaign finance transparency bill. The bill, (HB 631) would have placed 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) sponsored the bill in the House and Senator Darren Soto (D-Kissimmee) sponsored the bill (SB 892) in the Senate. These bills did not pass this year as they were not given a committee hearing in either the House or 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 – SB 666 expands the list of voter IDs to include gun licenses, military health cards and employee identification cards issued by any branch, department, agency, or entity of the Federal Government, the state, a county, or a municipality.  This bill has passed and is now before the Governor.  
  • 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 supported language that was added to the bill that protects voters from being challenged at the polls if they do not include their room number on the voter registration application. The bill has passed the legislature and is now before the Governor.
  • 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. 

Office: Common Cause Florida

Issues: Ethics, Money in Politics, Voting and Elections

Tags: State Ethics, Redistricting

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