Capitol Report for Week Ending March 4, 2016

Written by Ben Wilcox on March 4, 2016


Overview

Week eight of the 2016 Florida legislative session is over and there was action on issues that are priorities for Common Cause Florida. Unfortunately, one of our top priorities failed to make it out of its last committee stop this week and the committee is not scheduled to meet again. All of the legislation we once considered problematic has been neutralized to the point that Common Cause Florida is no longer opposing it.

Ethics Reform/Anti-Corruption legislation

One of the four bills that Common Cause Florida strongly supports is no longer in a position to be passed by the legislature in the final week of session. SB 686 by Senator Don Gaetz (R-Destin) is 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 Thursday of the Senate Appropriations Committee. It had passed unanimously in every previous committee stop. The Appropriations Committee had set aside two hours for its last committee meeting, but it had 24 bills on its agenda including SB 686. It was the classic way to kill a bill without the members having to vote against it. They simply let the clock run out without taking up the bill. Senate rules make it very difficult to remove a bill from an assigned committee of reference and barring some sort of miracle it’s likely the bill is dead.

The House version of this bill, HB 593, by Representative Larry Metz (R-Groveland) came up before the full House on Friday. Several amendments were adopted to the bill including extensive lobby reform provisions. The bill should come up for third reading when the House meets again next week.

The good news is that SB 582, also by Senator Gaetz, is now on the calendar of the full Senate and is ready to come up for 2nd reading. The bill is one of the 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. It’s likely the bill will be heard and potentially passed into law next week. Passage of this bill is a priority for Common Cause Florida.

Elections

Two bad election bills that Common Cause Florida opposed have now been neutralized. 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 last week that significantly improves the bill exempting only the social security number and driver license or Florida Identification number. It also exempts all information of 16 and 17 year olds who have preregistered to vote. The sponsor of the bill, Senator Thad Altman (R-Cape Canaveral), is concerned that the information of minor preregistered voters could be misused by someone to harass, stalk, solicit or intimidate them. Common Cause Florida is now “neutral” on the bill which still faces a hearing in the Rules Committee.

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 added to the bill 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.”  This week, the bill was passed unanimously and now goes to the Governor.  

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. 

Last week a compromise amendment was adopted by the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee that neutralizes the bill restores the guarantee of legal fees. Common Cause Florida is now neutral on the bill. The bill was passed this week by the full Senate and is now in House messages.   

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. These bills are unlikely to pass this year as they have not been 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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