Interim Report for week of Nov 1, 2015

Legislative Report from Tallahassee, 2016 Session

Written by Ben Wilcox on November 4, 2015


Overview

The Florida legislature is preparing for the 2016 legislative session at the same time it continues to grapple with redrawing a flawed state Senate redistricting map. During a special session in August, the House and Senate failed to reach agreement on a Congressional district map and in September Judge Terry Lewis chose a map submitted by Common Cause Florida and the League of Women Voters of Florida to send to the Florida Supreme Court to review.  The Supreme Court has yet to determine if it will accept that map as the final Congressional plan.

Now the legislature is back in special session after it admitted the state Senate redistricting plan was not constitutional. The Florida Senate has passed its version of a redrawn Senate map, which the house is considering this week. Given the fact the two houses could not agree on a Congressional map, it remains to be seen if they can agree on a Senate map that directly impacts members of the upper chamber.

With the redistricting drama as a backdrop, the legislature has also begun committee meetings in preparation for the 2016 legislative session. There was one week of committee meetings in September and two weeks of meetings in October. There will be three weeks of meetings in November.

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.        

Anti-Corruption Legislation

The 2016 legislative session is just over two months away and already legislators have announced they will file an anti-corruption bill in both the Senate and the House.  Prompted by a series of reports by the Gannet News Service, Senator Don Gaetz (R-Destin) has filed the Common Cause supported bill. Representative Ritch Workman (R-Melbourne) is expected to file a companion bill in the House.

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 Nineteenth Statewide Grand Jury report contained additional recommendations to fight corruption in Florida, many of which have never been considered by the legislature. It's encouraging to see this new legislation and Common Cause Florida hopes more legislators will revisit the Grand Jury's recommendations and use them as a template for future reforms. 

Ethics Reform

Senator Don Gaetz has also filed a new version of the ethics reform bill (SB 686) that the Senate passed in 2015, but died on the House calendar when the House adjourned the legislative session three days early. 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 bill that died earlier this year.

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.

Florida Commission on Ethics 2016 Legislative Agenda

The Florida Commission on Ethics adopted its legislative wish list at its September meeting.  The recommendations, which Common Cause Florida supports, 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. Giving the Commission the authority to initiate investigations on its own was also a recommendation of the Nineteenth Grand Jury.

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. 

Lobby Reform

Florida House Republicans recently 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 in the 2016 legislature. Common Cause Florida will work to build momentum for Speaker-Designate Corcoran’s reform effort in 2017. 

Election Reform

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 pass 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 to develop a campaign finance transparency bill for consideration in 2016. The bill 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 has agreed to sponsor the bill in the House and the coalition is actively seeking a sponsor in the Senate. 

Legislation

While there have not been many bills filed for the coming session, Common Cause Florida is already tracking the following bills that have been filed for the 2016 legislative session. They include:

  • SB 582 - 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."  
  • SB 686 – 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.

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, Registration and Voting Systems

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