Report from Tallahassee for Week Ending April 24, 2015

Written by Ben Wilcox on April 24, 2015


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Overview

Week eight of the 2015 Florida legislative session is over and there was action on issues of interest to Common Cause Florida.  

Prospects for passage look good for the online voter registration bill (OVR) by Senator Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth). The bill, which mandates the creation of an online system for voter registration by October 2017, is currently slated to come before the full Senate on Monday of the final week of session. The House version, HB 7143, has been temporarily postponed several times. It appears the House is waiting for the Senate bill to be passed and will likely substitute the Senate version for its bill.

The House version includes a $1.8 million appropriation from the general revenue fund. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli has said the House prefers the Senate’s funding approach that takes $1.8 million from the Federal Grants Trust Fund to pay for the voter registration upgrade.

The OVR legislation remains poised for passage in the final week of the session. The question remains if the bill does pass, how strong is the Governor’s opposition and will he veto the bill?

Two bills dealing with ethics reform and government accountability continue to advance and seem likely to pass in the final week. HB 1063 by Representative Larry Metz (R-Groveland) and SB 1372 by Senator Don Gaetz (R-Destin) would strengthen methods for collecting unpaid financial disclosure fines, apply lobby registration requirements to more special districts and prohibit members of the Enterprise Florida Board from lobbying the agency for two years after they leave the Board.

In the Rules Committee last week, Senator Gaetz sponsored an amendment to the bill that Common Cause opposed. Florida ethics law currently provides a bright line when it comes to conflicts of interest that are created when a public official is employed by a firm that does business with or comes before that official’s public body.  Senator Gaetz’s amendment would have blurred that bright line and created opportunities for officials to act in their public role on issues that would benefit other members of their private firms or their clients. Action on the bill was temporarily postponed after another amendment was added that Senator Gaetz opposed.

Last Friday, Common Cause attended the quarterly meeting of the Florida Commission on Ethics and urged the members to oppose the amendment that was adopted in the Rules Committee. The Commission unanimously voted to oppose the amendment. When the bill came up before the Rules Committee again on Monday, Senator Gaetz amended the bad language out of the bill, satisfying Common Cause and the Commission on Ethics, both of whom now support the bill. Here’s a link to a Tampa Bay Times report on the meeting. The bills are likely to be considered by the full House and Senate next week.

Bills that make modest reforms at the state Public Service Commission are also on the verge of passing next week. The House bill (HB 7109), would limit future Public Service Commission members to three consecutive four-year terms and require commissioners to undergo annual ethics training. The bill also would require utilities to hold customer service meetings every other year in the service area of the utilities they regulate and require utilities to notify customers of the best available rates and prevent electric utilities from charging higher rates through extensions of billing cycles.

Legislation

Common Cause Florida is currently tracking a number of bills that have been filed for the 2015 legislative session. They include:

  • SB 228, HB 227, HB 1161, HB 7143 and SB 7064 - These bills would create an online application process for voter registration. Two of the bills, HB 1161 and SB 7064, also include elections administration provisions that allow mail ballot city elections, allow voters to update their signatures until 5:00 P.M. the day before an election and authorizes new forms of voter IDs. Common Cause Florida supports this legislation.
  • SJR 208 – This bill would propose a constitutional amendment that, if passed by voters, would automatically restore the voting rights of non-violent ex-felons, once they have completed the terms of their sentences. Common Cause Florida supports this bill.
  • SB 170 and HB 199 – These bills would prohibit elected officials from serving on the Public Service Commission for two years after they leave office and create districts that Commissioners would have to be appointed from to ensure statewide representation. Common Cause Florida supports these bills.
  • SB 230 and HB 81 – These bills would prohibit a public utility from charging a higher rate based on an increase in energy usage when that increased usage is attributable solely to an extension in the billing cycle. It also prohibits a public utility from making any change in a billing cycle without obtaining approval from the Florida Public Service Commission at least one month before the effective date of the change.
  • SB 288 and HB 219 – These bills would reform the Public Service Commission to require those who lobby the PSC register as legislative lobbyists, require the PSC to hold public customer service meetings around the state and require the Governor remove any PSC member who violates the ex parte statute. Common Cause Florida supports these bills.
  • HB 473,HB 67 and HB 4001 – These bills would repeal the nuclear cost recovery law passed in 2006 that allows power companies to charge customers in advance for nuclear plants that may or may not eventually get built. Common Cause Florida is in favor of these bills.
  • SB 1380 – This bill is a campaign finance reform bill filed by Senator Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, that would place new restrictions on candidates coordinating with political committees to solicit funding and run advertising and restrict transfers of funds between political committees and political parties.   
  • SB 1002 – This bill would delete a requirement that officers and candidates soliciting funds for a 527 or 501 (C) (4) political committee create a website that discloses the contributions and expenditures of the committee.
  • HM 1321 – This memorial urges Congress to propose to states an amendment that allows federal and state regulation of corporate campaign contributions and expenditures.
  • SB 1372 and HB 1063 - Strengthens methods for collecting unpaid financial disclosure fines, 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.
  • SB 1360 and HB 1011 – Requires additional distinguishing information be included on a voter registration form and on a list of valid addresses maintained by the Supervisor of Elections.

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.  

Note that the next meeting of the Florida Board will be at 4 PM on May 8th.  For details, please contact state chair, Peter Butzin at pbutzin@gmail.com or by calling 850-524-9946. 

Office: Common Cause Florida

Issues: Voting and Elections, Ethics, Accountability

Tags: Registration and Voting Systems, State Ethics

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