Report from Tallahassee for Week Ending April 10, 2015

Written by Ben Wilcox on April 13, 2015


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Overview

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

First the good news. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development met this week and unanimously approved SB 7064, the online voter registration bill (OVR) by the Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections. That bill and Senate Bill 228, also an online voter registration bill, still face a hearing by the Appropriations Committee before they go to the full Senate.

Now the bad news. At the Subcommittee meeting, Secretary of State Ken Detzner waived his speaking time in opposition to the legislation. As reported here by the Naples Daily News, subcommittee members asked the Secretary to come forward and explain his opposition. Detzner said he was concerned about the 2017 required implementation date in the bill. The Subcommittee chair, Senator Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) reacted angrily to Secretary Detzner’s comments saying he thought Detzner was trying to delay online voter registration because the Governor’s office opposes it.

The opposition to the bill by Secretary Detzner is somewhat surprising since he told Common Cause Florida earlier this year that he supports the concept of online voter registration, but he did not believe his office could implement it in time for the 2016 election. Subsequently the implementation date in the bill was changed to 2017. In another meeting with the Secretary this week he explained that he has become more concerned about potential problems with OVR including fraud.

Whatever the Secretary’s newfound concerns are, it is clear that the legislature isn’t buying them. The bill passed the Subcommittee by a unanimous vote.

There was more good news for supporters of online voter registration on the House side of the Capitol. After fearing that all House OVR legislation was dead after the Governmental Operations Subcommittee concluded its work two weeks ago, the House State Affairs Committee introduced its own OVR committee bill. This was important for two reasons. The first is the fact that there is now a House companion to the Senate legislation. The second reason is that because it was done as a committee bill, the House leadership is likely supportive.

Secretary Detzner was also at the State Affairs Committee meeting and waived in opposition, but committee members did not ask him to explain. The bill passed the committee with only one dissenting vote.

The OVR legislation is now poised for passage in the final weeks of the legislature. The question becomes if it does pass, how strong is the Governor’s opposition and will he veto the bill? Meanwhile we continue to get good editorial support from state newspapers like the Tampa Bay Times.

Two bills dealing with ethics reform and government accountability continued to advance this week. The bills build on the ethics reforms adopted by the legislature over the last two years. SB 1372 by Senator Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) and HB 1063 by Representative Larry Metz (R-Groveland) 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. The Senate Bill will be heard in the Rules Committee next week and the House Bill will be heard in the State Affairs Committee.   

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee will meet next week and consider SB 1360 by Senator Tom Lee (R-Brandon). The bill requires “distinguishing information” such as apartment numbers and dorm room numbers be included on voter registration forms and on the list of valid voter addresses that are maintained by the Supervisors of Election. The House version of the bill (HB 1011) is on 2nd reading in the full House.  Common Cause opposes this bill, since it is likely to make voting more difficult for students and apartment dwellers.

Another bill came to our attention last week: SB 248 by Senator Smith, relating to body cameras for law enforcement officers. The bill would create a broad public record exemption, making it very difficult for the public to access body camera footage in situations where there are questions relating to the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials. Common Cause has no position on the use of body cameras in law enforcement, however we oppose the bill because of its chilling effect on open government. If the a decision is made that wearing body cameras serves a compelling public interest, then the tapes should be publicly available for citizens to be assured that law enforcement officers are engaging in appropriate and legal use of force.

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 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.
  • SB 248 (currently without House companion) -  Restricts public access to content provided from body cameras worn by law enforcement officers. It will greatly increase the likelihood that any footage produced by the body cams, which are already being used in many cities, will be used as a tool to defend law enforcement rather than a tool used by the public to hold law enforcement personnel accountable. 

Office: Common Cause Florida

Issues: Ethics, Voting and Elections, More Democracy Reforms

Tags: State Ethics, Registration and Voting Systems, Voting Rights

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