Week two of the 2016 Florida legislative session is over and there was action on issues of concern to Common Cause Florida. The big news this week came on Wednesday when the Florida Senate announced it would not appeal a Leon County judge’s ruling on a Senate redistricting plan.
Last month, Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds ruled that the state should go forward with a Senate map that was drawn by Common Cause Florida and the League of Women Voters of Florida. The Senate’s decision not to appeal closes out a four-year legal battle over Senate district lines and represents a huge victory for the Fair Districts coalition that includes Common Cause Florida and the League of Women Voters of Florida. More importantly, it’s a victory for the people of Florida who now have Senate districts that comply with the Fair Districts standards in the Florida constitution.
There is still a federal lawsuit that is pending over the congressional map that was brought by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Jacksonville). The congressional map, which was approved by the state Supreme Court, was also drawn by Common Cause Florida and the League of Women Voters of Florida. Under the new map, Rep. Brown’s new district -District 5- is dramatically different from her current district. The U.S. District Court in Tallahassee has scheduled oral arguments for that case on March 25th.
Ethics Reform/Anti-Corruption legislation
On Tuesday, the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee took up on reconsideration Senate Bill 582, one of four bills being proposed this year to address public corruption. The bill was proposed by the Gannett News Service Senator Don Gaetz (R-Destin) is the sponsor. 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 Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee defeated the bill during the first week of the session, after Senator Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) led the fight to oppose the bill. He was joined by Senators John Legg (R-Lutz) and Senator Dwight Bullard (D-Cutler Bay). Committee Chair Jeremy Ring also voted against the bill, but only so that it could be resurrected upon reconsideration. When it was reconsidered on Tuesday, Senator Latvala proposed an amendment that addressed his concerns. Senator Gaetz agreed to the amendment and the committee passed SB 582 unanimously. It will next be heard in the Criminal Justice Committee.
In the House, the companion to SB 582 is a committee bill by the Rules, Calendar and Ethics Committee. That bill, HB 7071, will be heard by the full House next week.
There’s another, even better, ethics reform bill by Senator Gaetz. SB 686 is a major ethics reform measure. It includes the two provisions in SB 582 plus a number of other provisions including many from Senator Gaetz’s 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. The bill also gives the Florida Commission on Ethics the ability to self-initiate an investigation with a super majority vote of its members. Currently someone has to file a sworn complaint before the Commission can begin an investigation into a possible ethics violation.
That bill will be heard next by the Governmental Accountability and Oversight Committee. SB 686 is not on the committee’s agenda for next week. The House version of this bill, HB 593, by Representative Larry Metz (R-Groveland) will be heard next week in the House Governmental Operations Subcommittee. Common Cause Florida members should contact the members of that Subcommittee and ask then to pass HB 593!
Common Cause Florida is tracking a bad elections bill, one of which came before the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee this week. The bill, SB 744, would have required that 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 opposes this bill as unnecessary and one that will potentially prevent citizens from registering to vote if they don’t include a room number or list a wrong room number. This potentially could impact anybody who lives in a dorm, apartment, assisted living facility, mobile home park or condominium.
Common Cause Florida urged passage of an amendment to the bill by Senator Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth). The amendment guarantees that failure to include a room number would not impact a person’s ability to register to vote and to vote a standard ballot. The committee passed the amendment unanimously. Senate bill 744 will be heard next by the Community Affairs Committee. The House version of the bill, HB 541, has not been amended and is still a bad bill. It comes before the full House next week.
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.
Common Cause Florida is tracking the following bills that have been filed for the 2016 legislative session. They include:
- SB 582 - 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 – This bill would expand the list of voter IDs to include gun licenses and military health cards.
- 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 opposes this bill as unnecessary and will potentially keep people from voting.
- 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