TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Last Thursday, Florida lawmakers approved last-minute amendments to Senate Bill (SB) 7014 that will make it almost impossible for Floridians to file ethics complaints against government officials who violate the public trust.
These amendments, with no opportunity for public review or discussion, were added at the last minute before the bill was approved by the full Senate. They cite that only “personal knowledge” would be accepted to have the Florida Commission on Ethics begin a formal investigation. However, the only people who have “personal knowledge” of a violation of the law are those who are committing the violation or those likely to be involved in the violation.
The amendments also include restrictions on local ethics boards. Under the new changes, boards like the ones in Miami and Tallahassee will no longer be able to pursue self-initiated investigations from anonymous credible whistleblowers.
In an article over the weekend, the Florida Center of Government Accountability called the bill “incredibly destructive and corrosive.”
The bill’s House companion, HB 1597, does not currently include the dangerous amendments.
In response to the last-minute amendments to the Senate bill, Amy Keith, Executive Director of Common Cause Florida issued the following statement:
“These harmful amendments to the Senate Ethics bill undermine the will of the people and would allow corruption to go unchecked if they come into law.
“The last minute ‘poison pill’ amendments rushed into the Senate Ethics bill will paralyze ethics complaints against public officials who have violated the public trust. This isn’t about minimizing frivolous complaints; this is about making complaints almost impossible.
“The people of Florida deserve accountability and transparency and the right to demand it of officials.
“Legislators must act to protect the integrity of our democracy instead of hiding from accountability and silencing the voices of Floridians who are trying to uphold our collective values. We must ensure that these poison pill amendments are not added to the House version of the Ethics bill.”