Florida senators unanimously approved a bill Wednesday that would add ethics requirements at government agencies throughout the state—and take aim at local officials who do lobbying work in Tallahassee.
The bill (SB 846) would bar local elected officials from working as legislative lobbyists in the future, though they would be able to represent their agencies at the Capitol. The proposed restriction comes after newspaper reports about former Senate President Ken Pruitt, who is the St. Lucie County property appraiser but also is registered to lobby the Legislature for 16 clients, ranging from the sugar company Florida Crystals Corp. to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.
Such officials would be able to continue lobbying until their current terms expire, but would be prevented from doing so if they get elected to new terms. Senate Ethics and Elections chairman Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who sponsored the bill, said elected officials would “have to make a choice between lobbying here for pay or serving the people of their communities.”
Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, voted for the bill but questioned placing the lobbying restrictions on local officials. She said voters elect the local officials and can decide whether they should remain in office.
Senate approval of the bill comes a year after lawmakers also passed ethics changes for state officials. This year’s proposal focuses on local officials and agencies scattered across Florida.
“In 2014, we are doubling down to pass legislation that encourages ethical and open decision making and conduct at all levels of government across the state,” Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said in a prepared statement after Wednesday’s vote.
The bill, in part, would require elected city officials to take four hours of ethics training each year, including training on public-records and public-meetings laws. State law already includes such a requirement for what are known as “constitutional” officers, which range from state Cabinet members to local tax collectors and school-board members.
The bill also focuses on increased disclosure of information about lobbying at agencies such as taxing districts, water-management districts and independent special districts.
It would require the agencies to have lobbyist-registration systems that would make information available to the public about the names of lobbyists, clients they represent and any business or financial ties between lobbyists and agency officials.
Senators also would make ethics changes at the economic-development agency Enterprise Florida and the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp.
As an example, the bill would seek to prevent executive directors and board members from leaving Citizens and then quickly representing clients before the insurer. The bill would require such officials to wait two years before they provide such representation.
While the Senate voted 38-0 to pass the bill, it remains unclear whether the House will pass a similar measure before the legislative session ends March 2.