In the public interest: Ethics reform

300-FL-CAPITOL-TALLThe public never really trusts politicians; and, after a series of scandals during the past several years, several of which were reported in Historic City News, there appears to be a serious desire to improve the image of Florida politics during the final days of the 2013 legislative session.

Before the session began, committees in both chambers started crafting bills to undo some of the damage caused by last year’s nasty campaigns and chaotic election — Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford put ethics and elections reform atop the legislative agenda.

If history is any indication, legislators start with grand ambitions and wind up with window dressing — partly because they don’t want to pass laws that might come back and bite them in the butt, and partly because there are constitutional limits on what they can require.

For example, yesterday, the House and Senate sent Governor Rick Scott a package of campaign-finance and elections law changes in hope of getting his signature in the crush of legislation during the final week of the session.

However, accompanying the ethics bills was a campaign-finance change that increases the maximum allowable contribution to local candidates from $500 to $1,000 and from $1,000 to $3,000 in statewide races. Historic City News has previously reported Governor Scott says that he opposes raising the $500 cap.

On the plus side, the bills include such curbs as prohibition of dual employment, except for teachers and other city-county employees who had their jobs before winning legislative seats; authorization for the Florida Commission on Ethics to enforce its fines through wage garnishment and to initiate investigations; requirement that elected officials go to ethics training, with annual refresher courses; and online posting of financial disclosure reports.

The public continues to lack the power to directly initiate a Commission on Ethics investigation based on a citizen complaint; a complaint from the governor, US attorneys or Florida Department of Law Enforcement is required.

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