By: Jim Turner | Posted: October 16, 2012 6:00 PM
Ethics reform will be high on the list of priorities for Senate President-designate Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, when he’s running the show in the upper chamber.
Gaetz, who will have the ‘designate’ tag dropped next month, said he’s still working on the potential legislation, but the focus should be expected to include:
Eliminating Committees of Continuous Existence;
Making financial disclosure of legislators more accessible to the public;
Ending the conflict of interest requirement that allows senators to wait 15 days before announcing something they voted on may financially benefit them or their families;
Allowing lawmakers to land jobs because of their legislative work.
“I think we ought to raise the ethical standards in the Legislature and among state officials generally,” Gaetz said during what became an impromptu media conference during a lunch with reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday.
He said in each area, details are still in the works.
He wouldn’t question the University of Florida teaching position given to Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, because Haridopolis had been a college teacher when he first was elected. Nor would he worry if someone returned to a government career in which he or she had served prior to being elected.
But he added that public officials otherwise shouldn’t collect a second government paycheck.
“It’s what we in Okaloosa County call a walking around job,” Gaetz said.
As for the campaign fundraising committees, Gaetz claimed some lawmakers in both parties have been using CCEs to cover daily expenses outside the political purpose of the committee.
Gaetz declined to offer names, but Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, has been the focus on intense media scrutiny for expenses from his CCE.
Meanwhile, Gaetz has used his own CCE — the Florida Leadership Alliance — to help bankroll a number of Senate campaigns. But he said it would be easier to track money used in campaigns.
“I don’t live out of it,” Gaetz said. “Money comes in, money goes out to candidates and campaigns.”
As for the conflict of interest, he said Senators should follow the House rules in having to declare any potential conflict prior to a vote.
The Florida Commission on Ethics has crafted 11 proposed ethics reforms for the 2013 legislative session, with a priority on measures that would increase the civil fine the commission can impose from $10,000 to $25,000 and to strengthen laws the requirements for elected officials to submit their annual financial disclosure forms.
“Here is the problem: If a financial disclosure is not filed on time, an automatic fine accrues at $25 per day to a maximum of $1,500,” Matt Carlucci, a member of the Commission on Ethics appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, stated in a letter to the editor over the weekend.
“Private collections agencies are supposed to collect these fines, but if they can’t and the fine is not paid within the four-year statute of limitations, the delinquent official cannot be forced to pay.”
Integrity Florida, a start-up nonprofit focused on ethics reforms, in June released a study, “Corruption Risk Report: Florida Ethics Laws,” that outlined the following areas where the state needs to address its corruption problem:
– Allow the Florida Commission on Ethics to initiate investigation instead of waiting for a complaint to be filed.
– Establish a state corruption hotline at the state attorney general’s office or the Commission on Ethics.
– Include private vendors handling state money to be under the state ethics codes.
– Require top officials to disclose all personal financial transactions — stock trades, property transactions — worth more than $1,000.
– Create an online filing system that can be made public.
– Mandate Sunshine Law and public records training for all elected officials.
– Increase the maximum civil penalty for ethic law violations from $10,000 to $25,000.
– Improve the ability of the state to collection fines by including liens on personal property.