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FL: 2014 Legislature let feet drag on ethics reform

Lawmakers didn’t tackle ethics reform for state-level elected officials, but they did pass a bill that would require local elected officials to take ethics training classes.

SB 846, sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, requires local officials to take four hours of ethics training classes a year and sign off on their financial disclosures that they have completed the training. The bill would also let the Commission on Ethics initiate investigations of public officials who fail to file financial disclosures.

One bill that looked sure to pass this legislative session, setting standards for determining if elected officers live in their districts, sailed through the Senate without dissent — but crashed in the House. The bill by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, (SB 602) would have set criteria like where an officeholder claims homestead exemption, sends children to school, receives mail or sleeps every night, to define residency.

Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, got his bill (SB 192) through one committee — seeking to let legislators accept meals and non-alcoholic drinks at events when they are invited to speak — but it never reached the Senate floor. For the second straight year, legislators shied away from relaxing the 2005 legislative “gift ban,” which forbids them from accepting so much as a cup of coffee from a lobbyist or anyone employing legislative lobbyists.

On another elections matter, lawmakers required lobbyists hired to influence the state’s five water-management districts and some other regulatory bodies to register and disclose their clients. The bill, adopted unanimously, marks the first time lobbyist registration would be required for those appearing some special-purpose boards controlling hundreds of millions of dollars.

None of the bills filed to expand early voting or set up online registration cleared a committee in 2014.

Michael Gold

As the Florida editor for Watchdog Wire, my goal is to work with other citizen journalists, like you, to help compensate for the lack of mainstream news reporting to expose waste, fraud and abuse that exists in government. My colleagues at Franklin Center, and peers in the Citizen Watchdog movement, share a belief that government transparency and accountability is not a conservative or liberal idea - it is an American idea. A free flow of information is essential to maintaining our free republic, and that starts with a free press -- and that starts with you.

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