Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) proved Tuesday that raising the standard of ethics for state and local officials and political candidates was his first priority. On the opening day of the 2013 Legislative Session Gaetz led the Florida Senate to unanimously pass its first two bills, which contained the most sweeping ethics reform package in more than 30 years.
The following was released from the Office of the Senate President:
“Public office is a public trust,” President Gaetz said in hailing the 40-0 victory. “In order for the public to trust us in dealing with health care or education or economic issues, first they have to trust us period. This legislation means the Florida Senate is serious about ethics reform. Higher ethical standards are just one more difference between Florida Senators and Washington Senators.”
Instead of reserving the opening day of the legislative session solely for ceremonial activities, President Gaetz called the Senate back into session following the Governor’s State of the State address to immediately take up the ambitious ethics package which had already passed three Senate committees.
SB 2 places elected officials’ financial disclosures online, provides the Commission on Ethics more authority including the ability to garnish the public salaries and lien the private property of officials who fail to pay fines for ethics and elections violations, requires state officers to abstain from voting on matters that benefit them directly, requires ethics training for constitutional officers, places greater restrictions on public employment while in office, and prohibits officials from accepting gifts from political committees and Committees of Continuous Existence. The bill allows public officials to place their assets in a blind trust to help them avoid potential conflicts of interest and allows the use of certified public accountants or attorneys when preparing financial disclosures. Additionally, the bill bars current and former legislators from lobbying the executive and legislative branches after leaving office.
SB 4 provides the same safeguards for new provisions allowing the Ethics Commission to initiate investigations based on referrals from the Governor, the Department of Law Enforcement, and the state and U.S. Attorneys that already exist for investigations based on a complaint. Currently, the Commission can only act on a complaint filed by a citizen.
SB 2 and 4, which were co-sponsored by all 40 Florida Senators, were drafted by the bi-partisan Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, chaired by Senator Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater).
“Chairman Latvala has worked tirelessly to gain strong, bi-partisan support for this important reform package,” President Gaetz said. “He and his committee were strong proponents for this top-to-bottom reform and worked together to create comprehensive legislation that will ensure more ethical government in Florida. Every citizen who values honest government owes Senator Latvala thanks for his unwavering efforts and determination.”
While the Senate was passing ethics reform, the House of Representatives brought an elections reform bill to the floor to address problems encountered during the 2012 election cycle.
President Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford have worked closely together to bring both measures to floor votes in order to set a positive, productive tone for the session.
President Gaetz praised Speaker Weatherford as a full partner with the Senate on ethics reform and pledged similar cooperation with the House in passing an improved elections bill. The two have also agreed to jointly pursue reform of campaign finance laws.