FloridaLocal

Proposal to toughen lobbying rules heads to ballot

News-Service-Florida-Logo-68x25BY | Lloyd Dunkelberger
The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — State and local elected officials would be banned from lobbying for six years after they leave office under a proposal headed to the November general-election ballot.

In a 30-4 vote on Monday, the Florida Constitution Revision Commission backed the revision (Proposal 6007) to the state Constitution. If the proposal is approved by 60 percent of voters, it would increase a current two-year lobbying ban to six years.

“We intend to shut the revolving door, to nail shut the revolving door between public office and private lobbying,” said Commissioner Don Gaetz, a former Senate president from Niceville who was the key architect of the measure.

Under the proposal, state lawmakers and statewide elected officials would not be able to lobby the Legislature or any state agency for six years after they leave office. State agency heads would not be able to lobby the Legislature, the governor’s office or their former agencies for the six-year period.

Local government officials, including county commissioners, school board members and city commissioners, would be banned for six years from lobbying their former governments.

Judges could not lobby the Legislature or the executive branch of state government for six years after they leave office.

In addition to the lobbying ban, the measure would prohibit state and local elected officials from lobbying other governmental agencies, including the federal government, “for compensation” while they are in office.

It would also create a new ethical standard for public officials, prohibiting them from using their offices to obtain a “disproportionate benefit” for themselves, their families or their business interests. The state Commission on Ethics would have to define the terms of that benefit.

If adopted by voters, Gaetz said the proposal would represent “the highest ethical standards in the nation for personal conduct in public office.”

Gaetz said he has heard from some state and local officials who were concerned that “their future career plans might be in jeopardy” if the amendment is adopted by voters.

“We are not proposing ethical standards to meet the need of politicians or for their convenience,” he said. “The goal of this proposal is that politicians will need to meet the ethical standards set by the people of Florida.”

Commissioner Jose Felix Diaz, a former House member from Miami, opposed the measure, saying it may be too broadly written and will have unintended consequences.

“My big fear about this legislation is that I think that inadvertently it is going to capture people that it doesn’t mean to capture,” Diaz said. “I also think it’s going to discourage people from running or being appointed to positions and we might lose some really good opportunities to have some good people serving in office.”

Diaz also questioned prohibiting public officials from lobbying the federal government, saying that may be contrary to the federal constitutional right to “petition” the government.

Commissioner Frank Kruppenbacher, an Orlando lawyer and former member of the state ethics commission, spoke in favor of the measure.

“It declares our fundamental value of what we expect from the people we elect,” he said.

If approved by voters, the lobbying ban would take effect on Dec. 31, 2022, while the new ethics standard would become effective on Dec. 31, 2020.

The amendment also would direct lawmakers to develop legislation implementing the measure, including defining what penalties officials would face if they violate the new standards.

The Constitution Revision Commission meets every 20 years and has the power to place state constitutional amendments directly on the general-election ballot.


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