By Caroline Klancke, Florida Ethics Institute.
During its meeting on Friday, September 9, 2022, the Florida Commission on Ethics, the constitutionally created independent agency tasked with enforcing the State’s ethics laws, adopted its goals for the 2023 Legislative Session. The 2023 Legislative Session begins March 7th and committee weeks will commence in December or January. Thus, the Ethics Commission is preparing early to ensure that it can take positions on possible legislation affecting the Ethics Commission or the State’s Code of Ethics.
The Commission unanimously approved legislative recommendations including those seeking to close loopholes in the conflicts of interest prohibition against conflicting employment and contractual relationships as well as the voting conflicts law, require enhanced financial disclosure for local elected officials, afford the agency with greater discretion to close certain matters, consistency concerning the new ethics training requirement applicable to CRA board members, tools to protect ethics complainants against adverse retaliation for filing a complaint, and increased penalties for ethics violations. The Commission also expressed its intention to support new legislation addressing issues involved in the electronic filing of financial disclosures.
Further, the Commission adopted positions in opposition to any proposed legislation seeking to weaken the conflicts of interest provisions prohibiting public officials from representing clients before their own public board and any relaxation of the gifts and expenditure prohibitions which currently prevent certain public officers and employees from accepting donations from lobbyists associated with their own illness or injury or that of their child.
Of note is the Commission’s proposals regarding the voting conflicts law. The voting conflicts law currently permits state and local elected officials to participate in the discussion of a measure in which they have a conflict without first revealing the existence of that conflict until the vote is taken. The Commission would like the voting conflicts law amended to ensure that the official must declare their conflict before participating in the discussion of the measure.
The Commission also seeks to have the voting conflicts law applicable to state officers amended to require abstention when a measure benefits their employer. Currently, the law only requires state officers to abstain when the measure affects them personally, but not when it affects their employer, relative, or others. The Commission expressed that “the voting conflict standard should be the same for everyone, whether the official is appointed or elected and whether the official is a state or local official[.]”