Florida Ethics Institute 2023 Post-Session Report
Throughout the 2023 Regular Legislative Session the Florida Ethics Institute tracked and sought to raise awareness regarding proposed bills having ethics law implications. During the legislative session, FEI published six Florida Ethics Legislative Reports. To ensure greater public awareness regarding proposed legislation impacting Florida’s ethics laws in real time and during the critical period prior to and during the legislative session, FEI extended communications regarding the legislative reports to journalists, community ethics advocates, and others via FEI press releases. FEI also ensures that all Florida Ethics Legislative Reports are posted on its website and shared through social media.
What follows is an encapsulation of all legislative changes implicating the ethics regulations and requirements in Florida including those amending portions of the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees (Code of Ethics) which establishes ethical standards for public officials and is intended to ensure that public officials conduct themselves independently and impartially. The Florida Commission on Ethics (Commission), is the constitutionally created independent agency tasked with interpreting and enforcing the State’s ethics laws. Each year the Commission adopts legislative proposals for the Code of Ethics which it submits for consideration during the Legislative Session. For 2023, the Commission made the following Legislative Recommendations regarding legislative changes to strengthen and streamline Code of Ethics.
The analysis below contains a description of the bills that passed and the ethics-law implications of the bills. The analysis also contains a list of bills that were considered but died.
2023 Legislative Changes to Ethics Requirements Applicable to Public Officers and Public Employees
HB 37/SB 774 – Ethics Requirements for Public Officials
HB 37 was sponsored by Representatives Roach and co-sponsored by Representatives Chaney, Fernandez-Barquin, Giallombardo, Leek, and Roth. SB 774 was sponsored by Senator Brodeur.
On April 12, 2023, the Senate passed the companion bill, amended SB 774, with a vote of 35 to 5. The House tabled HB 37 and substituted it for the Senate companion bill SB 774. On April 26, 2023, the House passed SB 774 with a vote of 113 to 2. The bill adopts five of the Commission on Ethics’ 2023 Legislative Recommendations.
The bill was approved and signed by the Governor on May 11, 2023, Ch. 2023-49, Laws of Florida (L.O.F.), and became effective on that date.
The bill makes the following changes to the Code of Ethics:
- Requires mayors, elected members of a municipal governing body, and members of the Commission on Ethics to file the more stringent “Full and Public Disclosure of Financial Interests” (Form 6) financial disclosure starting January 1, 2024, instead of the less rigorous “Statement of Financial Interests” (Form 1), disclosure. The Commission has long supported this form of enhanced financial disclosure for elected municipal officers via its Legislative Recommendations asserting that municipal officials are very important and administer vast amounts of public resources. For these, and other reasons, the Commission has asserted that their financial disclosure requirement should be on par with that of county officials and others who file Form 6, rather than Form 1, and regardless of the population or revenue of the municipality. With the passage of SB 774 this ethics requirement has been adopted into law.
- Maintains the current requirement that Form 6 filers submit their disclosures electronically beginning January 1, 2023, and requires Form 1 filers to submit their disclosures electronically beginning January 1, 2024.
- Allows federal income tax returns and other attachments to be included with Form 6 electronic submissions.
- Requires the Commission to provide certain notices regarding Form 1 and Form 6 electronic filings.
- Extends the annual filing deadline for both Form 1 and Form 6 filers.
- Provides that the computation of a fine for late filing of financial disclosures will use the electronic submittal date.
- Requires the Commission to investigate sworn complaints or random lobbying audit reports only when individuals or entities have intentionally failed to disclose a material fact or has knowingly submitted false information.
- Authorizes the Commission to dismiss certain complaints or investigations if the public interest is not served by proceeding further.
- Increases the civil penalty that may be assessed for a violation of the Code of Ethics from $10,000 to $20,000. The maximum fine amount for ethics violations was last increased in 1994. Due to inflation and seriousness of ethics offenses, the Commission has supported such an increase in the maximum penalty for years.
- Allows commissioners of community redevelopment agencies to use the same training schedule as all other public officers subject to the ethics training requirement.
- Allows a candidate qualifying for office to submit a verification or receipt of electronic filing of a financial disclosure to the local filing officer.
- Grants the Commission an exception to the rulemaking requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act for forms promulgated for the 2022 filing year.
The bill also modifies portions of the Elections Code, s. 99.061, F.S., (governing the method of qualifying for nomination or election to federal, state, county, or district office) to permit candidates required to file a Form 6 financial disclosure at the time of qualifying to file a verification or receipt of electronic filing.
HB-199/SB 620 Ethics Requirements for Officers and Employees of Special Tax Districts
HB 199 was co-sponsored by Representatives Hunschofsky and Daley. SB 620 was co-sponsored by Senators DiCeglie and Yarborough.
On April 26, 2023, the House passed HB 199 by a unanimous vote. The Senate substituted SB 620 for the House bill and on May 2, 2023, the Senate passed HB 199 by a unanimous vote.
On May 24, 2023, the bill was approved by the Governor, Ch. 2023-121, L.O.F. The effective date of this bill is July 1, 2023.
Code of Ethics, s. 112.313(7)(a), F.S., prohibits public officers and public employees from having an employment or contractual relationship with a business entity or agency that is subject to the regulation of, or is doing business with, his or her agency. However, there are exceptions to this prohibition, including an exception contained in s. 112.313(7)(a)1, F.S., for public officers and employees of Water Control Districts and certain kinds of Special Taxing Districts (that are limited to constructing, maintaining, managing, and financing improvements in the land area over which the district has jurisdiction) which specifically allows public officers and employees of those entities to be employed by, and enter into contractual relationships with, business entities or agencies subject to the regulation of, or doing business with the district.
Further, s. 112.3142, F.S., of the Code of Ethics requires constitutional officers, elected municipal officers, and certain others to complete 4 hours of ethics training annually that, at a minimum, addresses s. 8, Art. II of the State Constitution (the “Ethics in Government” amendment), the Code of Ethics, and Florida law on public records and open public meetings.
The bill makes the following changes to these provisions of the Code of Ethics:
- The bill clarifies the exception for public officers or employees of a Water Control District or a Special Tax Districts, by specifying that conduct that constitutes a misuse of public position or violates the prohibition on disclosing information that is not otherwise available to the public for their own personal benefit would be considered an impermissible conflict of interest.
- The bill also requires 4 hours of annual ethics training for elected members of Independent Special Districts, provides requirements for such training, specifies training content, and provides a schedule for when such training must be completed.
HB 487/SB 1158 – Department of Financial Services
HB 487 is a General Bill by Commerce Committee and Insurance & Banking Subcommittee and Representative Salzman. The companion bill, SB 1158 is a General Bill by Fiscal Policy and Appropriations Committee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government and Banking and Insurance and Senator DiCeglie. HB 487 passed the House, as amended, on April 26, 2023, with a vote of 75 to 40. The bill was amended in the Senate on April 28, 2023, and returned to the House. The House concurred in the Senate amendments and subsequently passed the bill, as amended, on May 3, 2023.
On May 25, 2023, the bill was approved by the Governor, Ch. 2023-144, L.O.F. The bill is effective upon becoming law.
The bill pertains largely to the Department of Financial Services (DFS) and removes provisions prohibiting individuals holding specified insurance licenses from holding certain other insurance licenses; provides disposition of funds received by title insurance agencies & funds required to be maintained in escrow trust accounts; exempts appointed public adjusters from certain insurance activities’ prohibitions; requires navigators’ registrations to expire under certain circumstances; prohibits insurers & insurance agents from engaging in specified practices relating to collateral protection property insurance; removes certain financial requirements for warranty associations & parent corporations; prohibits department from issuing temporary bail bond agent’s licenses; specifies procedures for remission of forfeitures of deceased defendants; specifies procedures for remission of forfeitures of defendants for whom state is unwilling to seek extradition.
Portions of the bill germane to ethics define the agency of certain boards and commissions associated with the DFS and makes their members subject to the Code of Ethics, including the financial disclosure requirements contained within s. 112.3145, F.S. The bill provides for the existence of additional voting and gifts restrictions applicable to members of certain boards and commissions, which apply in addition to the requirements of s. 112.3143 (voting conflicts) and 112.3148 (the Gifts law), F.S., respectively.
SB 7050/HB 7067- Elections
HB 7067 was sponsored by Representatives McClure, Salzman, and others. SB 7050 was sponsored by Senator Hutson. On April 26, 2023, the Senate passed the companion bill amended SB 7050 by a vote of 28 to 12. On April 28, 2023, the House substituted HB 7067 for the Senate bill and passed amended SB 7050 by a vote of 76 to 34.
On May 24, 2023, the bill was approved by the Governor, Ch. 2023-120, L.O.F. The effective date of the bill is July 1, 2023, except as otherwise provided.
The Florida Election Code provides for the state’s election laws. In part, the bill revises the Florida Election Code to:
- Amend Florida’s “resign to run” law, s. 99.012, F.S., to provide that any person seeking the office of President or Vice President of the United States is not subject to certain requirements of Chapter 99, F.S., which govern candidate qualifying.
- Require signature matching training for supervisors of elections (supervisors) and county canvassing board (CCB) members.
- Authorize notice to be made on specified websites as an alternative to newspaper publication.
- Revise and create additional requirements for third-party voter registration organizations.
- Require additional information be included on voter information cards.
- Maintain a public record exemption for certain voter registration information received.
- Revise processes used by supervisors and the Department of State (DOS) in voter registration list maintenance activities and enhance information other governmental entities must provide.
- Require supervisors to coordinate with clerks of court to receive updates on persons convicted of felonies and require supervisors to have direct access to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles driver information system.
- Require a voter to vote a provisional ballot if he or she has been issued a notice of potential ineligibility to vote.
- Revise requirements for post-election reports and certain precinct boundary data.
- Create methods for candidates to use nicknames on the ballot.
- Revise certain vote-by-mail ballot provisions and require DOS to adopt a uniform statewide application for such ballot requests.
- Require certain public, tax-supported buildings be made available as early voting locations.
- Provide that a presidential elector’s refusal or failure to vote for the candidates of the party he or she was nominated to represent constitutes resignation of the position.
- Revise frequency of campaign finance reporting, preempt local governments from enacting different reporting schedules, and provide that text messages do not constitute contributions toward specified contribution limits.
- Create a new framework regulating use of voter guides and require a disclaimer.
- Increase fines that may be imposed for specified election law violations and attach fines against a political committee jointly and severally to the chair of the political committee in certain circumstances.
Further, portions of the bill germane to ethics amend s. 99.021, F.S., to require that candidates for public office, at the time of qualifying, to disclose any outstanding fines in excess of $250 for ethics violations of Art. II, s. 8, Fla. Const. (“Ethics in Government” amendment), Code of Ethics, any local ordinance governing standards of conduct, or Ch. 106, F.S. (governing campaign financing).
Proposed Bills Impacting Ethics that Failed to Pass
HB 1477/SB 1688 – Insurance
HB 1477 was co-sponsored by Representatives Driskell; Arrington; Bracy; Davis; Cassel; Cross; Daley; Eskamani; Gantt; Gottlieb; Harris; Hinson; Hunschofsky; Joseph; Nixon; Rayner-Goolsby; Robinson, F.; Skidmore; Valdés; Waldron; and Woodson. SB 1688 was sponsored by Senator Jones. Both HB 1477 and SB 1688 died in committee.
The bill pertained largely to the creation of the Property Insurance Commission, however, portions of the bill germane to the Code of Ethics would have created s. 112.3134, F.S., which would have imposed a seven-year post-officeholding restriction prohibiting former commissioners of the Property Insurance Commission from personally representing another person or entity before the Office of Insurance Regulation or from serving as an employee or contractor of an entity regulated by the Office of Insurance Regulation.
SB 1316 – Information Dissemination
The bill was sponsored by Senator Brodeur. SB 1316 never made it out of the Judiciary Committee and died on May 5, 2023.
The bill deleted a provision requiring judicial notice of sale to be published for a specified timeframe on a publicly accessible website and specifies that a governmental agency may use the public website of a county to publish legally required advertisements and public notices if the cost for such publication is not paid by or recovered from a person. Portions of the bill sought to enact s. 286.31, F.S., which would require paid bloggers who post about “elected state officers” (which is defined to include the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, as well as any member of the Cabinet or Legislature) to register with the Office of Legislative Services (if the blog post is about a member of the Legislature) or the Florida Commission on Ethics (if the blog post is about a member of the Executive Branch)—within 5 days of the first post blogging about the elected state officer. After registering, the bill required that bloggers file monthly reports disclosing compensation received for blogging. The bill also provided for automatic fines of $25 per day up to $2,500 for failure to timely file compensation reports.