DECEMBER 06, 2005
Deep-pocketed lobbyists and many Florida lawmakers are fuming that House Republicans proposed a bill this week that will impose a much-needed ?zero tolerance? ethics requirement on all state lawmakers and many top state government officials (Tampa Tribune).
Lobbyists spent at least $3 million schmoozing Florida lawmakers in the first six months of this year alone. They showered the lawmakers with gifts, treated them to lobster and steak dinners, free beer and bourbon and even trips abroad.
In fact, a luxurious and lobbyist-funded trip taken by some of his colleagues earlier this year is what inspired Republican House Speaker Allan Bense to call for a state law banning gifts. Four powerful Republican lawmakers took a $48,000 trip to Canada paid for by a gambling company which has a major financial stake in the Broward County slot machine bill.
The proposed ethics bill would also eliminate a loophole that currently allows lobbyists to operate in secret when seeking to influence Florida’s elected constitutional officers, which include sheriffs, property appraisers, court clerks, elections supervisors, tax assessors and state attorneys. Under state law these officers are currently “independent figures” who run their own agencies and control spending worth tens of millions of dollars. Just last year, Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne awarded a five-year, $127-million contract to an inmate healthcare company owned by one of his major campaign contributors.
Florida would join three other states?Wisconsin, Iowa and Texas?with strict regulations on lobbyists gifts. One political blog questioned whether such a bill could pass in Florida but said it is a good start.
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