Senate President Praises Ethics Reform

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It's being called the most sweeping ethics reform in Florida in 38 years.

Last week, Senate Bill 2 passed the Rules Committee with a unanimous, bi-partisan vote.

The measure would garnish the public salaries of elected leaders who fail to pay ethics or elections fines.

It would also place liens on their private property.

As we reported last week, Florida elected leaders have hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid fines.

"I think it's hypocrisy. I think it's a double standard and I think it's a scandal," said Senate President Don Gaetz. "I think if politicians violate ethics and elections laws, they ought to be treated like any other citizen. They ought to pay their fines," he said.

Gaetz says the proposal also puts the financial disclosures for elected leaders on the internet for easier public access.

A vote by the full Senate on the bill is expected in the first week of session.

Elected leaders in Florida have been slapped with hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

But they aren't paying them.

A state senate committee is expected to push a bill forward to collect those fines.

But it doesn't cover everything.

Florida lawmakers recently wrote off more than $800,000 in fines public officials owed to the state's Ethics Commission due to a lack of enforcement capability in state law.

It's prompted a Senate bill to allow garnishment of government wages or liens on property to help collect unpaid fines.

The watchdog group Integrity Florida applauds some elements of the proposal.

"This is entirely about public trust", said Integrity Florida's Dan Krassner. "Those in public office should be serving the public interest and not their own private financial interests," he said.

It's been more than a decade since that jury convicted Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor in 2001 for failure to report campaign contributions during his 1998 campaign.

Following that criminal case, the state's Elections Commission in an administrative proceeding, found Proctor violated the law more than 200 times.

Those violations included taking cash from campaign contributions, shifting funds between his campaign account and two personal accounts and failing to report nearly 1 in 5 campaign contributions.

After several years of pushing the legal process forward, the Elections Commission was able to get a Leon County judge to sign a final judgment against Proctor for more than $82,000.

However, according to Elections Commission General Counsel Eric Lipman, to date, there's no record of Proctor making any payment.

Proctor refused our request for an on camera interview.
However, when reached by phone, Proctor acknowledged he hadn't paid any of that tab, gave no indication he would and called the Senate bill "targeted political prosecution".

David Chester prosecuted the civil case for the Florida Elections Commission.

"I hadn't really thought about how long it had been. I knew it had been a long time, but it's ridiculous, I mean it really is."

Proctor isn't alone.

In 2011, Eyewitness News reported the Elections Commission was owed $1.4 million in unpaid fines.

But the Senate bill doesn't address unpaid fines from the Elections Commission, only the Ethics Commission.

Krassner says lawmakers could require candidates for office to pay unpaid fines as part of their ballot qualification process.

"Maybe they shouldn't be on another ballot again until they pay that fine," he said.

The Senate Rules Committee is currently reviewing the bill.

If it's approved as expected, the full Senate could vote on the measure the first week in March.

"Integrity Florida supports stronger fine enforcement," said Krassner. "We're open to any solution that ensures that fines owed to the people of Florida are collected," he said.

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