Florida League of Cities

Ethics (Monitor) – Passed

CS/SB 7014 (Ethics and Elections Committee) and CS/HB 1597 (Brackett) create timeframes for the completion of investigations of alleged ethics violations conducted by the Florida Commission on Ethics (Commission), modify financial disclosure requirements relating to disclosure of identifying information of a legal client and impose additional requirements on local government lobbyist disclosure requirements. With respect to financial disclosure, the bills provide that if disclosure of identifying information regarding a source of income will violate a legal confidentiality or privilege, a filer who is also an attorney may indicate the income source is a “legal client” without providing further information. The bills provide that if a local government has more stringent standards of conduct and disclosure for lobbyists, any noncriminal complaint procedure relating to such standards must: require a complaint be written and signed under oath by the complainant; require a complaint be based on personal knowledge and information other than hearsay; prohibit initiation of a complaint or investigation by the governing body or any entity created to enforce the standards; and establish a process for the recovery of costs and attorney fees against a person found to have filed a complaint with malicious intent to injure the reputation of a public officer or employee or filed with knowledge the complaint contains false allegations or with reckless disregard for whether the complaint contains false allegations. In addition, the bills provide that terms of Commission members are limited to two terms total, rather than two successive terms. It adds candidates for public office to the categories of persons authorized to recover costs and attorney fees for defending against a maliciously filed ethics complaint. A complaint filed with the Commission must be based upon personal knowledge and information other than hearsay.

The bills authorize an alleged violator to request a hearing before the Division of Administrative Hearings or to select an informal hearing with the Commission. Finally, the bills conform the maximum penalty (changing the penalty from $10,000 to $20,000) for a violation of the constitutional prohibition against lobbying by a public officer to the penalties authorized for violations of other ethics laws. CS/SB 7014 passed the Senate (26-4) and the House (79-34) and is awaiting action by the Governor. (O’Hara)