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Ethics reform bill sails through House committee

HB 1 bans future office holders from relationships with nonprofits.

A bill that would tighten several ethics requirements for state employees and office holders including banning officeholders from holding jobs in non-profits won easy unanimous approval Wednesday morning in the House Subcommittee on Oversight, Transparency and Public Management.

HB 1 covers eight areas of reform, including requiring state employees and office holders to report if they are soliciting new jobs with lobbyists or companies they oversee; prohibiting them from soliciting or acting on investment advice from lobbyists and others they interact with; prohibits public office holders from holding contractual jobs with nonprofits that do business with the government; waiving a requirement that state employees report their attendance at legislative hearings, and prohibiting office holders from using public service announcements to promote themselves during election campaign seasons.

The latter requirement also was a point of concern during the committee hearing. Republican state Rep. Anthony Sabatini of Howey-in-the-Hills, the bill’s sponsor also pushed through an amendment that clarified the prohibition on public service announcements during campaigns does not apply to social media posts that many office holders use as regular courses of public business.

Matt Dunnagan of the Florida Sheriffs Association expressed concern that the prohibition could prevent county sheriffs from issuing public service announcements during public safety emergencies, yet expressed some confidence that the concern was being ironed out.

The ban on office holders being employed by nonprofit organizations has a grandfather clause covering current elected officials. The amendment so addressed a concern raised by both Republican state Rep. Jason Fischer and Democratic state Rep. Kimberly Daniels, both of Jacksonville. The Jacksonville city elections earlier this year included the re-elections of two incumbents who work at nonprofits.

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“There’s actually an exception in the law currently that says that’s allowed. this bill gets rid of that. But what the amendment does is changes the date so anybody who got elected earlier this year and didn’t know this bill was going to get pushed through, they’re OK still serving in their present capacity,” Sabatini said.

Similar bills had been approved in two previous Florida Legislative Sessions but died for lack of Senate counterpart. This year’s counterpart, SB 1702, was slated for its first committee hearing Tuesday but was temporarily postponed.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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