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Local lobbyist database could increase ethics board’s workload

The state Ethics Commission currently compiles publicly available lists of lobbyists at the federal and state levels.

A possible local government lobbyist database would significantly increase the state Ethics Commission’s responsibilities, panel members said Friday.

Chris Anderson, executive director of the Florida Commission on Ethics, raised the point in a public meeting on Friday, the first since the bills (HB 611/SB 766/SB 768) were filed last month. Currently, the commission compiles publicly available lists of lobbyists at the federal and state levels.

“[The bills] would have the Ethics Commission be a general repository for lobbyist registration for lobbyists that lobby all of the many local governments in Florida,” Anderson said. “It would be quite a comprehensive undertaking.”

But Howey-in-the-Hills Republican Rep. Anthony Sabatini, HB 611’s sponsor, says he plans to meet with the commission and will likely redraft the bill.

“I want to make sure that we have their buy-in or at least make them feel more comfortable about it,” Sabatini said. “I think if we get the fee number right and we simplify the process, it’s literally just them checking a box; I don’t see why it should be a significant workload.”

However, Anderson said he did not believe the ethics commission would take a position for or against the bills other than to advise the Legislature.

“This is sort of like a legislative prerogative. If they want to do it, certainly they can, but we would want to weigh in on the details,” Anderson said.

Streamlining local government lobbyist database would increase transparency and accountability, Sabatini said. Most jurisdictions keep their own record, but there is no state requirement that it be kept and made public.

“A lot of times, they have direct hard copies, like ‘Yeah, we have a list of lobbyists, but they’re in the secretary’s drawer.’ There’s no real controlling law,” Sabatini said.

The bills would also consolidate registration fees by requiring local government lobbyists to register with the state and one annual fee instead of with each city or county. Some jurisdictions charge hundreds of dollars to register.

“Of course they just pass that cost right on to the person who hired the lobbyist,” Sabatini said. “I just think that’s kind of unfair. If I wanted to go talk to my city commissioner, it’s free, but if I wanted to hire a lobbyist, you’d charge me.”

Both HB 611 and Gainesville Republican Sen. Keith Perry‘s SB 768 would allow the commission to set the fees. HB 611 would cap that fee at $20 while SB 768 would do so at $40, with both allowing for up to a $5 fee to register in additional jurisdictions.

HB 611 and Perry’s SB 766 would also require local governments to post meeting agendas online one week in advance. Many jurisdictions already do so, but there’s currently no law on the books.

In Friday’s Ethics Commission meeting, the panel also approved clearing obsolete language on blind trusts and adding community redevelopment agency commissioners to the list of officials who need to complete four years of ethics training.

Written By

Renzo Downey covers the Florida Legislature for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering the Texas House of Representatives for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

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