The House Public Integrity & Ethics Committee advanced Monday the third in a trifecta of measures to prevent abuse of office.
The committee’s bill (PCB PIE 20-01) groups the penalty for abuse of position violations with other elected official ethics punishments. The new measure, approved unanimously by the committee, stems from an amendment, approved last year by voters.
“The bill reenacts existing statutory code of ethics penalties that expressly applies to all violations of the constitutional ethics provisions found in Article II, Section 8 of the Florida Constitution,” said Rep. Cord Byrd.
Amendment 12 bars public officials or employees from using their position to benefit themselves or their spouses, children employers or business interests. It also called on the Florida Commission on Ethics, led by executive director Chris Anderson, to define “disproportionate benefit,” which the commission did in July.
“The language that the commission adopted for abuse of public position is very similar to the language that’s in an existing statute that has worked well for decades, called misuse of public position,” Anderson said.
That definition is “a benefit, privilege, exemption, or result arising from an act or omission by a public officer or public employee inconsistent with the proper performance of his or her public duties.”
“This is sort of an interesting situation where you have a constitutional amendment that was passed by the voters, then it had a role for the Commission on Ethics to pass an administrative rule and then thirdly, for the Legislature to implement the penalty,” Anderson said. “It’s sort of like a three-layered sandwich there, if you will, that results in a complete, enforceable standard.”
The commission began hearing public testimony in December and found that special districts and groups were concerned that their designated operations could count as an infraction, Anderson said.
“The very simple answer to that is that it’s not just that what you get out of operating is disproportionate or special, but rather that what you did to get it or what you restrained from doing was an abuse of your public position.”
Punishments that would be assigned to the violation by the bill range from impeachment to a fine up to $10,000.
The amendment also prohibits ex-lawmakers, local electeds and judges from doing lobbying work at their former haunts for 6 years from the date they leave office. The abuse of position provision would go into effect at the end of next year.