Senate panel passes heightened lobbying restrictions despite process questions

Businessman with a briefcase full of money in the hands of
The lobbying legislation skipped over the Senate Ethics Committee.

The Senate is ready to consider legislation that would further restrict former officials from lobbying in the years after they leave public service.

The House unanimously passed a pair of bills (HB 7001/HB 7003) on Thursday to implement 2018’s Amendment 12, which places business and lobbying restrictions on former lawmakers. Penalties under the measures would include fines up to $10,000 and forfeiting money earned from illegally lobbying. Violators also could receive public censure or reprimand.

Senators do not have analogous bills to the House bills, filed by Tampa Republican Rep. Traci Koster. But in a rare move, the Senate Rules Committee took up the House bills directly on Tuesday, preparing the bills for the full Senate’s consideration.

The first measure would extend, from two years to six years, the duration lawmakers and state agency heads must wait after leaving office before lobbying legislators and statewide elected officials. The change also would prohibit public officials, while in office, from lobbying government agencies for compensation or lobbying the Legislature on such things as policies, appropriations and contracts.

The second proposal puts similar prohibitions on former judges and justices.

The Commission on Ethics would be asked to investigate and determine whether former officials violated the lobbying restrictions.

No senators criticized the content of the measures, but Lighthouse Point Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer scrutinized the Senate for not putting the bill through the normal committee process. Instead of the usual two, three or even four committee hearings each bill receives, the lobbying bills were only slated for votes in the Rules Committee.

Sen. Travis Hutson, the St. Augustine Republican carrying the House bills through the Senate, told Senators the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee was busy this Session. To alleviate the Ethics and Elections Committee’s workload, the decision was made to send the House bills through one major Senate committee.

Speaking in debate, Farmer said the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee was bogged down because it was passing “bad election laws.”

“I fear we are going down a path we should not be going down,” Farmer said.

The pair of bills follow a measure (HB 7009) passed during the 2020 Legislative Session to carry out a prior part of the 2018 constitutional amendment that handled public officials and the private sector. The first part of the amendment took effect on New Year’s Eve 2020.

Voters approved the constitutional amendment 79%-21%.

“What they voted on did not have some clear definitions in there, so we’re making those clear definitions within the enactment of that constitutional amendment,” Hutson said.

The two parts of the amendment discussed Tuesday aren’t set to become law until Dec. 31, 2022. Similarly, the bills wouldn’t take effect until that date.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


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