House guts bill on small-town financial disclosures in rare GOP-on-GOP showdown
Alex Andrade, Spencer Roach.

Andrade Roach
Alex Andrade pulled his bill after a Spencer Roach amendment killed key language. But where did the text come from to start with?

“Unfriendly” amendments rarely pass on the House floor, much less to bipartisan applause. Still, most of Florida’s Representatives came together to gut a bill that would loosen financial requirements on local officials.

Rep. Alex Andrade, a Pensacola Republican, said the change effectively killed his bill (HB 735), which also aimed to prohibit public officials from soliciting gifts from foreign entities. After passage of an amendment on the floor filed by fellow Republican Rep. Spencer Roach, the bill sponsor yanked the legislation from House consideration this year.

Bills die frequently toward the end of the Legislative Session, but the life of this legislation played out in unusual fashion over the last few weeks.

Many lawmakers characterized the bill kill as a rebuke of Gov. Ron DeSantis — though he hadn’t publicly endorsed it — on the same day the Governor vetoed a priority of Speaker Paul Renner. Others suggested that the move sent a message to the Senate after the upper chamber killed or watered down legislation supported in the House.

Regardless, the seemingly minor piece of legislation briefly turned the House floor into a stage for merry mutiny, even if no one could agree which captain was being overthrown.

The saga of HB 735 effectively kicked into gear on Feb. 7, when the bill made its second committee stop in the House State Affairs Committee.

Roach, a North Fort Myers Republican, serves as Vice Chair for that panel, and was taken aback at an amendment added there. The change would exempt elected officials in cities of fewer than 500 people from having to fill out Form 6 financial disclosures. Those requirements only went into effect for municipal officials last year, based on a law Roach had ushered through The Process.

He questioned Andrade then about the origins of the reversal of the policy in small towns. Andrade only answered with the date the shift would go into effect, in January 2025. But the measure passed without opposition in committee.

Andrade said his original bill didn’t address the disclosure requirements at all. He only filed the original bill as a “favor” for Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, the Spring Hill Republican carrying the companion bill in the Senate.

“The Form 6 stuff was forced on in State Affairs,” Andrade said. “Not my choice.”

Ingoglia said he doesn’t know the origins of the financial disclosure language. “Have no idea,” he said by text. “It wasn’t on the Senate side.”

Florida Politics spoke to numerous House Representatives about the bill, but all offered different impressions on its origin. One said the language originated from the Governor’s Office. Representatives there have not responded to questions from Florida Politics about the bill.

Another lawmaker said leadership insisted on the language, though ultimately, the most powerful members of the House voted to take it out.

Roach, ahead of debate on the House floor, filed an amendment deleting everything involving the financial disclosure requirements passed last year. He argued on the floor that if disclosure requirements are good enough for state lawmakers to follow, they are good enough for officials in 500-resident towns.

“Regardless of what ZIP code you live in, you should be entitled to the same level of transparency from your local elected officials,” Roach said. “That’s why I filed the amendment. That’s what the amendment does. It seeks to take those lines out to keep the law the way that it is.”

Such “unfriendly” amendments, ones not supported by the bill sponsor, only reach the House floor when filed by Democrats in the minority, usually to make a statement about a disagreement over policy, or simply to kill time as the clock winds down on Session to discourage leadership from taking bills to a vote.

But in this case, Republican leadership embraced the change.

On the floor of the House, Majority Leader Mike Grant, a Port Charlotte Republican, made a rare speech encouraging members to vote their conscience on the amendment.

“I would tell you this is a jump ball,” Grant said. “You vote the way you want to vote on this bill, in this caucus, in this chamber. I can assure you no matter which way you vote, it is not going to impact the trajectory of this bill. Like a basketball, it is deflated.”

Many lawmakers say they can’t recall such a message ever coming from a Majority Leader.

Ultimately, the amendment passed on a 66-37 vote.

Party affiliation appeared to hold little influence on how people voted. House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell voted for the amendment, as did Republican Speaker Pro Tempore Chuck Clemons.

Rep. Yvonne Hinson, a Gainesville Democrat, was among few defenders of Andrade’s bill on the floor, arguing she knew 20 local officials in small jurisdictions who declined to volunteer on boards based on the new financial requirements.

Some lawmakers who agreed with Roach said they voted against his amendment regardless, on the simple principle that if the sponsor didn’t want the change, it shouldn’t be considered. Some Democrats, and a few Republicans, said the chance to kill language DeSantis supported was enough reason to gut the bill.

Several Republicans said DeSantis’ veto of Renner’s blanket social media ban on users under age 16 has played a role. Renner’s Office didn’t respond to requests about this bill, but the Speaker has downplayed tension with DeSantis over the veto, and lawmakers have negotiated a replacement bill addressing the Governor’s concerns on parental consent.

But even on the floor, Roach joked how unusual it was that nearly the full House membership showed up on Friday to debate a relatively innocuous amendment.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].

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