Broward News

Watchdog Groups to Call on Florida Legislature to Come Through With Ethics Reform and Open Government

A Florida watchdog coalition, headed by the nonprofit group Integrity Florida, is scheduled to hold a news conference in Tallahassee on Wednesday morning to remind lawmakers of their promises to bring ethics reform and transparency to the Sunshine State's government.

Joining Integrity Florida will be the First Amendment Foundation, Common Cause Florida, and Citizens Awareness Foundation. The groups are coming together to call Tallahassee to make sure to push a couple of open government and ethics reform bills that are stalled in the Florida Legislature.

Earlier in the year, Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz proposed a joint House and Senate five-point agenda for the state that included government transparency.

Specifically, point number five of the agenda, Improve Government Accountability and Efficiency, of Weatherford and Gaetz's Work Plan Florida states that the Legislature will work to improve Florida's ethics laws (SB 846) as well as getting the Public Records and Meetings bill (SB 1648 and HB 1151) pushed through.

The bill says that if someone puts in a public records request, he'll no longer have to do so in writing. Bottom line, when anyone wants to check in on the government, be it a citizen or a watchdog group, he won't get tangled up in red tape or otherwise blocked by loopholes.

In other words: transparency.

The bills have all passed the Senate but are held up by the usual things that hold up bills: wording, semantics, and other bills lawmakers have to tackle.

Still, through Work Plan Florida, Weatherford and Gaetz promised changes. So Integrity Florida and its coalition of watchdog groups are making sure those promises are met.

"The coalition is coming together to rally behind these open government bills," Dan Krassner, cofounder and executive director of Integrity Florida, tells New Times. "The coalition is calling this press conference three weeks after these proposals passed the Senate as a call to action."

The news conference, which is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday in Tallahassee, is more of a reminder than anything else, especially with the Legislature currently on break for the holidays and with the session only a few weeks from wrapping things up.

Krassner says they see no reason why the Legislature shouldn't come through.

This would be great news for the state, as a whole.

In 2012, Integrity Florida put together a study that found that a whopping 1,762 of Florida's public officials had been convicted of public corruption since 1976.

From 2000 to 2010, there have been an average of 71 convictions every year.

The year 2000 saw the most convictions, with 107.

But with Weatherford and Gaetz openly committing to ethics reform and the bills passing through the Senate, things seem to be heading in the right direction.

"It's our hope that lawmakers will deliver on their transparency," Krassner says. "And we're optimistic that speaker Weatherford will deliver with his commitment."

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Chris Joseph
Contact: Chris Joseph