Will legislative ethics reform be meaningful?
Paula DockeryThe election is over, new legislators convened in Tallahassee and the incoming leadership of the Florida House and Senate are making ethics reform a top priority. Hooray, yippee, Hallelujah!
Published: November 30, 2012
Published: November 30, 2012
After five years of trying to pass real, meaningful, comprehensive ethics reform with little success, thanks to a less-than-enthusiastic Tallahassee crowd, it's now the hot issue. Why the legislative change of heart? Would it finally happen? Is the reform meaningful or just good PR?
One way in which reform is stalled in the legislative process is by referring bills to an abundance of committees.
If a bill is referred to only one or two committees, it's a clear sign it is a legislative priority being fast-tracked.
If the legislation is referred to three committees, it has a good chance of passage. If that same bill is sent to four committees, someone with power does not want to see it pass, and if it has five committee referrals, you can kiss that baby goodbye. Sadly, that was the case with my conflicts of interest bill.
Another sign that legislation is truly a priority is who is asked to sponsor the bill. If a member of the leadership team carries the bill or if the chairman of the first committee to hear it handles it as a committee bill, it's full speed ahead.
By watching who is handling the bill, how many committee referrals it gets and how fast it moves, we will know how serious the commitment is to its passage.
The more important question is — will it be real, meaningful reform? It would be easy to water down the true intent of reform and pass it off with feel-good language. But that would not go far in restoring the public faith.
A sincere effort at ethics reform would include the following at a minimum:
Reform that only includes abstaining from voting misses the opportunity to really change the culture. One vote seldom changes or determines the outcome and most of the bills are noncontroversial. It is the behind-the-scenes deal-making that assures the issue's passage or inclusion, allowing someone seeking to game the system to personally benefit. Therefore, conflict of interest reform must exclude participation as well as voting. Additionally, it must be applied not only to legislation but also to all activity related to the budget, except the final vote on the appropriations act.
While any move to set an ethical standard is a step in the right direction, now is the best opportunity to hold the Legislature accountable.
Voters have expressed their disgust with politics as usual. There is no excuse for failing to deliver.
Paula Dockery was term-limited as a Republican state senator from Lakeland after 16 years in the Florida Legislature. She can be reached at email@example.com.