Lloyd Dunkelberger, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — State and local elected officials would be banned from lobbying for six years after they leave office under a proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot.
The proposal, Amendment 12, is largely the handiwork of former state Senate President Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who served on the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years and has the power to place constitutional changes directly before voters.
Gaetz said offering a measure to improve ethics standards is ideally suited to a constitutional referendum, given the reluctance of the Legislature to aggressively pursue stronger restrictions.
“In the usual business of government and politics, there’s not much time or energy or space for discussions or initiatives having to do with ethics,” Gaetz said shortly before the Constitution Revision Commission approved the proposal in April.
A key provision would expand a current lobbying ban for state elected officials from two years to six years. It would mean state lawmakers and statewide elected officials could not lobby the Legislature, any state agency or Cabinet offices for six years after they leave office. Also, former state agency heads would be banned from lobbying their former agencies, as well as the Legislature and other state agencies.
At the local level, former county commissioners, school-board members, mayors, city-council members and constitutional officers would be banned from lobbying their former agencies for six years after they leave office.
And former judges would not be allowed to lobby the Legislature or state executive agencies for six years after they leave the bench.
Another provision would prohibit public officials, at both the state and local levels, from lobbying any other government entity, including the federal government, “for compensation” while they are in office.
Gaetz said the provisions are designed “to nail shut the revolving door between public office and private lobbying.”
The proposal would also establish a new ethical standard for public officials, prohibiting them from using their offices to obtain a “disproportionate benefit” for themselves, their families or their business interests. The state Commission on Ethics would have to define the terms of that benefit.
Gaetz said he knows the measure, if approved by the voters, would have an impact because of the reaction he got when he advanced the proposal this spring at the commission.
“State and local politicians have called me or come to see me, troubled that their present activities or future career plans might be in jeopardy, and that reassured me,” Gaetz said. “Everybody is for ethics until it knocks on our door.”
But some critics say the measure is too far-reaching.
Former state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Miami Republican who also served on the commission, said he feared the amendment would inadvertently “capture people that it doesn’t mean to capture.”
“I also think it’s going to discourage people from running or being appointed to positions, and we might lose some really good opportunities to have some good people serving in office,” he said.
If approved by voters, the lobbying ban would become effective in January 2023, while the new “disproportionate benefit” standard would take effect in January 2021.
Florida voters are slated to decide the fate of 12 proposed constitutional amendments on the November ballot. The amendments were put on the ballot by the Constitution Revision, the Legislature and through petition drives.
With higher-profile amendments on the ballot dealing with issues such as gambling, dog racing and taxes, the ethics measure is not attracting much attention. Three other amendments also fall into that lower-profile category, and they each “bundle” multiple provisions into single ballot measures.
— Amendment 10 would require all charter county governments to have elected constitutional officers, including sheriffs, property appraisers, tax collectors, supervisors of elections and clerks of the circuit court. Miami-Dade, Broward and Volusia counties unsuccessfully filed a legal challenge against the proposal, arguing that local voters in charter counties should have the right to decide whether constitutional officers are appointed or elected.
If adopted by voters, the charter provision would be delayed until January 2025 in Miami-Dade, which has an appointed sheriff, and Broward, which does not have an elected tax collector.
The amendment would also require the Legislature to begin its annual session in January in even-numbered years, two months earlier than the typical start date. It would create an Office of Domestic Security and Counterterrorism in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and would constitutionally mandate a state Department of Veterans’ Affairs, which already exists.
— Amendment 7 would give constitutional authority to the governance system for the 28 state and community colleges. College presidents support the measure, arguing that it would give their system similar stature to state universities and public schools, which already have constitutional authority.
The ballot proposal also would require a supermajority vote by university boards of trustees and the university system’s Board of Governors when raising or creating student fees. It does not impact tuition decisions.
In addition, it would require the payment of death benefits when law enforcement officers, paramedics, correctional officers and other “first responders” are killed while performing their official duties. Florida National Guard members and active-duty military members stationed in Florida are included in the provision.
— Amendment 11 is described as a “clean-up” measure by its supporters. It would remove unenforceable language in the state Constitution that prohibits “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning property.
It would eliminate obsolete language that authorizes a high-speed rail system. And it would revise language to make it clear that the repeal of a criminal statute does not affect the prosecution of any crime committed before the repeal, although it could allow the punishment to be adjusted in light of the repealed or modified law.
Each of those amendments was placed on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission. They will have to be supported by at least 60 percent of the voters to be enacted.