The Leon County Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved new regulations to strengthen the Leon County lobbying ordinance at their Nov. 17 meeting. The action came after discussions earlier in the year over improving transparency in regard to lobbying as well as simplifying the registration process.
The ordinance, which amends Chapter 2, Article XII of the Leon County Code of Laws, was first mentioned at a County Commission meeting in January, where the Board directed the County Attorney’s Office “to provide a review of the County’s lobbying regulations, particularly with regard to the meaning of ‘lobbyist’ and ‘lobbying’” as well as provide options to encourage increased transparency.
A proposed analysis of regulations was reviewed at the Board’s meeting on March 10 where it was met with extensive discussion. Issues explored included enforcement models for lobbyist registration, removal of the notary requirement for lobbyist registration, possibly instating an online payment method for registration, the inclusion of a Q&A section on the registration website, simplifying the legal definition of lobbyist and allowing lobbyists to speak at County meeting without having prior registration.
The revised ordinance details penalties for violations. An initial violation within a 12-month period results in a warning. A second violation would result in a $100 fine while a third violation would be a $250 fine.
Four violations within a single year could result in “a fine not to exceed $500 or by imprisonment in the county jail for a term not exceeding 60 days, or by both such fine and imprisonment.”
Ben Wilcox, who works with Citizens for Ethics Reform, voiced concern over a loophole in the ordnance which allows consultants to avoid registering as a lobbyist.
There should be no lobby registration requirement. The right to petition government at any level is clear in the First Amendment and the registration requirements by our local government is an abridgement of that right. If you don’t want local officials to be corrupt then elect better people but do not put barriers between the elected official and the public.