January 23, 2014
By: Robert Asencio, Florida Public Employees
“A Palm Beach County legislator’s proposed changes to Florida ethics laws are raising concerns about potentially weakening local anti-corruption efforts across the state.
State Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, proposes chipping away at requirements for state and local public officials to report gifts they receive that are worth more than $100. Those quarterly reports are used to identify potential conflicts of interest.
Other proposed changes in Clemens’ Senate Bill 606 could make it harder for local governments to enact tougher ethics requirements, such as those established in Palm Beach County following a string of corruption scandals. The bill also calls for imposing penalties of up to $5,000 on unfounded ethics complaints filed with ‘malicious intent.’
As a career law enforcement officer and former public corruption investigator, I asked:
Sen Jeff Clemens, what’s your reasoning for filling this Bill?
[On public-corruption] Shouldn’t we be going the other way?
Promptly responding he provided the following statement clarifying his legislative intent, on tho matter:
“Yeah, Robert, I’m not sure the article accurately reflects what the bill is trying to accomplish. I don’t want to weaken the laws that lead to ethical behavior, I’m trying to figure out how we can get rid of some of the requirements that lead to fining local officials for things that that most people would agree are either simple mistakes or not unethical.
That being said, if the language is unacceptable to the ethics commission folks, I will seek to change it. I’m hoping they can make some suggestions for improving the bill. If those folks still feel like the end product truly weakens ethics laws, we’ll go in a different direction.
Conversely, I’d like to see ethics laws toughened in other areas that aren’t minor or “gotcha”‘ infractions, like the bill I filed last year that would prevent legislators from voting on issues that could be profitable to them.
Anyway, you have my word that if the language of the bill doesn’t become more clear and remove some of the concerns raised, I won’t move it forward.
The Bill is a work in progress”
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