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Florida Senate committee advances lobbying transparency bill

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(The Center Square) — Florida lawmakers have advanced legislation this week that would add transparency to lobbying in the Sunshine State.

Senate Bill 734 is sponsored by state Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill. It would make various changes to ethics regulations for local governments and prohibit state and local officials from accepting or soliciting anything from a foreign country of concern.

According to the bill’s analysis, public officers, state agency employees, local government attorneys and candidates for office are all prohibited from accepting anything of value including a gift, loan, reward, promise of future employment, favor, or service, based on the understanding that their judgment, official action or vote would be influenced.

State agencies, political subdivisions, or public schools that spend state funds or levy property taxes would be forbidden from entering into any agreement or accepting a grant from a country of concern. This includes China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela or Syria.

Ingoglia, while introducing his bill to the Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections on Monday, said that the intent of the bill is to ensure local governments are working in the best interests of their constituents.

Ingoglia noted that currently local governments can set their own rules regarding lobbying registrations, but added that local governments are not doing this. So the responsibility should go to the state.

The bill would further establish requirements for lobbyist registration. Individuals would be required to register as a lobbyist with the State Commission on Ethics if they plan to lobby a municipality, county, or special district.

The commission would be solely responsible for maintaining a lobbyist database, all filed documentation and would also be required to publish registrations on its website. In addition, the commission would be the entity that receives and investigates all complaints of lobbyist violations.

Furthermore, the commission would report its findings and recommendations from its investigations into complaints to the chief executive officer of the county or municipality or the governing body of a special district while also authorizing them to enforce any findings from the commission.

According to the bill, provisions have been added to preempt and supersede any lobbyist registration program established by an ordinary charter provision adopted before July 1. Certain local government employee contracts are also prohibited from being renewed, extended or renegotiated within eight months of a general election.