Governor approves election, ethics laws, vetoes alimony bill

May 1, 2013

The following article was published in The Florida Current on May 1, 2013: 

Scott signs election and ethics laws, vetoes alimony plan

By Bill Cotterell

Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a bill on Wednesday that would have ended permanent alimony in Florida and signed two new laws on campaign finance and ethics reforms that were top priorities of the legislative leadership.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said there was no “quid pro quo” in Scott’s approval of the ethics and campaign bills, which was announced immediately after the House voted on one of the governor’s main goals of the 2013 legislative session — a manufacturing sales-tax repeal that Republican lawmakers had been holding captive during the past week. Wednesday at midnight was the deadline for Scott to sign the ethics and campaign bills, as well as the alimony measure he vetoed.

The campaign-finance bill (HB 569) raises the limit on individual campaign contributions from $500 to $1,000 in legislative and regional races and $3,000 in statewide campaigns for governor, Cabinet seats and Supreme Court retention contests. Scott had opposed that provision, saying he wanted to keep the 20-year-old limit of $500, but he went along with the legislative leadership — which said the contribution cap was woefully out of date.

“It’s a historic day for Florida to finally see sweeping reform passed, after a 36-year drought,” saidDan Krassner, head of Integrity Florida. “In campaign finance, the Legislature accomplished its goal of increasing accountability and transparency in the system.”

The Senate passed the ethics and campaign-finance bills on March 5, the first day of the session, in a symbolic show of seriousness about cleaning up politics. The ethics measure (SB 2) empowers the Commission on Ethics to collect fines, which often go ignored by officeholders, and forbids ex-legislators from lobbying state agencies for two years after leaving office. They are also prohibited by law, rather than House or Senate rule, to vote on bills directly affecting their personal financial interests.

The campaign law stamps out “committees of continuous existence,” the private funds that some lawmakers set up to finance their races for speaker or Senate president by taking unlimited contributions from special interests and spreading the money around among allies. The package also requires faster online reporting of campaign contributions in the closing days of a race, so the public will know who is financing attack advertising and other political events.

“The elimination of CCEs that have been used as slush funds is another positive component of that bill,” said Krassner. He said the $1,000 and $3,000 contribution limits “is a reasonable direction for reform” for individual contributions to candidates.

“The idea on raising or even eliminating limits on campaign contributions is that candidates themselves will more directly raise and spend money and be accountable for their messages,” said Krassner.

Weatherford denied stalling House action on the manufacturing tax until Scott accepted the elections and ethics bills.

“It’s not connected but we certainly have been talking with the governor,” Weatherford said of himself and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. “The governor never said it’s a quid-pro-quo but he said it (the manufacturing bill) was important to him. I think the words he used were ‘good will.'”

Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, said he might ask the Legislature to override Scott’s veto of his bill (SB 718) which would have set limits on the percentage of a payor’s income that could be paid in alimony and limited the duration of payments to generally half the length of a marriage. An override, though, would take a two-thirds vote and Democrats strongly opposed Workman’s bill, and many Republicans would not want to cross the governor while he holds hundreds of their “member projects” budget items on his desk.

“I think the governor listened to the wrong special interest this time,” Workman said. “He listened to the lawyers, who make money off of divorce, and ignored the heartache and hardship that our archaic alimony laws are causing people.”

Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said early Wednesday she hoped Scott would not veto the bill, which she sponsored in the Senate.

“As a husband, father and grandfather, I understand the vital importance of family,” Scott wrote in his veto message. He said he spiked the bill “because it applies retroactively and thus tampers with the settled economic expectations of many Floridians who have experienced divorce.”

But Workman said the retroactivity provision was “tightly drawn” and would only allow divorced partners who were paying excessive amounts, often for longer than their marriages lasted, to go back into court and seek relief.

The ethics package was pushed by Gaetz to stop lawmakers from dual employment — getting what he called “walking-around jobs” in local government or universities after they win election to the Legislature. It also tightens restrictions on voting conflicts and allows the Florida Commission on Ethics to accept complaints from the governor’s office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and state and federal prosecutors’ offices.

Currently ethics complaints have to originate with a private citizen who hears of malfeasance by a public officer.

“That’s going to be much more efficient for investigating ethics complaints,” Krassner said of the new law.

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