Florida Phoenix by Lloyd Dunkelberger
August 2, 2019
An effort to raise ethical standards for Florida politicians and public employees has passed a critical test.
More than 6 million voters approved a Florida Constitutional Amendment 12 last fall, in hopes of strengthening the state’s rules against public officials using their positions for public gain. The amendment got the most votes among the dozen constitutional changes on the 2019 general election ballot.
And last week, the Florida Ethics Commission voted unanimously to advance a rule to carry out the voters’ will. The new rule – which could face more challenges – makes it harder for public officials to get a “disproportionate benefit” for themselves, their businesses or families.
Florida has made news for it’s high rate of public corruption, and Constitutional Amendment 12 was an attempt to reign in graft. Like so many constitutional amendments, it depended on further action to implement it. Former state Senate President Don Gaetz, a Panhandle Republican (and father of U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz), has shepherded the effort from the very beginning.
Gaetz drafted Amendment 12 partially in response to a damning 2010 statewide grand jury report that said Florida’s ethics standard for public officials wasn’t adequate to make effective prosecution for corruption cases like bribery or bid-rigging. For one thing, it required that prosecutors prove an official had “corrupt intent” – a very high bar and one that’s difficult to prove.