HomeDesantisDeSantis Signs Law Making Ethics Complaints More Difficult to File

DeSantis Signs Law Making Ethics Complaints More Difficult to File

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TALLAHASSEE, FL – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill on Friday that places new restrictions on the filing of ethics complaints against public officials and candidates. The new legislation, known as SB 7014, mandates that ethics investigations can only be initiated if a complaint is filed by an individual with direct personal knowledge of the alleged misconduct.

Proponents and Opponents Clash Over the Bill’s Impact

Supporters of the bill argue that the change is necessary to prevent the misuse of ethics complaints as political weapons, especially during election seasons. They claim that baseless complaints have been used to tarnish reputations without substantial evidence.

However, critics warn that the new requirements will create significant barriers to holding public officials accountable. Government watchdog groups, including the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause of Florida, and the Florida Ethics Institute, have voiced strong opposition. These organizations argue that the bill will undermine public trust and allow unethical behavior to go unchecked.

New Standards for Filing Complaints

The legislation raises the bar for what constitutes a valid ethics complaint. Previously, complaints could be filed based on investigative reports or other indirect evidence. Under the new law, only those with firsthand knowledge can file a complaint, effectively barring state and local ethics commissions from acting on hearsay or media reports. Additionally, the bill increases the maximum fines for violations of specified lobbying provisions and allows attorneys to indicate a client meets disclosure criteria without providing further information about the client.

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John Kennedy, a reporter for USA Today Network’s Florida Capital Bureau, highlighted the concerns of many critics, stating, “Generally, people who violate ethics don’t exactly invite friends or members of the public to attend their bad behavior.”

Legislative Context and Future Implications

Senator Danny Burgess, who chairs the Senate’s Ethics and Elections Committee and introduced the changes, emphasized the need to prevent ethics complaints from being used to unfairly attack political candidates. With fall elections approaching, the fear of frivolous complaints influencing the outcome was a significant driver behind the legislation.

Despite widespread opposition from various advocacy groups, the bill passed with substantial support from the Republican-controlled state House and Senate.

Jacksonville City Council member Matt Carlucci, a former chair of the state ethics commission, expressed his concerns, stating, “Personal knowledge makes it sound like you have to have been there when the ethics violation occurred, seeing it with your own two eyes.”

As the law takes effect, its impact on Florida’s political landscape and the effectiveness of ethics oversight will be closely watched by both supporters and opponents.

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