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IMPACT: Florida Senate votes for stronger ethics rules

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Florida’s Senate approved a new set of ethics rules today that will strengthen the body’s conflict of interest guidelines. The vote marked the first action to emerge from a vocal push for ethics reform by the state’s incoming legislative leaders.

Senate President Don Gaetz, who took control during today’s organizational meeting, proposed the rules Monday after committing to reforms during the election season.

"I hope that's the first step in many steps we are able to take in the Senate and House when it comes to ethics," Gaetz told the Miami Herald, adding that he’d also like to strengthen the enforcement powers of the Florida Commission on Ethics, which oversees ethics rules. Gaetz joined the Senate in 2006 after a long career as a health care executive.

The rules require senators to take an ethics course every other year and bars them from voting on issues in which they have a conflict of interest — though it will be up to them to decide. Previously, senators were allowed to vote whether or not they judged themselves to have a conflict, and were not required to disclose the conflict until after voting. The new rules also specify that the measure extends to potential financial gain by family members and business associates.

“These reforms put more emphasis on public service rather than past rules that allowed private gain to go unchecked,” said Dan Krassner, executive director of the open-government group Integrity Florida, in a statement released Monday. In July, the group issued a report calling for stricter financial disclosure rules, citing previous reports from the Center for Public Integrity. The state received an overall grade of C- from the Center's State Integrity Investigation for corruption risk.

Rep. Will Weatherford, Florida’s new House Speaker, has also called for reforms. Earlier this month he revived a House subcommittee devoted to ethics and elections that had not met for six years.

If you want to compare the new with the old, the Tallahassee Democrat posted the relevant section of the rules.