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Senate vote-conflict bill 'doesn't go far enough'

Prompted by a scathing grand jury report on public corruption, a Senate committee on Monday passed a bill that expands the definition of a voting conflict for state legislators. The bill (SB 2088) would prohibit a legislator from casting a vote on legislation "that would inure to his or her special private gain or loss" of the legislator or an employer, relative, business associate, or board upon which the official sits. Current law requires such conflicts to be disclosed, but members can still vote.

The Senate Rules Subcommittee on Ethics and Elections passed the bill 11-0. Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who handled the bill in committee, acknowledged a stronger law is needed. "We need to increase the standard. It probably doesn't go far enough," Thrasher said. 

Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, who voted yes, said it was still too weak because it still allows lawmakers with conflicts to participate behind the scenes to influence the direction of a bill or to engage in "arm-twisting." Dockery's bill (SB 86) contains that language, but it is not likely to pass.  "To restore faith and trust in government, I think, is very important," Dockery said. "It probably doesn't go far enough but it is a good first step."

-- Steve Bousquet

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