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Report: State could learn ethics lessons from counties

As Florida lawmakers consider beefing up the ethics laws that govern them, they could learn a few things from their counterparts at the county level, a new research report shows.

Florida State University’s LeRoy Collins Institute and Integrity Florida released the report, titled “Tough Choices: Florida Counties Bridge the Ethics Policy Gap,” to highlight some of the ethics ordinances in place at the local level.

 In many cases, county officials have tougher ethics laws than the ones on the books for state lawmakers.

 “This is what counties in Florida have been doing that really makes us proud,” said Dr. Carol Weissert, director of the LeRoy Collins Institute. “We actually are leading the nation in some of these county efforts. We’re also talking about a promising conversation that is going on at the state level.”

Weissert said many of the county-level reforms—including tough laws on campaign finance, gifts from lobbyists, ethics training and voting conflicts—were sparked by Florida’s infamous reputation for government corruption. Between 2000 and 2010, Florida led the nation in federal public corruption convictions, with many of the convictions at the county level.

Counties like Miami-Dade, Broward and Orange have taken steps to try to tamp down on the corruption, launching new ethics commissions and requiring ethics training for elected officials.

Dan Krassner, who advocates for stronger ethics laws as the director of Integrity Florida, said the report could provide some good ideas for the state Legislature, as it plans to do ethics reform next year.

“We’d encourage all county officials that have been involved at the local level to bring your ideas to Tallahassee,” he said. “Come before the Legislature and share your experiences of what’s working and what’s not at the local level.”

House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) and Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) have each expressed interest in making state government more ethical. The push comes at a time when there is a record amount of special interest money flooding into the political process.

See the full report here.

@ToluseO

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