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Senate passes its ethics bill in swift fashion

In less than 20 minutes, the Senate passed its high profile ethics bills that is designed to restore faith in the Florida Legislature.

The measure passed unanimously on the first day of the Legislature's 60-day session, but only after the Senate removed a loophole it had previously carved into the bill, which would have delayed the effect of a ban on lawmakers lobbying the executive branch until 2016. The ban now takes effect upon the bill becoming law.

The bill will force lawmakers to disclose conflicts, report finances, and give the state's ethics watchdog some dentures. If the bill had been in place before now, former House Speaker Ray Sansom, R-Destin, may not have gotten a job with Northwest State University that led to his resignation. Former Sen. JD Alexander, R-Frostproof, would have had to disclose more of his family's commercial interests. Former House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Orlando, and former Senate President Mike Haridopolos. R-Merritt Island, wouldn't be lobbyists this year, and voters would have an online source to get financial documents on lawmakers.

What the bill leaves out, however, is any move to revive the budget transparency program the Senate spent $5 million developing it.  

"It's too bad to have to do a bill like this,'' said Sen. Jack Latavala, R-St. Petersburg, sponsor of the bill. "A lot of this wouldn't be necessary if we all conducted office just using a little common sense -- just remembering why we're in office, just remembering we're there to serve the public, not ourselves. We all recognize that public confidence in government is at an all-time low."

He called it the most "comprehensive ethics reform package since 1976" when voters passed the Sunshine Amendment opening records and meetings in Florida. 

"That's really the last time anybody put a whole package together,'' he said. 

The measure moves immediately to the House, which is scheduled to pass its elections revision bill at 4 p.m. today and send that to the Senate.