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Senate passes bill banning local officials from moonlight as legislative lobbyists

Former Senate President Ken Pruitt is among an elite group of people.

He is not only one of a handful of legislators who have held the coveted job of Senate president, he is also one of a handful of people being targeted by a high-priority ethics bill passed unanimously Wednesday by the Florida Senate.

Pruitt served as Senate president from 2006 to 2008 but, like many former legislators, parlayed his clout as a top-dog lawmaker into a high paying career as a lobbyist. He has 15 clients, including Florida Crystals Corp. and the Palm Beach County sheriff’s office, and his firm has reportedly earned as much as $150,00 a year in lobbying fees from Florida Crystals alone.

Pruitt’s full-time job, however, is serving as St. Lucie County’s elected property appraiser, a position that increases the value of the retirement benefits he earned as a long-time legislator.

Under the bill (CS/SB 846) the Senate passed, Pruitt and other constitutional officers – such as sheriffs, state attorneys and property appraisers – would be banned from lobbying for compensation. The restriction does not take effect until after the next election so Pruitt buys some time. His term ends in 2016.

The legislation also imposes new lobbying restrictions on members of quasi-government boards like EnterpriseFlorida. It requires members of city and county boards to take four hours of ethics training and it requires lobbyists for special districts – such as the South Florida Water Management District – to register with the state and file financial disclosure reports.

An amendment by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, strengthened the bill by adding local officials to the lobbying ban, applying it to state attorneys, county commissioners, county commissioners, school superintendents and school board members in addition to constitutional officers.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, tried unsuccessfully to weaken Sobel’s amendment by allowing anyone who currently lobbies to be exempt from the next restrictions.

“I think we’ve got about three people in the State of Florida who fall under this category but these local folks are elected locally and if the people in their cities don’t want them to do what they are elected to they can unelect them,’’ she said.

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, suggested the legislature may want to avoid singling out anyone. “Anytime we’re doing an amendment or a bill and we can identify the people that can be affected it’s probably not a good thing to do,’’ she said.

Joyner's amendment was defeated on a voice vote and the bill passed 39-0.