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Senate considers lobbying rules for tax districts

The Florida Senate will consider new laws to require lobbyists to disclose how they seek to influence nearly 1,000 single-purpose districts, some of which have the power to levy property taxes.

The Senate Ethics & Elections Committee will advance a bill next week that would allow the Commission on Ethics to initiate investigations in cases of non-compliance with the financial disclosure law and to require local elected officials to take an annual ethics training course. In a meeting Monday, the panel also discussed requiring lobbyists who influence independent special districts to register, as they do in Tallahassee.

Another suggestion is to require those lobbyists to disclose their fees every quarter.

The committee's chairman, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said the focus on special districts was prompted by news coverage in The Miami Herald. Latvala said his bill (SB 846) would focus on the state's five water management districts along with hospital districts, children's services districts and others with taxing authority.

The Herald report said Florida has 136 such districts whose members have the power to levy taxes, even though many are political appointees, not elected by voters. Also on the table: a proposed two-year post-employment lobbying ban on appointees to the boards of Citizens Property Insurance Corp., Enterprise Florida, Space Florida and the Florida Development Finance Corp.