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Little optimism for ethics commission's pitch for power to investigate


The Florida Commission on Ethics doesn’t expect to find many sympathetic ears for an issue near the top of its legislative wish list.

For years, the commission has been asking for the power to initiate investigations on its own. Under current state law, it cannot start an investigation until a complaint has been filed. It wasn’t until 2013 that the Legislature empowered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to file complaints as a result of their investigations.

Speaking Friday at the commission’s meeting in Tallahassee, executive director Virilinda Doss said 

“We’ve also been trying to get the juice in there for self-initiation,” Doss said at Friday’s commission meeting. “That’s a little harder push.”

Meetings with legislative leaders haven’t proven fruitful on that subject this year so far, she said.

She has met with House Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, and Rules, Calendar and Ethics chairman Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, already. And she hopes to met with Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Ethics and Elections chairman Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples.

In an interview with the Times/Herald, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said he has no problem with the commission starting its own investigations. But he said he has questions about how it would work. For example: Will the commission need more state money to hire more people? If so, how many?

“If they're going to investigate, they're going to have to have investigators,” he said. “What will that cost? They've never really articulated that.”

Gaetz also wants to know what kinds of investigatory powers the agency wants. The ethics commission already has subpoena power.

“Will they be quasi- or real law enforcement people? Will they have badges?” he asked.

Gaetz is pushing two ethics bills of his own, which Doss on Friday called “pretty good” and said she thought “it’s safe to say everyone supports these.”

Among other changes, it closes a loophole that allows people to avoid certain ethics laws by creating an outside corporation. And it would require local officials to publicly file more easily-accessed information about their own personal finances.

Times/Herald staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this post.