Civic and legal organizations urge DeSantis to veto ethics bill

by | Mar 14, 2024

A coalition of civic and legal organizations has urged Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto an ethics bill awaiting his signature, which they argue will limit public oversight by requiring ethics complaints to be based on direct knowledge rather than credible belief.

A coalition of civic and legal organizations, including the Campaign Legal Center and Common Cause Florida, has formally requested Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto an ethics bill awaiting his signature, arguing it would limit public oversight of state officials.

The bill, Senate Bill 7014, mandates that ethics complaints against officials must stem from direct personal knowledge of wrongdoing, a departure from current law that allows complaints based on credible belief.

Passed by the Florida Legislature on March 7, the bill’s proponents contend that it aims to prevent frivolous complaints. Critics, however, such as Kedric Payne, Vice President and General Counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, argue it could severely hamper efforts to hold public officials accountable for unethical behavior, stating that the Florida Ethics Commission, which relies on public complaints to initiate investigations, would be particularly impacted.

“Ethics enforcement in the state of Florida has traditionally relied on the public being able to come forward and file complaints on potential cases of misconduct by officials. The Florida Ethics Commission is already limited because it cannot start an investigation itself without a complaint,” Payne said. “Allowing only people with direct knowledge to file against potential wrongdoers is a major setback to transparency and accountability. Governor DeSantis should do right by his constituents and veto this bill.”

The coalition’s request, submitted via a letter to the governor, highlights concerns that the bill’s requirements are more stringent than those for initiating civil legal actions in Florida, potentially leaving unethical conduct by officials unchallenged due to the high barrier for filing complaints. This, the groups argue, would undermine public trust and transparency in state governance.

“This evidentiary standard is perniciously high and one that most Floridians who learn of possible ethics violations cannot meet,” the letter reads. “In addition to significantly reducing the ability for the public to file complaints, the new standard is contrary to basic legal principles for filing complaints in any context in Florida.”


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