Two bills (HB 7001 and HB 7003) related to lobbying restrictions for public officials after leaving office were unanimously approved by the Florida House State Affairs Committee on Thursday.

Both bills, backed by Representative Traci Koster of Tampa, were filed to implement the intent of a lobbying restriction constitutional amendment which passed in 2018. The bills prohibit lobbying by certain public officers during public service and for a six-year period after vacating public office – instead of a two-year period as the law previously stated.

HB 7001 establishes the six-year wait period and addresses state lawmakers and public officials, while HB 7003 has similar prohibitions that address judges and justices.

According to a bill analysis from the Florida House, the prohibitions in both bills address public officials lobbying on issues of policy, appropriations, or procurement; and lobbying before the federal government, the legislature, any state government body or agency, or any political subdivision.

With its implementation through these bills, the amendment and its prohibitions would create Section 8(f), Article II in the State Constitution, and would take effect until December 31, 2022.

If the Florida Commission on Ethics (FCE) finds that there has been a violation, it must report its findings and recommendations for appropriate action to the Governor who has the power to invoke any of the penalties listed within the law.

Those penalties include: public censure and reprimand, a civil penalty of no more than $10,000, and forfeiture of any pecuniary benefits received for conduct that violates Section 8(f), Article II, in which the amount of the pecuniary benefits must be paid to the General Revenue Fund.

The two bills come two years after bill HB 7009 was passed during the 2020 legislative session that addressed penalties for public and private sector officials who violated the prohibition against “abuse of public position.” HB 7009 went into effect on December 31st, 2020.

Even with unanimous approval by the State Affairs Committee, the two bills raise concern for FCE Commissioner Don Gaetz who plans to ask the Florida Legislature for additional funding for staffing shortages as the backlog of lobbying cases continue to pile on in Florida.

“We’ve had investigators out, people have been sick, relatives have been ill, people have left and (it’s) hard to recruit somebody, … So it’s been hard to kind of keep a full staff working all the time,” Gaetz said according to a Florida Capital Star report.

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Casey Owens is a contributing writer for The Florida Capital Star. Follow him on Twitter at @cowensreports. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Florida State Capitol” by David Wilson CC BY 2.0.