Another lesson for the other 49
Since Florida seems to be leading the nation in common sense legislation and reform, like the Castle Doctrine...Here is another Path for the other states to follow...
State gift ban is a done deal
Tallahassee Democrat 12/21/05
Gov. Jeb Bush signed one of the country's strongest restrictions on lawmakers' after-hours activities Tuesday, prohibiting all gifts, meals, drinks or other perks from lobbyists.
The sweeping new law takes effect Jan. 1 and has sent ripples through big business, local governments and lobbying circles accustomed to dealing with politicians over steak dinners or cocktail parties.
''No amount of squawking can discount the powerful nature of this bill,'' Bush said, calling the ban ''a very important day for integrity in government.''
The law aims to counter the negative image of lawmakers accepting expensive trips and meals from lobbyists and then championing their causes in the Legislature.
On one such trip in July, three senators and one House member racked up more than $48,000 in expenses traveling to Canada to play golf, eat and drink on the tab of a company that owns a Broward County racetrack and was pressing for looser slot-machine regulations.
While Senate President Tom Lee has been critical of the practice, an investigation his office concluded Tuesday found there were no violations of the law because the trip was booked as a Republican Party fund-raiser.
The lobbyist reform would require such trips to be approved in advance by political parties.
''The difference in this trip is no one knew about it before it happened,'' Lee said. ''That won't be able to happen in the future.''
The senators who went on the trip to Toronto - Sens. Mike Bennett of Bradenton, Jim King of Jacksonville and Dennis Jones of Seminole - said in a joint statement Tuesday they didn't break any laws or rules and intended to keep raising money for the Republican Party of Florida. Rep. Frank Farkas of St. Petersburg also went on the trip.
But organizers for a host of other seemingly innocuous events held during session in the capital city, from Space Day to educational banquets at the Governor's Mansion, are still wondering whether their events are now illegal.
The new law precludes any group with a lobbyist from buying anything for a lawmaker.
''We really think this takes away the ability for constituents to go up and see (lawmakers) and have a social dinner with them," said Heather Mazurkiewicz, who coordinates the Lee County Days' two-day stay in Tallahassee for six local chambers of commerce.
One of its members in Cape Coral has decided to do away with a tradition of passing out hundreds of M&M dispensers to lawmakers.
The groups throw two banquets for lawmakers every year, underwritten by development giant WCI Communities and Sprint, that lawmakers will now have to pay their way into.
Lee County is also reviewing whether it will have to evict four of its lawmakers - Rep. Bruce Kyle and Sens. Dave Aronberg, Burt Saunders and Mike Bennett - who get free office space in county buildings in Fort Myers and Cape Coral.
Likewise, other cities and counties are making decisions to scale back some social events.
Broward County officials said Tuesday they were pressing on with their own Broward County event.
"The issues are not going away and are too important for Broward County to stop what we're doing cold turkey," said John Pisula, an organizer of the Broward County event that brings about 500 people to the Capitol in April.
''We're definitely coming to Tallahassee."
Another popular event, Space Day, could have to scrub its tradition of handing out flashing space pins and bringing astronauts to Tallahassee to pose for free photos with lawmakers.
''Those kind of activities will no longer be acceptable," said Rep. Bob Allen, a Merritt Island Republican involved in the event.
Bush swatted down suggestions the new law would be bad for business in Tallahassee and suggested his hometown of Miami could reconsider its decision to scrap Dade Days, when hundreds of people wade through a train-line in the Capitol courtyard to eat steaming paella the governor helps dish out.
''My guess is you're not going to see a lot of cancellations,'' the governor said. ''The notion that somehow members of the Legislature can't pay $5 to go to (a business) reception or to get in line and eat some beautiful paella, I don't see it."