Florida Gov. Scott Signs Ethics Bill to Crack Down on Legislators' Lobbying
Florida Gov. Rick Scott vetoed an emotionally charged bill that would have ended permanent alimony in divorce cases, but signed into law ethics and campaign finance measures that were important to legislative leaders.
By Steve Bousquet
Florida Gov. Rick Scott late Wednesday vetoed an emotionally charged bill that would have ended permanent alimony in divorce cases, but signed into law ethics and campaign finance measures that were important to legislative leaders.
Scott said he blocked changes to alimony law because they would have been disruptive for families.
"I have concluded that I cannot support this legislation because it applies retroactively and thus tampers with the settled economic expectations of many Floridians who have experienced divorce," Scott wrote in a veto letter. "The retroactive adjustment of alimony could result in unfair, unanticipated results."
The alimony bill would have made it harder to collect alimony when marriages last 11 years or less and would have created a presumption in law that both parents in a divorce equally share custody of children. SB 718 passed the Senate on a 29-11 vote and the House on an 85-31 vote, margins that make an attempted veto override unlikely in the final two days of session as it would require two-thirds approval.
The Legislature sent Scott all three measures one week ago, setting in motion a seven-day deadline for the governor to act. The ethics and campaign finance bills were must-pass priorities for Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. The ethics bill (SB 2) gives the Commission on Ethics power to investigate complaints referred by law enforcement agencies and the governor. It also gives the agency greater ability to collect unpaid fines for violations; allows public officials to place their assets in blind trusts; bans former legislators from lobbying any state agency for two years after they leave office; and prohibits legislators in certain cases from taking second jobs on public payrolls.
The campaign finance bill (HB 569) imposes more frequent reporting deadlines for political candidates and raises the maximum contribution limits for the first time since 1991. The current limit of $500 will increase to $3,000 for statewide candidates and to $1,000 for all other candidates. The increases take effect Nov. 1.
The bill also requires 24-hour disclosure of contributions and expenditures in the closing days of statewide campaigns and more frequent year-round reporting requirements for candidates and committees. The bill outlaws legislator-controlled slush funds, called Committees of Continuous Existence, or CCE's, but allows lawmakers to create new political committees that can continue to accept unlimited contributions.
"This new law begins to make money in politics more transparent and accountable in Florida," said Dan Krassner of the independent watchdog group Integrity Florida. "With the increased limits, more candidates should be able to fund their campaigns directly without having to funnel so much money through special interest committees and political parties."
Scott acted on the bills less than an hour after the Legislature gave final approval to one of his top session priorities, a sales tax exemption for manufacturing equipment purchases.
The 96-page bill (HB 7007) sped through the House after Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, refused to allow debate or questions -- and the timing didn't appear to be an accident.
"The governor never said it was a quid pro quo," Weatherford told reporters afterward. "He told us it was important to him. I think the word he utilized was 'goodwill.' "
Attorney Carin Porras, head of the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar, called Scott's decision to veto the alimony bill "courageous" and said the measure "would have left many women with diminished means, depriving them of their vested contractual rights that their ex-spouses agreed to."
Barbara DeVane of the National Organization of Women, a frequent critic of Scott's policies, praised the veto. "It would have opened the flood gates to more litigation," she said. "All of these men would have been going back to court to try to get their contracts undone. That would have been unconstitutional and it would have hurt a lot of women."
Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who is divorced and supported the alimony bill, said he was disappointed by Scott's veto, and added that the bill's sponsor, Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, had no inkling the veto was coming.
"I told him I think we should work harder to collaborate on these things as they move through the legislative process," Lee said. "He said he couldn't agree more."
Scott recently celebrated his 41st wedding anniversary with his wife, Ann, and cited the milestone as a factor in his deliberations. "I like being married," Scott said recently. "I want to stay married to my wife."
One of the few Republicans who opposed the alimony bill, Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said Scott's veto was good politics. He noted that the governor has struggled throughout his term to connect with women, who often comprise a majority of voters in statewide elections.
"Politically, with his numbers so low with women in the state of Florida, I would have told him there were many reasons to veto this bill," Fasano said.
(c)2013 The Miami Herald
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