Start spreading the news, for better and for worse. After years of being dogged by scandal, corruption, ethics violations, criminal investigations, indictments, overheated rhetoric and who knows what else, the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) is trying to rehabilitate its tainted image – and reinforcing it at the same time.
They don’t just want folks to vote for them, the way so many flummoxed Floridians have continued to do anyway, despite all the taint. They’d like for people to like them too. And most of all, they really, really, really want you to trust them.
And so in the run-up to the March 5th kickoff of the 60-day (or more, if they run into trouble) 2013 legislative session, a shiny new RPOF-made piece of “cleaner government” legislation has sailed through the Senate ethics committee with unanimous, bipartisan approval; on its way to a House committee for drafting of a complementary companion bill, before heading towards an uncertain future when put before the entire legislature (are you still with me, hang in there!), early on in the new lawmaking lollapalooza that takes over Tallahassee for a couple of wild and crazy months each year.
Giving credit where it’s due to Republican legislators in the Sunshine State, the truth is that if our state government sausage grinder squeezes out a fairly intact final version of this reform bill, then it’s time to thank GOP leaders like Senate President Don Gaetz and ethics committee chairman Jack Latvala for doing the heavy lifting.
If passed pretty much as is, key provisions of the new law would:
- Prohibit legislators from voting on issues that unduly benefit them or anyone in their family
- Prohibit legislators from lobbying the executive branch (Governor, Attorney General, Chief Financial Officer, etc.) or state agencies (in addition to existing prohibition on lobbying the legislature) for 2 years after leaving office
- Prohibit legislators from taking state administrative jobs after they’re elected
Amazing and instructive that common sense rules like these aren’t already on the books in Florida, but hopefully that changes with enactment of the new law on July 1st, 2013.
Unfortunately (c’mon, you knew this was coming), what now appears unlikely to change this year is the willingness of legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle to fully follow through on promises – and legal commitments – of greater government “transparency”.
Long story short, the legislature has done all but bury the coffin in which lies “Transparency 2.0”, an online project that apparently works too well and reveals too much for the liking of our elected officials. The idea was to fulfill Florida’s legal requirement that citizens to be able to see behind the curtain of secrecy that has for so long shrouded the budget process.
A no-bid (imagine that) $5-million (taxpayer-funded) contract to develop the new Transparency 2.0 website was negotiated in secret (got to love that, a “Transparency” contract negotiated in secret) by the RPOF’s last Senate President, Mike Haridopolos, with a company called Spider Data Systems. The company did its job and by December 2011 had developed what independent experts insist is a highly effective system that took 9 different existing and user-unfriendly government websites containing a crazy quilt of information, and stitched them into a single new, user-friendly website that apparently would be among the best of its kind in the country – “would be”, the critical words there.
Because the website was never allowed to see the light of day. For over a year now. Apparently, not even members of the Senate Government Operations and Accountability Committee that have province over “Transparency” issues, have ever seen the website in action – but they rejected the project anyway a couple of weeks ago.
Giving blame where it’s due to Democratic legislators in the Sunshine State, committee chairman Jeremy Ring, has joined with Senate President Gaetz and other leading Republican legislators in buying and selling to the public a story about how terms of the secret contract with Spider Data Systems are unfair to the state and its taxpayers. Yet these claims are clearly refuted by government watchdog groups.
So what could be the real reason for wasting so much taxpayer time and money?
Could it be because the rejected Transparency 2.0 website provided too much…transparency, going far beyond what legislators thought it would and offering too much insider information and back-story about every line item in the state budget?
Let RPOF Senator Alan Hays, chairman of the Senate General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, have the last word on this. Then you can decide (or do a little more digging) for yourself. Explaining recently that he was “not in favor for one moment” of allowing the legislature’s “working documents” to go public on the new website, Hays said:
“I’m sorry, if the public doesn’t have any greater faith and confidence in my judgment than that, then they don’t have to re-elect me.”