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Sunday, Nov 23, 2014

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Watchdogs say Fla. House is putting open government on back burner


Published:

Florida House members have get-up-and-go when it comes to pushing special projects but are hitting the snooze button on government-in-the-sunshine and ethics measures.

Open government advocates held a news conference Wednesday at Tallahassee’s Florida Press Center to hold fire to legislators’ feet.

“Open government matters because open government breeds good governance,” said Joel Chandler of the Citizens Awareness Foundation.

The watchdogs pointed out that Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford included “Improve Government Accountability and Efficiency” in their joint legislative Work Plan 2014.

They drew attention to SB 1648, which passed the Senate and was sent to the House April 1.

It allows a public records request to be made over the phone unless there’s a specific requirement already in law that it be written, among other provisions.

Another bill (SB 846), also passed by the Senate and sent to the House April 1, prohibits a local elected official from lobbying the Legislature or executive agencies for anyone but the body he or she represents.

For example, St. Lucie County Property Appraiser Ken Pruitt, a former state lawmaker, moonlights as a lobbyist.

“Our coalition is united in calling on the Florida House to prioritize and approve these good government measures,” said Dan Krassner of Integrity Florida.

Representatives of the First Amendment Foundation, Common Cause Florida and The Tea Party Network also attended Wednesday’s press conference.

Meantime, the Associated Press reported that House members, buoyed by a projected $1.2 billion state budget surplus, are “trying to steer taxpayer funds to everything from gun ranges and a military museum to a course designed to teach sexual risk avoidance.”

The AP sifted through roughly 600 pages of records from the House, showing how “lawmakers forwarded to budget committee chairmen proposals that came straight from the groups - or lobbyists - pushing the budget item,” including $500,000 for a livestock pavilion in Ocala.

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