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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Feb. 15, 201212:00 PM EST

Senate panel rejects ethics bill

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A far-reaching ethics bill that, among other things, would have prevented lawmakers from working for colleges and universities died in a deadlocked Senate committee on Tuesday.

The measure (SB 1560) failed to clear the Senate Rules Committee, ending on a 6-6 vote.

It was sponsored by the Rules Committee’s chairman, Sen. John Thrasher (R-St. Augustine).

The measure provides that a member of the Legislature can’t work for or be a contracted employee of a state university or college while in office or for two years after leaving office, though current members of the Legislature would be grandfathered in and could keep jobs at universities — until they run for re-election.

Backers said recent events have shown the need to avoid lawmakers going to bat for a particular school while in the Legislature, while being paid by the institution, or in advance of taking a college position.

Thrasher said the bill arose from a grand jury report on public corruption released in 2010.

Among the episodes Thrasher’s ethics bill might have prevented was the case of former House Speaker Ray Sansom, who, shortly after becoming speaker, took a six-figure job with Northwest Florida State College.

Earlier, Sansom had helped get money into the budget for the school and was eventually forced out of the Legislature, although he was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing. No member on the committee mentioned Sansom’s case directly.

Sen. Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) said it is too easy for universities to seek out legislators and put them on the payroll.

“The problem is legislators who suddenly find themselves in a position where they can be employed by institutions largely because they are legislators,” said Gaetz.

“My view is when all or nearly all your income derives from appropriations you vote on, there appears to be a conflict of interest,” he said.

Gaetz said he hoped the committee would pass the measure to send the message that “we’re not going to have people serving in the Legislature having all or nearly all of their income derived from appropriations they vote for.”

Sens. Evelyn Lynn (R-Ormond Beach) and Steven Wise (R-Jacksonville) opposed the bill.

Lynn, who has worked in both K-12 and higher education, and as an adviser at Florida State University, said it wasn’t fair to single out educators.

Some opponents noted that the only other people barred from being in the Legislature are felons.

“I’m getting a very uncomfortable feeling lately that when you’re an educator you’re a second-class citizen,” said Lynn.

“I don’t want to keep people from running for office,” Thrasher said. “People get hired after they get to the Legislature. That’s the issue.”

Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R-Merritt Island) is an employee of the University of Florida and also was paid by Brevard Community College to write a book about politics.

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