Former State Senate President Don Gaetz sponsored Amendment 12 as a member of the Constitution Revision Commission.
If passed, he said in a recent guest editorial, “this amendment would establish in Florida the nation’s highest, toughest ethical standards for public officers.”
Gaetz said he has borne witness to county commissioners being paid by private companies to lobby in front of other local governments. He’s said he has watched as state legislators have accepted money to lobby local governments for contracts that depend upon the legislator for state appropriations to fund the very same contracts.
“Amendment 12 says you can be a paid lobbyist or you can be an elected official, but you can’t be both at the same time -- serve private interests or serve the public interest,” Gaetz wrote in the column.
Amendment 12 bans legislators and statewide elected officials from paid lobbying for six years after leaving office.
If the amendment passes with 60 percent voter support, local elected officials would be barred for six years from lobbying the boards or commissions they served upon and state agency heads would not be able to lobby their former agencies for six years either, Gaetz said.
“It’s naïve to believe all favoritism can be eliminated, but Amendment 12 makes it unconstitutional for any public officer, state or local, to use her or his position to obtain ‘disproportionate benefit’ for themselves, their families or their business associates.
Amendment 12 is a stand-alone amendment, so the ethics reform question is the only one that will be voted on.
Little opposition has been voiced to Amendment 12 and Don Brown, a former state representative now connected to Save My Constitution, said he thinks ethics reform is a great idea. But, Brown added, it’s an issue for the Florida Legislature to tackle.
“The question has to be answered when you’re looking at changing the Constitution, ‘Are these fundamental?’ Do these changes represent fundamental rights of the citizens or legislative issues?” Brown asked. “I support this issue, but it’s not a constitutional issue, it’s a legislative issue.”
In his editorial, Gaetz points out that Florida lawmakers would never agree to make unethical conduct illegal. Brown argues that legislators who fail to do the will of their constituents need to be replaced by legislators who will.
“I’m kind of a purist where it comes to the Constitution,” he said. “The Constitution should protect fundamental rights, rights provided to citizens not by the Legislature but by their maker long before Constitutions even existed.”