Thursday, March 17, 2011

Part-time legislating leads to conflicts of interest

Florida has a part-time citizen Legislature, comprised of people of varied backgrounds from teachers to real estate agents to funeral directors.

“We don’t want full-time legislators, and I’m glad we’re not like Congress,” says House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park.

Such professional diversity gives lawmaking a real-world component in Tallahassee but also leads to conflicts of interest for legislators who earn $29,000 a year.

In city and county government, officials must abstain from voting on matters that could benefit them personally, but the rules are different in Tallahassee.

Senators and representatives are allowed to vote on matters in which they have a financial stake as long as they disclose it up to 15 days after the vote is cast. And Florida ethics laws say it’s legal for elected officials to vote on matters that affect their own professions.

During the past five years, dozens of legislators have filed voting conflict forms in cases where they had conflicts of interest.

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