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5 former legislators permitted to lobby

A special exception on a two-year lobby ban is made for some former lawmakers who work for state agencies.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 17, 2000

TALLAHASSEE -- Ex-legislators who work for state agencies will now be able to lobby their former colleagues without delay.

The Florida Ethics Commission voted 5-3 Thursday to excuse five former legislators from a law that prohibits lawmakers from lobbying for a two-year period after they leave office.

The two-year ban on lobbying was part of a 1976 constitutional amendment approved by voters at the urging of Gov. Reubin Askew. It was designed to keep legislators from using their experience as lawmakers to make money as lobbyists for private industry as soon as they leave office.

Last year Gov. Jeb Bush appointed five sitting legislators to work for him at state agencies. Now they all want to use the skills they gained in office to help their agencies. The Ethics Commission decision allows them to lobby as an incidental part of their jobs but would not let lobbying become their only job.

Those affected are former Sen. Bill Bankhead, who is now secretary of juvenile justice; former Rep. Bob Brooks, secretary of the Department of Health; former Sen. Charles Williams, head of workers' compensation at the Department of Labor; former Rep. Carl Littlefield, a program director at the Department of Children and Families; and former Rep. Luis Morse, deputy secretary at the Department of Elder Affairs.

"I think it's the right thing to do," said Ethics Commission Chairman Peter Dunbar. "It is a very narrow exception and doesn't violate the spirit of the two-year ban."

Several members of the commission questioned the move, saying it does not protect the integrity of the legislative process.

"Somebody who has just retired from the legislature is in a position to have undue, even unhealthy influence, on those who are passing laws," said Rabbi Bruce Warshal, a member of the commission from Broward County.

Warshal also questioned whether the secretary of a state agency who is trying to increase his budget is really speaking for all Floridians.

"Maybe the decision for how much money is spent should not be made because one person is a better lobbyist than another," Warshal added.

Dunbar said the narrowly worded decision would not allow legislators to go to work for local governmental agencies and immediately return to lobbying because it was drafted to apply only to executive agencies of the state and the five secretaries appointed by Bush.

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