Ethics commission admits it needs teeth to enforce laws

 

The watchdog agency in charge of probing corruption and fining violators wants legislators to strengthen its power to enforce the laws

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Brittany Alana Davis

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Commission on Ethics will ask the Legislature for the authority to impose higher fines on public officials who flout the rules and the teeth to go after those that don't pay up.The frustrated panel, which penalizes public officials who break ethics laws, is unable to collect about $100,000 in unpaid fines due to a law that prevents it from enforcing fines after four years.Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, has publicly touted the need for ethics reform, sparking hope that next year's legislative session might yield stronger laws. Ethics reform is consistently shut down by lawmakers, some of whom owe fines and benefit from keeping conflict-of-interest laws weak.Case in point: Commissioners expressed frustration that they can no longer go after Rep. Erik Fresen, a Miami Republican who still owes a $1,500 fine from 2004."Any elected official who owes a fine and doesn't pay, ought to be embarrassed about it," said Commissioner Linda Robison, a Pompano Beach attorney

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