Thursday, February 11, 2010

Will the "Restoring Trust in Government Act" do what it says?

The “Restoring Trust in Government Act” Bills are proposed in the Florida Senate and House, sponsored jointly by Rep. Adam Fetterman, D-Port St. Lucie, and Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland

Trust! Government! Restoring! Did we ever have trust in our government? I am not sure, maybe for a few weeks back in 1776. The words Trust and Government, in most voters’ minds are a contradiction in terms. “How about the “Creating Trust in Government Act”? Just the fact that this bill is necessary says a lot.

We don’t have much trust in our representatives, and with good reason. At the local level Deerfield Beach has at least two commissioners who don’t want an ethics code, Vice Mayor Poitier voted against it, and Mayor Noland placed an item on the commission agenda to eliminate the code after it was approved by a prior commission.


(They didn’t carry the day however and the code went to a committee to revise. See post below.)

And we have two commissioners under indictment preparing to go to trial.

But the Noland/Poitier attitude toward disclosure and regulation of behavior is all too common among our representatives, especially after they have been in office for a while.

Florida’s State Senate doesn’t even have a law prohibiting senators from voting on a bill if they know it would benefit them personally. Of course the senators would have had to pass that law regulating them, so I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for the Restoring Trust bill to be passed.

What happens to people after they are in office; to what seem to be good men and women that we elect? All too often, almost always, an idealistic candidate gets co-opted by the system, while learning how to get things done, they begin to compromise. Little deals to get something they think is a good thing for their district all too often morph into little deals for themselves and then big deals. They don’t even notice it because the transformation creeps up so slowly, a free lunch here, a small gift there, then those things become normal so larger gifts don’t seem so wrong, the deals are rationalized and excuses internalized, so the surprise that is exhibited when they are caught is often genuine. This is a powerful reason for term limits and against recycling politicians from one office to another. And a powerful reason for voting yes for put-the-people-in-control amendments such as the Florida Hometown Democracy's Amendment 4.

One thing good that Deerfield Beach has done, again by the last commission, is to impose term limits and staggered terms. It takes a while for a politician to become corrupt completely and a good way to prevent that is to elect new ones frequently. That way, if we are lucky, we get a couple of years of the politician trying to do the right thing.

An interesting editorial from, they are much more hopeful about this bill than I:

Here's one way to help restore trust in state government

The companion bills, one each in the Florida Senate and House, are appropriately titled the “Restoring Trust in Government Act.”

Is there a greater need today in government — at all levels — than restoring public trust?
Probably not.

At the national level, only 18 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, according to a Feb. 5 Gallup poll.

At the state level, the case of former House Speaker Ray Sansom, R-Destin, has created distrust of both legislators and the legislative process. Sansom stepped down in February 2009, following accusations that his $110,00 job at Northwest Florida State College was a quid pro quo for millions of dollars he had funneled to the college. A House committee is scheduled to take up legislative misconduct charges against the disgraced former speaker the week of Feb. 22.

Cynical Floridians looking for reasons to trust elected officials will be encouraged by the proposed “Restoring Trust in Government Act.” Sponsored jointly by Rep. Adam Fetterman, D-Port St. Lucie, and Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, this legislation would prohibit lawmakers from voting on or debating any issue that could create a personal gain for themselves, relatives, an employer or business associate, or any corporate board on which they might sit. Also, any member with a potential conflict of interest would be required, before consideration of a bill, to “publicly state to the body or committee all of the interests in the legislation” that might benefit him or her or related parties.

Currently, House members are prohibited from voting on a bill if lawmakers know it would benefit them personally. There is no such prohibition in the Senate. In fact, Dockery has tried twice, but failed, in previous legislatures to strengthen the Senate’s conflict-of-interest statutes.
Many members of Florida’s “Citizens Legislature” have jobs in the private sector — jobs that may bring them into conflict when deciding the fate of bills in Tallahassee. Declaring potential conflicts before debating a bill or casting a vote simply is common sense and good governance.
“This legislation is another step toward increasing transparency in government,” said Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who plans to support the bill.

The “Restoring Trust in Government Act” is a no-brainer. But that in no way guarantees it will survive the legislative process.

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