Senate, House Differ on Lobbyist, Budget Rules

Posted at 5:09 PM, Nov 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-16 17:09:00-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (The News Service of Florida) - New Florida Senate rules released Tuesday do not include the broad-based restrictions on lobbying and budget measures that will be imposed by the House, instead settling for tweaks and smaller changes.

The rules for how the Senate will operate over the next two years, released by incoming President Joe Negron, are largely in line with those that have been used in the past. However, the draft slightly shores up some ethics standards for senators and people seeking to influence them.

If the amendments are approved by the Senate during an organization session next week, members would be required to undergo four hours of ethics training every other year, up from one hour. Restrictions on lobbyists who are temporarily allowed on the Senate floor would be tightened to curtail attempts to use the access to influence senators.

The Senate's approach is far less sweeping than the House's planned rule changes, which will bar lobbyists from texting lawmakers during committee meetings or floor sessions, require lobbyists to disclose specific issues that they are working on and ban House members from flying on planes provided by lobbyists or their clients.

Perhaps most significantly for the ability of the two chambers to come together on a state budget, the House intends to require members to file separate bills for proposed spending projects. There is no counterpart to that process in the Senate rules released Tuesday.

But shortly before releasing the draft, Negron told reporters he also wanted a budget process that was less opaque.

"I'm very committed to having an open, transparent budget process," said Negron, a Stuart Republican who will formally become president during the organization session next Tuesday. "When I was the appropriations chair in the Senate under President (Don) Gaetz, we always had an opportunity for public comment at our (House-Senate) conference meetings, which had not been a traditional process."

He expressed confidence about the ability to work with the House.

"I think all of the concepts that the different chambers are talking about, with regard to the rules, will all work out over the next several weeks," Negron said.

The Senate rules make other changes that are significant to Capitol insiders.

For example, lawmakers will no longer be allowed to send their aides to present bills to committees. The rules will also allow the sponsor of legislation to offer an amendment to a bill in a committee even if the sponsor is not a member of the committee; previously, he or she had to get someone on the panel to offer the amendment.

There are even more picayune changes. Committees will no longer "rise" at the end of a meeting, but "adjourn."

"Adjourn is the proper parliamentary form by which to end a committee meeting," according to an explainer of the changes to the rules.

Meanwhile, incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran deflected talk of potential unhappiness among lobbyists about the new House rules, saying he hadn't heard of a backlash --- even from his brother, lobbyist Michael Corcoran.

The incoming speaker suggested that complaints wouldn't hold much sway even if they were brought to his attention.

"The rules of the House will be written by the 120 members," Richard Corcoran said. "And we will write rules that we think are in the best interest of the state."

Corcoran also brushed off a letter from David Mica, head of the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists, seeking to provide some input on the new rules.

"If Dave Mica wants to sit at the table and have input, there is a process; it's called an election," Corcoran said.