New Florida House speaker wants crack down on lobbyists

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s next House speaker wants to put in place a long list of rules to crack down on lobbyists, vowing to battle back against perceptions of corruption and influence peddling.

Rep. Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican set to become speaker later this month, released proposed rules Thursday that include a ban on lobbyists using emails or text messages to reach out to legislators when they are about to vote in committee meetings or on the House floor.

The proposed rules would prohibit legislators from traveling on lobbyist-owned planes, which is allowed now if they pay the same rate it would cost to fly on a commercial jet. Lobbyists would be required to disclose electronically more information about their lobbying activities, including specific bills or amendments they are trying to kill or pass.

Corcoran also wants to make it harder for legislators to add new spending items to the state budget for hometown projects, a ritual that usually occurs in the waning days of the session. The new process would force legislators to file stand-alone bills that include the request. He also wants to ban legislators from lobbying local governments when they aren’t in session.

“It is time that government embodies the very highest of standards and serve citizens and not self,” said Corcoran, an attorney who was once a top aide to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio when Rubio was speaker. “The Florida House will set the standard for others to emulate. And those who cannot live up to the highest ethical and professional standards will find the Florida House a difficult place to work or visit.”

The House will vote on the proposal Nov. 22 when they gather to formally install Corcoran as speaker.

As Florida has grown into the third-largest state, the lobbying industry in the Capitol has also flourished. Disclosures have shown that private firms pull in more than $100 million a year lobbying the Legislature and the executive branch. One of those lobbyists is Corcoran’s own brother, Michael Corcoran, who represents roughly 70 different clients.

The proposed rules constitute some of the most significant changes sought on lobbying in Tallahassee since the state adopted a ban on all gifts from lobbyists to legislators a decade ago. They also appear to be some of the most stringent rules in the country.

It’s not clear if the Florida Senate will emulate some of Corcoran’s proposals, meaning that lobbyists could be working with two different sets of standards next year.

Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for incoming Senate President Joe Negron, said the Senate is working on its rules that will be presented to senators later this month.

Rumors about the pending proposals had already prompted grumbling among some lobbyists, especially the requirement to register on each individual bill.

Brian Ballard, one of Tallahassee’s top lobbyists and well-known GOP fundraiser, said that lobbyists would do what is required of them.

“Every speaker and every new Legislature has their own prerogative and it’s our job to make it work,” Ballard said. “Lobbyists are very adaptive creatures, we will find out how to work within the rules.”

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