Financial disclosure changes rejected

Home » Government
Posted March 11, 2024 | By Jim Saunders
Florida News Service

Steve Rogers, who served as a councilman for the Town of Reddick for 37 years before resigning speaks during a town meeting about his concerns associated with increased financial disclosures required under Form 6. “Legislatures didn’t think this through,” Rogers told the “Gazette.” Seated next to Rogers is Marshall Roddy, mayor for McIntosh.

Amid state and federal court challenges, Florida lawmakers have rejected an attempt to change a 2023 law that requires municipal officials to disclose detailed information about their personal finances.

The disclosure requirement, which applies to mayors and other elected members of local governing boards, has been controversial, with officials in some parts of the state choosing to resign rather than provide the information.

Last month, an amendment was tacked on to a House bill (HB 735) that would have pushed back the effective date of the requirement to 2025 and exempted officials in communities with 500 people or fewer.

But during a March 1 floor session, the House eliminated the amendment, ensuring that the disclosure requirement passed last year would remain intact. The underlying bill also died as the legislative session ended Friday.

Rep. Spencer Roach, a North Fort Myers Beach Republican who led the effort to prevent changes in the law, said during the floor session that it is an “issue for me of transparency.”

“This legislature has spoken on this issue with one voice, and that voice needs to be respected,” Roach said.

But Rep. Yvonne Hinson, D-Gainesville, said close to 20 officials in her district have resigned because they don’t want to fill out the detailed financial-information forms, known as a “Form 6.” The House debate focused on the proposed change to exempt officials in communities with 500 residents or fewer.

“Agree or disagree about just how many people have to fill out the Form 6, I’m sure you’re all aware of at least a few people who’ve sacrificed their time, oftentimes volunteering to serve or lead their communities, who’ve said filling this out for a volunteer position that requires a lot of headache and sacrifice is too much. It’s a bridge too far. And you’ve seen them resign,” bill sponsor Alex Andrade, R-Pensacola, told House members.

Supporters of the requirement said financial disclosure is needed to help prevent corruption on issues such as awarding contracts.

“I don’t believe that taxpayer dollars are any less important, despite whether you live in Miami or whether you live in the Panhandle or Sneads,” said Rep. Juan Carlos Porras, R-Miami, referring to a small town in Jackson County.

Officials such as the governor, state Cabinet members, lawmakers, county commissioners and school board members have long been required to file a Form 6 each year. The forms detail issues such as officials’ net worths, incomes and assets.

Municipal officials in the past were required to file less-detailed forms, known as a “Form 1.” The 2023 law requires them to start filling out the Form 6 this year, with a July 1 deadline.

Municipalities and dozens of local elected officials from across Florida filed state and federal lawsuits last month challenging the constitutionality of the law.

The lawsuits, filed in Leon County circuit court and federal court in South Florida, contend that the disclosure requirement violates privacy rights under the Florida Constitution and First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution.

More than 100 municipal officials resigned because of the disclosure requirement, according to the Weiss Serota Helfman Cole + Bierman law firm, which filed the lawsuits.

The lawsuits name as defendants members of the Florida Commission on Ethics, which administers and enforces disclosure laws. Plaintiffs in the lawsuits include officials and communities ranging from Miami Springs to Destin.

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