SB 766 (Perry) and HB 611 (Sabatini) impose mandatory lobbyist registration requirements on all governmental entities as defined in the bill, including all municipalities and counties. The bills also amend statutory meeting notice requirements for cities and counties.
The bills require the Florida Commission on Ethics to create the Local Government Lobbyist Registration System, and beginning October 2020, any local government lobbyist registration ordinance or requirement is preempted by the state system. The bills define lobbying, provide exceptions and specify activities that do not constitute lobbying.
A person may not lobby a government entity (which includes any municipality or county) until the person has electronically registered as a lobbyist with the commission. The bills appear to prohibit separate registration fees for each municipality in a county, as they authorize separate registration submissions for each county and prohibits additional fees for governmental entities within each county. The bills specify information to be included in the lobbyist registration. Registration is renewable annually and must include authorization from each principal identified. HB 611 directs the Commission on Ethics to set the annual lobbying registration fee by rule but provides the fee shall not exceed $20 for each principal represented within a county and governmental entities therein and that it may not exceed $5 for each additional principal represented. Registration fee limits and penalty amounts are addressed in a separate Senate bill, SB 768 (Perry).
The bills require the commission to publish lobbyist registration information on the internet. It requires a governmental entity to make reasonable efforts to ascertain whether a person who lobbies that entity is registered with the commission. Upon discovery of a violation of requirements of these provisions, the bill authorizes a person or governmental entity to file a complaint with the commission. If probable cause is found, a person may be subject to reprimand, censure, assessment of a civil penalty not to exceed $500 per violation or suspension from lobbying for a specified period. HB 611 authorizes governmental entities to impose additional civil penalties not to exceed $500 per violation or a suspension from lobbying the entity for up to two years.
The bills prohibit a governmental entity from requiring classes, certifications or additional requirements as a requisite for lobbyist registration. They authorize a governmental entity to require lobbyist compensation reporting and disclosure of lobbyist contacts with government officials and authorizes restrictions on the exchange of money or things of value between lobbyists and government officials.
By January 2021, a governmental entity shall notify the commission of any local requirement that imposes additional or more stringent obligations with respect to lobbyist compensation reporting or other lobbying activities and provide this information and any associated forms to the commission. By January 2022, each governmental entity shall conform its lobbyist regulation system, if any, to the commission’s system to eliminate duplicative requirements. The bill authorizes the commission to adopt rules to implement its provisions.
Lastly, the bills amend statutory meeting notice requirements for municipalities and counties. Except in the case of emergency meetings, the governing body of a municipality or governing board of a county must provide notice of any meeting of the body or board at least seven days in advance by posting a notice on body or board’s website. The meeting notice must include a statement of the general subject matter to be considered by the body or board. (O’Hara)