State Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey in the Hills, has filed a bill that would put new restrictions on the way local governments operate and create a statewide registry of lobbyists.
The state already requires lobbyists to register and make disclosures on financial reports. Sabatini’s bill would extend that registry to local governments.
“That’s good for transparency reasons,” Sabatini told Florida Daily. “We should know who is lobbying us.
“A lot of people have no idea how much is being spent at their local government body by lobbyists, by people like developers in order to influence decisions and if they are next door or something is going to happen, or a new law is going to drastically change the culture or the way that town operates, citizens should be able to very easily access that information,” Sabatini said.
Some cities and counties already have registries but the requirements vary greatly for each municipality that has enacted rules on lobbying. Many local governments have no rules at all on the matter.
Sabatini applauded local governments that already put rules in place and said they are welcome to keep them.
“We still allow local governments to enact penalties for those who aren’t in the registry or doing what is required to lobby those local governments but creating one state network I think is more helpful for all Floridians,” Sabatini told Florida Daily.
Sabatini was a commissioner in Eustis before he ran for the House. That being the case, he said he understands what happens when a developer wants its way.
“You could call it shady, but at the end of the day, what it really is, is just people trying to get rights to do certain things with land,” Sabatini said, adding it is not necessarily wrong but it is important for people to understand who is doing what in local government.
Sabatini said believes all of the growth in Florida is a major factor why there is more lobbying of local governments across the state.
“There is so much happening so quickly. We need to give citizens the tools to know who is influencing their own city or town,” he said.
Sabatini’s bill will also force cities and counties to publish agendas for their public meetings at least seven days in advance. This became a huge issue in Osceola County back in May when the county manager added an item to the agenda the morning of the County Commission meeting. That measure was put on the consent agenda and allowed a company to bring more than 650 tons of coal ash from Puerto Rico to the Osceola County landfill. The move outraged citizens because there was never any public discussion over whether or not the coal ash should be brought to Osceola County.
“If you find out about something the morning of, there’s absolutely no way you’ll even have time to make a phone call,” Sabatini told Florida Daily, adding the controversial vote influenced his decision to add agenda posting requirements to the bill.
Sabatini said he’s not finished tinkering with the bill, telling Florida Daily he is open to changes from his fellow legislators if they offer amendments which would increase accountability from local governments.
Reach Mike Synan at firstname.lastname@example.org.