The Florida Legislature could provide reprieves from a controversial 2023 law that requires local elected officials to disclose information about their personal finances.

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By Seán Kinane / WMNF News.

By Jim Saunders ©2024 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — After dozens of resignations and two lawsuits, a Florida House panel Wednesday supported providing reprieves from a 2023 law that requires local elected officials to disclose detailed information about their personal finances.

The House State Affairs Committee approved revamping a bill to push back the effective date of the requirements to 2025 and to exempt mayors and members of local governing boards in communities with 500 people or fewer.

The law took effect this year, prompting dozens of local officials to resign rather than face the disclosure requirements. While the law applied to people in office as of Jan. 1, they have until July 1 to file the forms.

With little discussion, the State Affairs Committee approved making the change in a bill (HB 735), sponsored by Rep. Alex Andrade, R-Pensacola, that includes issues such as requiring people to register as lobbyists if they lobby counties, municipalities or special districts.

The financial disclosure issue involves what is known as a “Form 6,” which has long been submitted by officials such as the governor, state Cabinet members and lawmakers. The forms require information detailing 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.”

Under the change Wednesday, the Form 6 requirement would apply to municipal officials as of Jan. 1, 2025. Also, part of the change would apply the requirement only to mayors and local governing board members in municipalities with populations “of more than 500 persons.”

A Senate version of the bill (SB 734) does not include the change.

Municipalities and dozens of local elected officials from across Florida filed state and federal lawsuits last week challenging the constitutionality of the 2023 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.

“Requiring that uncompensated (or minimally compensated) municipal elected officials disclose their precise net worth, income and assets does not serve (let alone constitute the least restrictive means of serving) any compelling interest,” the lawsuit filed in Leon County said.

Supporters of detailed disclosure requirements say, in part, that such information can help show officials’ potential conflicts of interest while conducting government business.

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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