Ethics Commission bristles at thought of writing off fines

Herald/TimesTallahassee BureauJune 16, 2012 

TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida Commission on Ethics will ask the Legislature for the authority to impose higher fines on public officials who flout the rules and the teeth to go after those who don't pay up.

The frustrated panel, which penalizes public officials who break ethics laws, says it cannot collect about $100,000 in unpaid fines because current law prevents the state from enforcing fines after four years.

Case in point: Commissioners expressed frustration that they can no longer go after Rep. Erik Fresen, a Miami Republican who never paid a $1,500 fine from 2004.

"Any elected official who owes a fine and doesn't pay ought to be embarrassed about it," said Commissioner Linda Robison, a Pompano Beach attorney.

The panel, concerned about the ever-growing pot of uncollectable fines, considered writing off the lost money, but opted to keep it on the books to help persuade lawmakers of the need for reform.

"You're telling me a city commissioner in Lauderdale Lakes has a $3,000 fine, and we're going to write it off? Is that what I'm going to understand?" said Commissioner Morgan Bentley, referring to Eric Haynes, whose fines are pending from 2005 and 2006. "I will never vote to write off fines."

The commission will also ask the Legislature to raise the limit on penalties from $10,000 to $25,000.

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