Florida has been a leader among the states in establishing ethics standards for public officials and recognizing the right of her people to protect the public trust against abuse. Our state constitution was revised in 1968 to require that a code of ethics for all state employees and non-judicial officers prohibiting conflict between public duty and private interests be prescribed by law.
Florida's first successful constitutional initiative resulted in the adoption of the "Sunshine Amendment" in 1976, providing additional constitutional guarantees concerning ethics in government. In the area of enforcement, the Sunshine Amendment requires that there be an independent commission (the Commission on Ethics) to investigate complaints concerning breaches of public trust by public officers and employees other than judges.
The "Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees" adopted by the Legislature is found in Chapter 112 (Part III) of the Florida Statutes. Foremost among the goals of the Code is to promote the public interest and maintain the respect of the people for their government. The Code is also intended to ensure that public officials conduct themselves independently and impartially, not using their offices for private gain other than compensation provided by law. While seeking to protect the integrity of government, the Code also seeks to avoid the creation of unnecessary barriers to public service.
Criminal penalties which initially applied to violations of the Code were eliminated in 1974 in favor of administrative enforcement. The Legislature created the Commission on Ethics that year "to serve as guardian of the standards of conduct" for public officials, state and local. Five of the Commission's nine members are appointed by the Governor, and two each are appointed by the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives. No more than five Commission members may be members of the same political party, and none may hold any public employment during their two-year terms of office. A chair is selected from among the members to serve a one-year term and may not succeed himself or herself.