PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - Citizens across the Sunshine State are tired of watching public officials hired to set the rules break them.
That's why the state grand jury is recommending lawmakers toughen existing laws to help crack down on crooked public officials.
"We have a problem with certain individuals who, for whatever reason, commit bribery, fraud and embezzlement and they've had a enough," said Sheryl Steckler, Palm Beach County's first Inspector General hired this year to detect public corruption.
Much of what's included in the grand jury's 127 page report already exists in Palm Beach County said Steckler and Alan Johnson, the county's Director of the Commission on Ethics.
"It's absolutely gratifying to see the grand jury validates what we already have in place in Palm Beach County," said Johnson.
Palm Beach County adopted its own code of ethics in May of 2010 after a handful of local public officials made headlines for using their positions to commit abuse.
Key recommendations of the statewide grand jury include:
-- Expanding the definition of public employee to include private employees contracted by government entities that perform government services.
--Creating harsher sentences for officials convicted of crimes.
--Creating an independent State Office of the Inspector General, responsible for hiring and firing agency Inspectors General
--Expanding definition of criminal bid tampering to include bid-rigging schemes
--Authorizing the Ethics Commission to initiate investigations with a supermajority vote of commission members
Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe calls the report a good move for prosecutions. "The punishment in state laws on public corruption tends to be lower than they should be," he said.
McAuliffe wrote a bill to toughen sentences for public abuse. He says the bill gained headway but never made it through last session. He hopes the same recommendation by the grand jury will help make it reality this session.
Lawmakers will discuss the grand jury's report this legislative session which begins in March.
Copyright 2010 The E.W. Scripps Co. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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