In the wake of the Sarbanes/Oxley act passed by Congress in 2002, many state legislatures have focused more on integrity, independence and objectivity in the accounting profession. During the 2004 legislative session, the Florida Legislature followed the lead of 36 other states and created a statutory requirement for a four hour ethics course for Florida CPAs. SB 2720 by Sen. Jeff Atwater and its companion HB 1315 by Rep. Don Sullivan, were the result of a cooperative effort of the Florida Institute of CPAs (FICPA) and the Florida Board of Accountancy (BOA).
Who Must Complete Ethics CPE?
Pursuant to s. 473.312(1)(c), F.S. and BOA Rules 61H1-33.003 to 61H1-33.00342, F.A.C., all Florida licensees are required to take a total of four hours of ethics CPE as part of their 80-hour CPE requirement for license renewal. This course can only be taken from BOA-approved ethics course providers, and because it is Florida-specific, another state's ethics CPE will not meet this requirement.
Why Support an Ethics Requirement?
To understand why the FICPA supported this statutory change, one need only look at what is happening at the national level. The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) drafted a whitepaper titled, "Answering the SOX Challenge" that supported the concept of a pre-licensure and post-licensure ethics course. For years, the Uniform Accountancy Act rules drafted by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and NASBA supported mandatory ethics CPE courses.
With current college curriculum being required to teach a growing body of knowledge in accounting, auditing, taxation, business law, etc. there is no room for ethics education per se. The need for the profession to concentrate on teaching professionals to not only do what is technically correct, but to also conduct themselves in a manner of doing what is intended and avoiding even the appearance of impropriety needs to be emphasized periodically. The ultimate goal of this new law is to provide for public protection by having licensed individuals periodically demonstrate an understanding of Florida laws and rules governing their behavior and understand the widely recognized components of an effective ethics program.
What Does the Ethics Law Require?
Within s. 473.312(1)(c), F.S., licensees are required to complete four hours in ethics, "applicable to the practice of public accounting." The law goes on to state that, "this requirement shall be administered by providers approved by the board and shall include a review of the provisions of chapter 455 and this chapter (473) and the related administrative rules." The law and rules exam and the ethics course should give licensees the knowledge they need for ethical conduct.
Implementing BOA Rules
Since SB 2720 was signed by the Governor in May of 2004, the Florida BOA has been diligently drafting administrative rules to implement the requirement. Some key items in BOA rules that affect licensees should be noted:
- 61H1-33.003(1)(a) - Reiterates the statute requiring that four hours of ethics CPE is required.
- 61H1-33.003(1)(c) - Outlines the course content.
- 61H1-33.0031 - Allows the course to be offered in a four hour segment or two two-hour modules. If a licensee takes the course in two modules, both must be taken from the same provider.
- 61H1-33.0032 - Outlines who can apply to be an ethics course provider and who can teach the course. No CPA who has been disciplined by the Florida BOA can teach the course.
- 61H1-33.0033 - An ethics course instructor must be a CPA, "who has practiced in a public accounting firm for five of the last ten years, whose background, training, education or experience makes it appropriate for the person to teach the course."
As should be noted, the Florida BOA has the authority to revise the above mentioned rules through the administrative process. To view changes to these rules, please visit BOA or contact the FICPA's Governmental Affairs Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-2727, Ext. 202.