After six years as a locally elected official, one thing is clear. I still do not really understand how the Florida Legislature works or how to make it work for me, but I’m getting there.
I thought with the Legislative Session convening, today, March 4, 2014, I would try to share what I do think I know or what I think I have figured out.
First of all, the basics. The legislature is composed of two “houses:” the House, that consist of 120 members http://www.myfloridahouse.gov
and a Senate, that is composed of 40 members http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_Senate. Each represents a district according to population.
The House leadership includes Speaker of the House; Speaker pro tempore; Majority Leader; Minority Leader and committee chairs. These House seats come up for reelection every two years. Not fun.
The Senate leadership consist of the President of the Senate; President pro tempore; Majority Leader; Minority Leader and committee chairs. Senate seats come up for reelection every four years, so you can at least get something going before you have to jump back into the reelection circus.
There are term limits for both the house and the Senate but because they are defined as “consecutive” you can take a break and then jump back in….
So what have they been doing? Well, recently they have been in Tallahassee and had “House and Senate Interim Committee Meetings.” The dates of those meetings were as follows: September 2013, 23-27; October 7-11; November 4-8; December 9-13; January 2014, 6-10; 13-17; February 3-7; 10-14; and 17-21. So what do they do at these “interim meetings?” In their committees they formulate the bills that individuals will sponsor and try to get passed starting today, March 4th, when the session officially begins. This year the last day of session is May 2nd. So it is two months of “mayhem …”
A bill can start in the House or the Senate but it has to have a “companion bill” to move forward and be voted upon. Hundreds of bills are brought before the legislature each session but only a fraction will make it into law. You can imagine there are many different interest throughout our varying state…
As the session continues, it is difficult to keep track of everything and bills usually get packaged along with others, sometimes with others that have nothing to do with them. As a locally elected official, this frustrates me as I feel every bill should be considered separately as local ordinances are. Well, this is not the case, and allows for negotiating– better said, “if you help me, I’ll help you,” which at the end of the day is not so bad. What is bad, is that the people, the voting public, have almost no way of keeping up with all this hop-schotching, so we are 100% dependent on our elected officials and those watching out for us at home. To complicate issues further, elected officials are pressured, and blackmailed, mostly by their own party, to do what they need to do to make a deal work or “we won’t let your bill be heard” or “you’ll never get to chair a committee,” especially if you are a freshmen or relatively new to the pecking order.
It takes years to develop the seniority to do what you want, so to speak. Senator Joe Negron http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Negron a good example, as he served in the House before he served in the Senate, then he became the head of the Appropriations Committee (they all sit on committees in some capacity ) and his recent position has a lot of influence and power. Senator Negron could not have started the “senate Select Committee on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee” years ago; he has earned his position to do such.
So how do you stay on top of all this politicking ? It is kind of like holding an angry cat. Hold on tight but be prepared to get scratched. Go on line to the state website and get on email alerts and call your local delegation: here in Martin, St Lucie and Indian River: Senator Joe Negron; Representative Gayle Harrell and Representative Mary Lynn Magar; Representative Debbie Mayfield; Representative Larry Lee, and tell them you expect them to support St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon policy and whatever else is important to you; tell them you appreciate what they are doing, and that you are paying attention to reports in the newspaper as far as how they vote. Most of all, be supportive so they support you. And be sure to tell them “good luck not getting scratched.”