During the annual legislative session the media covers nearly every moment of every day something happens in Tallahassee, as it should. Florida has a Government in the Sunshine law for good reason. The work and actions of our elected officials should be out in the open. Accessibility to those who are guardians of the public purse is a good thing. To some extent constituents base their opinions of their elected representatives on what they read in the paper, see on television or hear on the radio. Not covered as much is the interim committee process that began in earnest earlier this month.
The period of time between the end of one session and the start of the next is the “interim.” During this period lawmakers meet in committee to discuss bills that will eventually be voted on once the session is underway. It is the committee process that molds and changes bills from the form they were filed in to the version that ends up getting a floor vote. This process is vital and necessary to the legislative process.
The committee process is the general public’s best opportunity to have their voice heard as individuals. I have sat in on countless meetings during which regular people, often with little or no public speaking experience, get up and recount emotional stories that they hope will positively, or negatively, impact the direction a bill may be heading in.
During the many years of the prescription drug/ pill mill debate, I recall with great clarity a mother who got before up before a Senate committee and used props as a visually stunning way to demonstrate how the scourge of pill mills impacted her life. This woman, whose son had died from a drug overdose due to purchases he made in a pill mill, put clear plastic bags full of multi-colored beads onto the podium to illustrate the number of each pill he had been prescribed. Each clear bag contained hundreds of beads. She had bags of all blue, all red, all green, etc. The impact was stunning and it brought home just how deep her late son had been caught in a nightmare that ultimately ended his life.
I remember another hearing in which the family of someone who lost a young man to a red-light runner spoke in favor of red-light cameras. Even though the family brought posters of the young man, it was their testimony that had the greatest impact. They were able to put into tearful words how the loss of this person had impacted their lives, and how much they wanted to prevent another family from experiencing the same loss.
I recall a different committee meeting during which a member of the audience got up and recounted a childhood assault he had experienced. By his own admission he said that his testimony was not planned. He had stepped forward to share his story because he felt that his testimony would put a face on the bill that was being discussed. He did not want others to go through what he went through as a child (and as an adult dealing with that trauma).
I have great respect for people who testify before legislative committees. Whether I personally agree or disagree with what they are saying is not the issue. From someone who has presented countless bills to legislative committees during my many years in this process, I can say that it can be an intimidating experience for those of us who do this for a living. For someone who may have made the trip to the state capital for the first time in their lives, and who may never go back again, it must be a daunting task. It is their right to do so, however. Many times that personal touch is what pushes a bill forward, or stops it in its tracks, depending on what that testimony was meant to do.
As the legislative process unfolds this year, keep an eye on what happens as committee hearings take place. A lot more goes on in Tallahassee than what may be reported on the local news show. There are plenty of media outlets that cover the Florida Legislature. If something is brewing that you support then let your legislators know. If you oppose something they are working on, it is important that they know that as well.
If you have any questions about the legislative process, or would like to learn more about a specific topic relating to government, please leave me a comment. I will gladly address your thoughts and concerns in an upcoming blog post or in a reply to your comment.