I have had the privilege of spending most of the past 18 years working for the Florida Legislature. I spent 8 years in the House of Representatives and close to 10 years in the Florida Senate. I have had the distinct honor of working as the chief legislative assistant for Senator Mike Fasano during my entire and ongoing legislative career.
During those years, I have had an inside look at the “sausage-making” that is lawmaking. I hope to share some of my insights on the legislative process with you as well as putting a local perspective on what happens in Tallahassee. So many laws are passed every year that most people don’t even know about some of them. Hopefully I will be able to shed a little bit of light on a process that is often mysterious only because few people ever get to see it in action.
I don’t want to assume anything so please allow me to spend a few moments in this introductory blog entry to tell you a little bit about the legislative process. Over the years, I have been surprised at how many people don’t understand the basics of state government. For most of us, Civics 101 was a class we slept through a long time ago. The reality is that sometimes the actions of our state government can impact us even more than what happens in Washington because those actions hit closer to home.
For example, red light cameras are here courtesy of Tallahassee. The amount you pay for a hunting license comes out of the state capital. The tuition you pay as a college student is a product of state government.
The Legislature is currently going through a process that takes place every 10 years; reapportionment. I will talk about this in greater detail in a future entry but, to put it simply, this is the process in which the district lines of state and congressional offices are determined. Despite the increase in population from one ten-year period to the next, the actual number of seats in the state legislature don’t change. There are 120 members of the Florida House and 40 members of the Florida Senate. According to 2010 census figures, House members represent approximately 156,000 Floridians while Senators serve about 468,000 people.
The Legislature meets in regular session on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of March nine out of every ten years. During the tenth year, such as this year, the legislature begins in early January. The Legislature meets for 60 consecutive calendar days during which time the only thing that the Florida Constitution requires is the passage of the state budget and the periodic review of “government in the sunshine” statutes.
Of course many other law are enacted, repealed and reviewed during the annual session. During the remainder of the year, the Legislature meets during occasional “interim” committee meetings. The term interim refers to the period of time between regular sessions. At any time, the Legislature can be called into special session either by order of the governor or by a joint call of the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate.
Because of the “part-time” nature of the Legislature, most lawmakers hold jobs or professions that are separate from their Tallahassee duties. Some are retired. At a minimum all are at least 18 years of age, a registered voter and a resident of Florida.
I look forward to sharing with you some of bills that are being considered, how they become law and how you can be a part of the legislative process. I also welcome your questions about the legislative process. Please feel free to leave your questions in the comment section, or e-mail me directly, and I will answer them in a future entry.