Legislative Leaders Laying Down Rules for Upcoming Session
December 10, 2012 | WMFE - The Florida legislature's annual session doesn't begin until Tuesday March 5th but lawmakers are already at work in Tallahassee hammering out a plan for the session. The tentative outline involves new committees, new priorities and a more intensive review for the state's budget.
“Don’t pass bad bills.” That’s what the state’s new senate president, Don Gaetz, told his chamber’s committee chairs and leaders during a pre-session organizational meeting. Gaetz says it’s up to committee leaders to be sure the measures they’re sending on to the next committee are up to par.
“Don’t say, ‘well, you know, this bill is a work in progress. This bill has a lot of problems and we’re going to let the next committee chair fix it up the line.” Gaetz said. “We’ve got enough committee meetings scheduled so that if there’s a bill that has a good concept, but it needs some work, you’ve got time in your committee to work on the bill. To improve it and bring it back the next committee meeting and to pass it with amendments that make it work.”
Gaetz is also strongly discouraging committee leaders from accepting late-filed amendments. He is urging members to "TP" or “Temporarily Pass” such bills. That means the committee would not consider the measure.
“If somebody comes in with a 40-page strike all an hour and a half before the committee meeting and wants you to consider it, then I would ask you, I would plead with you, to TP the bill or TP the strike all.” Gaetz said. “It’s just not fair to your committee members to ask them to shoot in the dark.”
Republican Senator John Thrasher, the Rules Committee chair, says lawmakers will need to take responsibility for making sure their bills make it through all the committees.
Thrasher says, in years past, as time has started to run out, lawmakers have asked for a reduction in the number of committees their bill has been required to get through. But he says that won’t work this year.
“Work your bills. Don’t take it for granted that that’s going to happen this particular session.” Thrasher said. “Work your bills so that they can get through the committee process so that they can get to the final stages of being brought to the floor of the Senate in an appropriate time.”
The Senate leadership has also proposed plans for a more thorough budget review which would include a careful look at both state contracts and special member projects.
The House hasn’t moved forward with such strict planning but House Speaker Will Weatherford is working to lay out a number of priorities for the coming session such as creating jobs.
Weatherford is also echoing Gaetz’s call for a strong look at ethics and elections reform.
“When you’re looking at the TV on a Friday after an election and you still don’t know who won the electoral votes in the state of Florida, you’ve got a problem.” Weatherford said. “I think that’s something we have to be cognizant of. I think we have to admit that mistakes were made. Certainly, you shouldn’t have to wait in line for six hours to early vote and we’re going to look at those things and come up with something to solve the problem.”
Meanwhile, Democratic House leaders are also laying out their plans for the coming session. House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston and Democratic Ranking Member Janet Cruz are echoing the need for elections reform.
Cruz says some good first steps have been taken, but there’s more to be done.
“Through the legislature’s committee process, we think the House and the Senate need to hear from all interested parties. We, the legislature, need to hear from the county supervisors.” Cruz said. “We the legislature need to hear from the civil advocacy groups. The bottom line is that this legislature needs to act deliberately and without delay.”
Cruz says she hopes lawmakers can bring new legislation forward to address those issues in a bi-partisan effort. Though she says the Democratic Caucus is prepared to do that on its own if necessary. The group also talked about the importance of looking into campaign finance reform and giving adequate funding to higher education.