It has often been said that one of the most powerful moves a new presiding officer makes is when he/she appoints those who will serve as committee chairs. Both the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate are comprised of standing committees that have the task of analyzing, considering and voting on individual pieces of legislation.
Additionally, the committees prepare legislation that they introduce for consideration by the legislature as a whole. The people appointed to run those committees are an extension of the presiding officer and, presumably, that officer’s specific political, economic and social outlook.
Now that the Florida Legislature has met to swear in all newly elected members and presiding officers, the time to get down to the brass tacks of lawmaking has arrived. Legislators from all across the state will make the trek to Tallahassee next week to meet for what will be the first in a series of “interim” committee meetings. The term interim refers to that period of time between the end of the previous regularly scheduled annual legislative session and the start of the next one. The legislature will meet during the interim several times between now and the start of the 2013 session which begins on March 5. By the time the gavel first strikes the podium and legislators are officially called into session, a fair number of bills will have already been heard in committee and may be ready for consideration on the floor of the respective chambers.
Legislators from as far off as Key West, Ft. Myers and Panama City will make their way to Tallahassee during the interim. As an aside, for those who may wonder, of all the cities in our great state, why Tallahassee is the state capitol, the answer goes back to a time before paved roads, airplanes and the other modes of mass transportation that we take for granted today. In the 1800’s when the northern portion of Florida boasted the vast majority of the state’s population, the location for the capital was determined by how far people could walk. Florida’s eastern most populous city in the north was, and still is, Jacksonville.
Its westernmost city was, and remains to this day, Pensacola. Florida history documents that the early policymakers determined the siting of the capital by people walking west from Jacksonville and east from Pensacola. The point at which they met became the capital. The word Tallahassee is a native people’s word that means, oddly enough, “old town” or “abandoned fields.” Perhaps not the most auspicious name for a newly created state capitol!
The first round of committee meetings tend to be introductory events during which the members meet each other, receive a presentation about the committee and the areas and policies it oversees, and other presentations intended to orient the members to what the committee does and in what direction it will be going. Although the committee chairs are an extension of the presiding officer, they each have their own priorities and policy passions, each of which will guide the flow of bills that move through the committee.
Although rules differ from one chamber to the other and one administration to another, bills generally must be heard in committee before they are eligible for consideration on the respective chamber floors. The presiding officer has the final authority for determining which committees any given bill is referred to. Some bills may be sent to two committees while others may be sent to five. The number of committees that a bill is referred to is often determined by the areas of government that any particular bill potentially impacts. During the committee process committee members may amend bills with language of their own, or on behalf of a bill’s sponsor.
The presiding officers have announced some of their legislative priorities for the coming session. Many individual members have done so as well. Representative Mike Fasano plans to introduce reforms to Citizens Property Insurance Corporation in particular and the windstorm and sinkhole insurance markets in general. He will continue to work to repeal the burdensome advance nuclear cost recovery fees impacting Progress Energy and other utility customers in the state. Additionally, he will continue to fight pill mills and prescription drug abuse. During the coming weeks as bills are filed and are considered in committee, these priorities will become more evident as the direction Florida will take in 2013 comes into focus.
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.