Like the first day of school, Florida's new legislators go to work
TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida Legislature's freshman class went to work for the first time Tuesday with two days of orientation sessions as members of the Class of 2016 start learning the ropes.
"The goal is for you guys to understand what we're doing," incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, told House freshmen. "Hopefully you can hit the ground running."
The Capitol had a first day of school atmosphere, as the new lawmakers received keys, parking spaces and diagrams of Capitol offices.
This is the face of term limits; There are so many of them -- 65 with one more House member in Miami still to be decided by a lengthy manual recount -- that each freshman held a sheet of paper with their last name on it so the official House photographer knew who's picture was being taken.
Some of them don't yet know where the bathrooms are, but they will be voting soon enough on abortion rights, guns, taxes and spending.
Twenty of the 40 senators are new, making it the largest freshman class ever, Senate Secretary Debbie Brown said.
"When voters instituted term limits, this is exactly what they intended to happen, so I see only upside," said Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who will be installed as Senate president next Tuesday.
The 120-member House has 46 new members. The youngest new representative, Amber Mariano of Pasco County, is 21, and the oldest, former Rep. Mike Grant of Port Charlotte, is 67.
Asked if he knew who was who, veteran Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, said: "Absolutely! I call them all 'Representative."
The Legislature has its first father-daughter combination with Democratic Sen. Victor Torres of Orlando and his daughter, Democratic Rep. Amy Mercado.
House freshmen hit the books and got a crash course in state government from veteran staffers like Carol Gormley, the House deputy chief of staff for policy. She described the three types of counties in Florida: charter, non-charter and "a third type of county, Miami-Dade. Home rule on steroids." (Miami-Dade is the only county that is part of the state Constitution).
A pop quiz asked which functions were in which state agencies, and almost nobody in the room knew that the Bureau of Education and Testing is in the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. It's the unit that conducts tests for people applying for business licenses.
-- With reporting by Kristen M. Clark and Michael Auslen