TAMPA — Over the years, state Sen. Tom Lee hasn't been shy about challenging his fellow legislators when he thinks they can do a better job.
On Tuesday, at a Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce's luncheon, Lee, R-Brandon, appeared ready to challenge lawmakers again, this time about the process of adding amendments to existing bills.
Lee called for reform in the bill-making process after an audience member brought up the fact that this year's legislature passed the fewest amount of bills in Florida's history
The question inferred there was some type of dysfunction this session. Lee explained there was, but not the kind the audience expected.
"We may be passing the fewest numbers of bills, but we're passing the longest trains," Lee said. "When issues are added to those pieces of legislation as they move through the process that are substantive in nature, they ought to be referred back to the original committee … not be allowed to be added later in the process."
Lee, along with state Reps. Dan Raulerson, R-Plant City, and Ross Spano, R-Dover, shared stories and answered questions about state legislative decisions during the 2014 session at the chamber's Legislative Wrap-up Luncheon Tuesday.
Lee, who served in the senate for 10 years before taking office again in 2012, said he began noticing the problem during last year's session.
The problem with adding substantive changes later on in the process, Lee said, is that it eliminates a stage of transparency and accountability when those changes aren't vetted by a committee.
"We ought to go back to a day where every idea has an individual bill number, it's run through the process and the process is respected," Lee said.
Part of the issue is a byproduct of term limits, he said. New legislators don't have the institutional knowledge to realize this isn't how the process has to work.
By allowing such a high number of amendments late in the game, it conditions the lobbyists and special interest groups to withhold on filing legislation and instead find a more popular bill to which they can attach it.
"They just wait to see what looks like it has momentum and has lift," Lee said. "They wait until late in the process and they start adding amendments on those bills that are must-pass pieces of legislation.
"We end up with huge — hundred and hundreds of pages — pieces of legislation and nobody knows what's in them."
Lee also spoke of his role as head of the Senate Judiciary Committee and his focus on budget issues. He noted that Gov. Rick Scott could have vetoed some "low-hanging fruit" but probably opted to "make friends" in an election year.
Spano touted his work on curbing human sex trafficking and received applause for a new law that eliminates the statute of limitations on sex trafficking and increased penalties for offenses.
Raulerson said his efforts included helping unaccompanied teens gain control of health care. The youths, many homeless or abandoned by parents, previously needed parental permission to access insurance for doctor visits and routine procedures.
Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia, was unable to attend the event.
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (813) 661-2443.