TALLAHASSEE — Speaker Dean Cannon summoned all 80 Republican House colleagues to a closed, two-day training seminar Monday, with no notice beforehand to the media or public.
The purpose of the party-funded retreat was to teach the finer points of lawmaking to the 41-member class of House freshmen, including a crash course in rules, amendments, floor debate and other arcane details of the legislative process.
A secondary benefit, lawmakers said, was to help the newcomers get to know each other better, something less common in the era of eight-year term limits.
The House described the seminar as all work and no play. "No golf, no pool, no family members," spokeswoman Katherine Betta said, noting that the Republican Party got a bargain hotel room rate of $115 a night at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort near Universal Studios.
The rookie legislators will meet in committees for the first time next week. The annual 60-day legislative session begins March 8, and lawmakers serve part time and are paid $29,697 a year.
Party caucus gatherings like the one being held near the Orlando tourist attractions are not required to be held in public, but a similar one two years ago near Destin was open to the media.
"This is not fun. This is work," House Majority Leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, said. "None of this is policy we're talking about. It's not like we're talking about Senate Bill 6 or what we're going to vote on."
A memo sent this week by Lopez-Cantera to members advised them "to eat before your arrival. … Hotel rooms will be provided for Monday night, and your cost of gas will be reimbursed by the Republican Party of Florida. … We expect our program to run through all meals. Please do not schedule any other meetings or events during these two days, as we need your undivided attention to make this training a success."
Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, said the seminar served a valuable purpose, because about two-thirds of the 120-member House has been in the Legislature for two years or less.
"The whole leadership team is here," Glorioso said. "We're all here trying to educate the new members."
Members will be schooled on seemingly-arcane procedural maneuvers concerning bills and amendments. They also heard a presentation on "setting reasonable expectations" and a briefing on hometown spending projects and how there isn't enough money for them this year.
Another topic: "Communications and working with the press."
Asked why the media wasn't informed about the seminar, spokeswoman Betta said in an e-mail: "It is a business event comprised of training and teamwork exercises. No spouses, no families, just members and a limited number of staff. We are having policy briefings next week in Tallahassee, which will be open."