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Longer session? Longer term limits? Don't count on it

The Florida Legislature needs to take a good look in the mirror.

The problem is, this is an election year, when most people in Tallahassee don't like to make tough decisions.

Two bills filed for the upcoming session are sure to be very unpopular with the public but deserve to be fully debated. Both involve the clock: term limits and the compressed 60-day annual session.

The question is, should both be longer?

Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, calls term limits a failure and has filed a bill (S598) to extend terms from eight to 12 years.

"I was for term limits until I actually saw how bad it was," said Bennett, who was elected to the House in 2000 and to the Senate in 2002.

What floored him, he said, was that only a handful of lawmakers had any experience in dealing with budget cuts when the real cutting began three years ago.

Bennett's bill also seeks to ease Tallahassee's obsession with campaign fundraising by changing senators' terms from four to six years and House members' from two to four.

That would enable House members to be less preoccupied with the next election. It seems that from the day they're elected, representatives are constantly campaigning.

Bennett is a veteran lawmaker who knows that longer terms have little chance of getting a three-fifths vote of both chambers to make the ballot, not to mention the 60 percent vote at the polls needed to change the Constitution.

"I think it should be debated," Bennett said.

The second proposal, by freshman Rep. Dwayne Taylor, a Daytona Beach Democrat, asks the Legislature's research arm to study the "effectiveness and cost efficiency" of making the Legislature full time.

Lawmakers now meet for 60 days, but special sessions have become increasingly frequent, and among the most populous states, only Texas holds shorter sessions than Florida's.

Young lawmakers feel as if they are on a treadmill, moving much too fast, with no time to study issues in depth. Then after eight grueling years, they're termed out. Floridians deserve better than newbie politicians making rookie mistakes under constant deadline pressure.

"Maybe we're moving a little bit too fast," Taylor said. "The way we operated in 1968 should be different now because we're more diverse as a state, with a much bigger population."

With HB863, Taylor is asking for a study of the pros and cons, and perhaps a 75-day or 90-day session. But this is sure to be unpopular with his colleagues because it's easy to slap a label on a full-time Legislature as bigger government, run by career politicians to boot.

That's because a full-time Legislature would result in a different type of person running for office — someone willing to spend most of the year in the state capital, only 14 miles from the Georgia border.

Some people surely think 60 days is too long of a session as it is. Taylor, a former Daytona Beach city commissioner, disagrees.

"We're constantly on a clock," Taylor said, "and the clock is ticking, every minute of the day."

Longer sessions in Tallahassee and longer careers for legislators. The ideas probably won't fly with the folks back home, but both should be aired out.

Prediction: They won't be. The excuse? Not enough time.

Longer session? Longer term limits? Don't count on it 02/05/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 5, 2010 11:43pm]
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