Florida's annual legislative session begins Tuesday. Are your legislators ready?
All Floridians should be pulling for their elected officials—state senators, representatives and the governor—to work well together to pass a budget that meets our needs and policies that advance a better quality of life for all residents.
Unfortunately, it's not that easy. The 60-day legislative session is a battlefield of conflicting ideas, policies and agendas. Out of thousands of bills introduced, only a fraction of them make it through the session and become law—maybe 250 to 300.
Before each session, legislators need to have a battle plan.
Do your representatives know how the process works? Have they formed relationships to be able to get things done? Do they know the issues? Do they excel in some subject matters? Are they willing to give up something to get something? Do they have a strategy?
Most importantly, do they understand your needs and what you expect of them? Are they fighting for you and not the big money interests?
And how about your governor? Is he trying to facilitate solutions? The eight years of Gov. Rick Scott were marked by little cooperation and corroboration despite having both the House and Senate controlled by his Republican Party.
Gov. Ron DeSantis promises to work productively with the Legislature. Since DeSantis has legislative experience in Congress, perhaps he better understands the concept of separation of powers and respects the proper role of each branch of government.
DeSantis has made quite a few promises and announcements that have pleased Florida voters. The test of his effectiveness will be how well he works with the Legislature to achieve those objectives.
He has called for cleaning up our waters, ridding the state of blue-green algae, allowing smokeable medical marijuana and fixing our scandal-plagued prisons. These issues require action from the Legislature. Mere words of good intent do not equal success.
DeSantis has 60 days to deliver. He is already showing the Legislature more respect than his predecessor—a positive start.
State representatives and senators have 60 days to pass or defeat bills and get priority projects funded. The annual state budget—the appropriations bill—is the only legislation that must pass before the Legislature adjourns. Lawmakers don't always get that done.
Unlike the federal budget, the state budget must be balanced; the state cannot spend more money than it collects. That leads to a battle for finite dollars.
The governor presents his budget priorities to the Legislature.
The Senate president and the speaker of the House have their own policy and budget priorities. They can adopt or ignore his requests—this is where the headbutting and horse-trading come into play.
Good policy often falls victim to these turf battles. Some bills die by friendly fire. Some also die when one political party that doesn't get its way insists on denying a victory to those responsible—even if it hurts their constituents.
How does the average Florida voter know who is responsible for good policy dying or divisive policy becoming law?
It's often hard to tell, as elected officials tend to take credit for what turns out well and blame others when things turn sour.
It's difficult for concerned Floridians to tell what's really happening as bills that seem to have overwhelming support often appear to be in danger of defeat while controversial issues seem to be hard to kill.
The chaos and complexity of the process make it easy to cloud responsibility.
Very few Florida voters follow the Legislature closely, and even fewer understand what's really happening beyond the headlines and talking points.
Recently I was advising some newly elected officials about how to be effective. Some of the key points were to know the process, know the players, understand what motivates the various actors and develop a strategy to advance your objective or defeat ill-conceived proposals.
Voters need to follow the same advice if they want to hold their legislators accountable. Elected officials have become emboldened to ignore voters' wishes because they've learned how to disguise their duplicity.
The news media need to shine a brighter light on who is playing a role contrary to their public comments. Let's flush out the devious behavior over the next 60 days.
Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland. She is now a registered NPA. PBDockery@gmail.com.