Florida Legislature completes special session behind closed doors
By Roger Caldwell
Floridians can breathe a sigh of relief because the Florida Legislature completed their constitutional responsibilities by providing the governor with a balanced budget. This legislative session was filled with drama and confusion, and at times, it appeared our Legislators acted like spoiled, rotten children instead of professional adults. But, in the end, the two leaders in both houses were able to work collaboratively, and vote on a budget.
Horse trading and negotiations is part of the political process, but in the 2015 session, the Republican leadership exposed the vindictive and ugly side of politics. It was extremely embarrassing when the two Houses refused to talk and work together, and the Senate walked out of the original session early. This action was illegal, and most Floridians had never experienced this type of behavior from its elected legislators.
It is extremely important that the media, political action groups, civic organizations, and residents hold the legislators feet to the fire, and force them to explain what happened in the 2015 legislative session. The residents are owed an explanation as to why our elected officials ended the first session early, and why Medicaid expansion is not being discussed with residents in their district.
Many Floridians are starting to believe that our legislators do not care what the residents want and think. There was no transparency in this special session, because most of the negotiations between the two Houses were done late at night behind closed doors. Somehow, there was $300 million found in the budget between the leaders of the two Houses, and a high stakes game of horse-trading took place.
At this late night spending session, most of the money went to the top priorities of House Speaker, Steve Crisafulli, and Senate President, Andy Gardner. With this sudden emergence of $300 million, a wide range of programs and building projects were agreed uponto smooth the ruffled feathers of some of the frustrated legislators. In this $78.7 billion budget, Andy Gardner won a $15 million project to build a new downtown campus for the University of Central Florida, and other projects for his district.
House Speaker Crisafulli wanted money for his initiative to offer bonuses to school districts that require children to wear school uniforms. There were virtually no public discussion with a multitude of projects, and many legislators thought this process was wrong. “Pork…….under the cover of night. I have a problem seeing that as transparency” says Representative Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach.
Everything in the special session was done as a last minute initiative, and many Democrats and environmental groups feel they were short changed by the legislators in a state constitutional amendment approved by voters last year. Under the state constitutional amendment, one-third of state real estate developmental taxes were to be spent on land acquisition and water protection, but the Republican lawmakers used the majority of this money for other initiatives.
After spending an additional $1.5 million for a special session, and the threat of shutting down the state, the Republican leadership thinks they have done a good job. It is obvious that the Republican leadership sees nothing wrong with making last minute deals behind closed doors at midnight when the public and many of the legislators are not invited.