I spend a lot of time in this column and through other avenues trying to give the voters of Northeast Florida tools to hold their elected representatives accountable. I think it’s important that you not just read the news and analysis I provide, but that you also know how to track legislation from home and contact lawmakers directly.
Florida has one of the nation’s most open public records laws and there is useful, free information to help you track the legislative process.
It didn’t matter much this year as the House and the Senate ironed out the state’s budget that is more than $82 billion. Too many important discussions and deals were made behind closed doors.
Most of the 160 members of the legislature were left in the dark, as were the millions of taxpayers who fund the state government. We, the media, tried our best to follow the action and report what we knew, but often what we knew was too little and too late to have any impact on the decision-making.
Right now, the only thing standing in the way of the budget and related bills becoming law is Gov. Rick Scott’s veto pen.
He has already expressed concern about the decision to slash funding for Visit Florida and economic incentives, and has questioned the secretive process that led to a sprawling budget-related education bill that includes provisions for everything from charter school funding to school uniforms.
Scott hasn’t said he will veto this legislation, but he is under considerable public pressure to do so. Even if he doesn’t, the time is now for you, the constituents at home, to let members know how you feel.
I’m not just talking about whether you agree or disagree with their policy decisions, although that is important to communicate. But if you don’t like the way these policies were crafted, it’s worth letting representatives and senators know that, too.
I know there are at least some of you out there who fall into this category.
In the final days of the session, members reported receiving hundreds of calls and emails from constituents who disagreed with the education bill, and disliked that it was crafted in a way that did not allow public comment or input before a final version was agreed upon.
Lawmakers return in just a few months to begin committee meetings ahead of the 2018 session, which begins in January. And there is a chance they will be back even sooner to finalize implementation laws for the medical marijuana amendment.
If you want them to change the way they do business, the time for them to hear from you is now.
Tia Mitchell: (850) 933-1321