It’s no wonder people are disinterested in politics and our population is overrun with so-called “low information voters”. In Florida, at least, it’s damn near impossible for your average citizen to know what’s going on in the state legislature from day to day.
I’m an advocate for veterans’ issues, so it’s no surprise that I have been doing what I can to ensure passage of some state house and senate bills that would classify veterans as residents for tuition purposes. For that reason, I have chosen not to write on that issue…conflict of interest and whatnot. I’m still not writing about it.
I followed the bills closely, even used those handy little tracking features on the chambers’ respective websites. I sent emails to committee members’ offices and spoke to aides on the phone. I was happy to watch as co-sponsors piled on the house bill. And then…nothing. The bill never moved out of committee. It didn’t die, it just didn’t move.
There it was: just sitting there on the website. I checked my Florida House iPad app every day, patiently waiting. Nothing. Until one day I got a celebratory email from the bill’s original sponsor. Apparently the bill’s language had been folded in to some other bill, cleared committee, and subsequently passed on the house floor. Great! But why was this the first time I had heard of any of this. I fell for a bait and switch! At least it was a pleasant one…this time.
It’s safe to say I follow politics a bit closer than the average citizen, but even I wasn’t able to properly follow a bill that I really, really cared about. What’s the deal? Why is this so difficult? I think this says a lot about the shadowy dealings that are inherent to politics. Anyone can check out opensecrets.com or followthemoney.com to find information on campaign contributions and the like, but the interfaces supplied to track the actual process of lawmaking are abysmal.
Transparency: What a buzzword! Everyone talks about it, but what does it really mean when it’s so problematic to keep track of basic legislation. How can average Floridians have a voice in the policy debate when they can’t even follow the conversation. Sure, big bills having to do with healthcare, K12 education, and taxes gain lots of media attention, but smaller bills just get lost in the shuffle.
The state legislature has a website called TransparencyFlorida.gov, which they describe this way: “The Florida Legislature created Transparency Florida to provide the public with unprecedented access to state government spending information by posting Florida’s operating budget and associated expenditure records online.” I find it interesting that “transparency” seems to be defined as “knowing where the money is going”. While there is certainly value in showing citizens where their tax dollars are being spent, it’s a sort of ex post facto manner of running an open government. It’s great to know who is getting what. It’s even better to help decide who gets what.
John Doe Floridian doesn’t have a lobbyist. He can’t call a press conference or get a committee chair on the phone when he has an issue. So while he’ll be able to easily learn how the cash is being spent later, he’ll have a much harder time figuring how those decisions were made in the first place.
Say goodbye to your dog kennel noise ordinance bill. That new law that affects your small industry? Who knows where that went to die? One has no way of knowing what deals legislators are making behind closed doors. Without constant communication with law makers, normal citizens are effectively shut out of the policy making process.
If Tallahassee is serious about transparency, they have got to find a way to make the legislative process more accessible to Floridians. Otherwise, it’s all good ole’ boys and smoke filled rooms.
YOU SAID IT!! It’s nearly always been about “good ole’ boys and who you know” in this state! Thanks for giving voice to all us “average Floridians” frustrations!
I was wonder while reading it whether there is another state legislature that can serve as a model for being sufficiently transparent. My guess would be to look at a state with the post politically engaged citizens (based on average electoral turnout or something) like Minnesota and see whether that correlates to the likelihood of a more transparent system.
How to operationalize ‘transparency’ is another question, too. While i do agree that Florida’s is terrible (which results i think in an overreliance on state media reporting), at least they have an app i guess.
Aren’t veterans part of the 47%?
Excellent article. This is the flaw of the truncated legislative session. It occurs too fast for most people to keep track of. This spaced filled by lobbyists and other supplicants to the leadership. Having worked in the Legislature and the Congress, I can tell you this is one area where Congress does a better job. It’s dramatically slower, but there are fewer surprises. The exception to the rule – The initial passage of The Patriot Act.
And the log jam is fast approaching. Blind voting here we come!
This is an excellent article and yes Congress does a much better job of this. Not only is the process slower but access to information is easier. I hate to do so but must give Newt Gingrich credit for this. When he was Speaker he made it a point to make accessible entire texts of bills, tracking info, all votes etc which was way ahead of the curve in the 1990s. Almost 20 years later Florida is still playing catch-up.
Never really thought about about about it this way, but then I never tried to track a bill before. Great article!
Reblogged this on EllenBeth Wachs.
Maybe all of the legislation should concomitantly be printed in Spanish. Just like the voter ballots and a lot of the other official government communications in the state of Florida. After all if we embrace the diversity model that most Democrats seem to hold near and dear to their hearts these non assimilating people will continue to come to vote themselves even more entitlements and we can go down the horse s*** .. peppered path to Hades and third world existence that this course will ultimately bring us down too. Pioneers no more, most immigrants seek to just suck the government eat dry. At that the Democrats keep trying to inflate with the overworked tax paying productive citizens of this country. Sad state of affairs in my humble opinion. Jonathan