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- 2013 - January - 30th -

Full-time Legislature on the way?

by Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida

Florida would abandon its part-time “citizens” Legislature and instead hire lawmakers on a full-time basis, under a proposed constitutional change filed Tuesday that would need voter approval to succeed. 

Saying it makes no sense for the nation’s fourth largest state to be run by “part-time employees,” Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) has proposed a constitutional amendment that would replace the state’s part-time body with a full-time Legislature that would convene shortly after the general election and meet off and on over the next two years. 

Florida’s Constitution restricts a legislative session to 60 days or less, but lawmakers already spend at least two additional months attending committee meetings in Tallahassee. Frequent special sessions and obligations back home add additional work, making the notion of a part-time lawmaker wrong anyway, Clemens argues.

Clemens acknowledges that critics will immediately object if lawmakers raise their salaries from the $30,000 a year they now receive. But he countered that the costs would be minimal because legislative staff members already work on a full-time basis.

Raising the salaries of 160 lawmakers would be tiny in comparison to the state’s budget as a whole.

Clemens is only the latest lawmaker over the course of several years to advocate for a full-time Legislature.

“I didn’t get into this job for the money,” Clemens said “But it just doesn’t make sense that a state with a $70 billion budget should be run by part-time employees.” 

Instead, Clemens said that lawmakers now have little if any time to honestly debate complex policy issues. Budgetary matters receive an even more cursory review by rank-and-file members. 

“I think we shortchange Floridians by rushing through legislation and accelerating the budget process with a proper vetting,” Clemens said. “

Part-time lawmakers are also saddled with the dilemma of voting on issues that may affect their full-time jobs back in the “real world.” Clemens said there is an inherent conflict of interest that would be alleviated if lawmakers worked year round. 

“You can’t serve two masters,” Clemens said. 

The proposal would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters, if it ever passes in the Legislature. But so far, there is no House sponsor and Clemens, as a member of the minority party, has little political muscle to push bills through.

But he has hope. Two of his bills have already been placed on the calendar to be work-shopped in committee next week. Ironically one proposal, SJR 254, would limit the number of constitutional amendments the Legislature can propose. 

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