This past week of October 5th through the 8th was the first of several scheduled “interim” committee meeting weeks scheduled between now and next March. The “interim” refers to that period of time between legislative sessions. Once the session starts committee meetings continue for 50 days and the “interim” is dropped from the title. The committee schedule changes from year to year and is based in large part on whether or not it is an election year. If it is an election year the interim committee meetings start in mid-November, if not, they start in late September or early October. Other potential factors that may drive the start of the interim committee process may be a called special session or some other event of statewide import.
No matter when the interim committees do start, in all cases the legislators and their staff travel to the Capitol to begin the process of preparing for the next lawmaking session. During the post-session months when legislators are not in Tallahassee they meet primarily with constituents and work on legislation from afar. In Tallahassee, legislators and staff meet with department heads, lobbyists, heads of various professional associations and any constituent or constituent group that has taken the time to travel to the Capitol building.
Each legislator sits on a number of standing committees, and some also sit on ad hoc committees. The standing committees meet on a regular basis throughout both the interim and the regular session. This past week’s first round of interim committee meetings consisted mostly of presentations by committee staff reviewing committee projects that were worked on over the summer, summaries by department heads of the various state agencies activities and concerns, and budget updates and projections for the coming fiscal year. The next round of committee meetings will continue this trend as well as including hearings on pieces of legislation that have been filed for consideration (all bills filed must pass every committee of reference before being eligible for a hearing by the full House or Senate).
In Tallahassee, when legislators are not in committee meetings, they spend most of their time meeting with individuals and groups who come asking for support, or opposition, to various pieces of legislation that will come before the Legislature. In many cases, organizations will bring large numbers of their members by holding a “Rally in Tally” to express their position en bloc. Effective groups will make sure that members of their organizations take the time to visit their individual elected officials, as this personal touch makes a great impact on the lawmakers. Senator Mike Fasano, for example, has an open door policy for all residents of his district. If they have taken the time to travel to Tallahassee he will take the time to shake their hand and listen to what they have to say.
During October, November and December the committees meet for at least one week per month. After the New Year the committee process is ramped up to two weeks in January In February it is two weeks plus a third for legislators who sit on appropriators committees. Once the legislative session starts the committees meet weekly until the middle of week 8 on the Senate side. The House usually ends committee meetings sooner.
With a 60 day legislative session, during which the entire state budget and other big ticket bills must be completed, much of the work preparing for other pieces of legislation must be done during the other ten months of the year. There is much preparation needed to complete the work that must be accomplished in two short months. Much of it is done in the district and the rest in Tallahassee. In all cases it is the top priority of legislators to ensure that the people of Florida get the best representation they deserve, whether in Tallahassee or back home.