In early March, Florida lawmakers convened in Tallahassee to kick off the 2019 legislative session. The official start followed months of preparation, with lawmakers periodically holding interim legislative committee meetings to discuss and debate various policy and funding matters on tap for session. Legislative session is only 60 days in length, and the only action mandated by the Constitution of Florida is for lawmakers to pass a balanced state budget to fund the government. Nonetheless, 3,491 bills were filled between the House and Senate this session. Of these, just 197 bills passed and, to date, just 31 have been signed by Governor DeSantis. As a legislative intern for the Florida League of Cities, I was on the frontlines of this, and acquired greater insight into the day-to-day work of lobbyists.
Lobbyists are individuals who seek to persuade members of the government to enact legislation that would benefit their group. In this case, the Florida League of Cities represent the 412 municipalities across the Sunshine State. On a normal day, the lobbyists are standing before committee meetings at the Capitol explaining why or why not a bill should be supported, or how it could be amended to serve the interests of local governments across Florida. The cornerstone of this is the idea of “Home Rule,” meaning that local cities or counties set up their own systems of self-government without interference from the state. In other words, home rule gives local governments the ability to enact ordinances, codes, plans, and resolutions without prior state approval, and then enforce them “at home.”
As an intern, I tracked the movement of relevant bills throughout the legislative process. Committees are at the heart of this process because they determine if a bill should be amended, pass, or fail. Often, the Florida League of Cities works with legislators to fix the language of bills that disfavor the interests of local governments. If passed, the bill moves to other committees of reference or to the full house for a vote. If a bill passes in one house, it is then sent to the other house and can go back-and-forth between houses until consensus is reached. The Florida League of Cities also oversees a “legislative Action Day” at the Capitol, where local elected officials (such as mayors and commissioners) speak to their legislators to underscore the priorities and work of the lobbyists. Throughout session, these local officials also traveled to Tallahassee to be briefed on pertinent issues by the League, and I would sit in on the meetings and learn more about issues specific to their communities.
Lobbyists, in laymen’s terms, are experts at networking. The ability to exert an influence on the legislative process requires lobbyists to build and sustain relationships with lawmakers and their staff members. On any given day, lobbyists are in contact with legislative aides, legislators themselves, stakeholders, and constituents. Often, I would find myself walking through the Capitol with the lobbyists and hardly being able to make it out the door without running into a familiar face. Sometimes, this even included FSU’s very own President Thrasher.
Courtney Saunders graduated this spring from Florida State University with a double-major in political science and international affairs. Courtney’s post-graduate plans include working as a paralegal in Washington, DC before attending law school. Throughout her time at Florida State, Courtney was involved with the Office of Governmental Affairs, Student Government, the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, and the Honors Program.
The feature image is from Florida League of Cities.