Organizations call on Florida House and Senate Leaders to Increase Transparency, Public Access to Legislative Proceedings

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‘Transparency and accountability in the legislative process is critical to the public trust.’

More than 30 Florida grassroots organizations today released a letter to state legislative leaders, urging them to “ensure that the remaining committee weeks and 2021 legislative session have structures and systems in place to ensure accountability and an open, accessible, and transparent process that allows for meaningful input from the public.”

The letter states that the organizations “are deeply concerned about government transparency and public oversight, particularly the lack of an option for the public to participate remotely and/or virtually” in House and Senate proceedings.

The letter outlines specific requests, including accessible technology, procedures for public testimony and ensuring that the Legislature provides ample opportunities for public input.

“America’s government ‘by the people’ requires that ‘the people’ be able to see what our elected officials are doing and be able to have our voices heard,” said Anjenys Gonzalez-Eilert, Executive Director of Common Cause Florida. “During this time of COVID, everyone’s safety is of course our primary concern. But with technology, there’s no reason for Florida’s voters to be shut out of the legislative process. If we can have our Thanksgiving dinners on Zoom, we should also be able to use streaming technologies to testify before legislative committees.”

“While last Spring we were caught off guard by COVID-19 and unable to prepare ourselves to safely and inclusively testify during the 2020 Legislative Session, we have the benefit of hindsight this year,” said Juanica Fernandes, Executive Director of the Florida Civic Engagement Table. “We know now that COVID is not going away overnight, and more importantly, we know that it has disproportionately affected black, indigenous, and people of color populations. State Voices Florida firmly believes that it is the right of every Floridian to testify before the state Legislature on the legislation that affects our daily lives; as such, the State House should act quickly and decisively on this legislation to ensure equal access to our legislative process.”

“People with disabilities deserve to have their voices heard when our legislators are making decisions that have a direct impact on their lives. They should not have to choose between exercising their rights and their personal health and safety,” said Olivia Babis, Senior Public Policy Analyst, Disability Rights Florida. “We have seen the Legislature permit presentations to be given via videoconferencing platforms several times during interim committee weeks. Why shouldn’t this same reasonable accommodation be extended to citizens?”

“The Florida Legislature has done a great job protecting the Capitol during this crisis but they have done nothing to protect democracy and the people’s access to this process,” said Rich Templin, Director of Politics and Public Policy with the Florida AFL-CIO. “The speed at which very controversial measures are moving is unprecedented and is happening with little to no access for the people.”

Any written testimony submitted by Floridians should always be placed into the record, said Patti Brigham, President, League of Women Voters of Florida. It is the responsibility of our legislators to respect the voters who have taken the time to write such testimony. The voice of the people, whether written or spoken, must be respected.

The letter was signed by Common Cause Florida, Florida AFL-CIO, Florida Rising, Florida Building and Construction Trades Council, SPLC Action Fund, Progress Florida, Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, Florida Policy Institute, The Common Ground Project, ACLU Florida, All Voting Is Local, All On The Line Florida, League of Women Voters of Florida, FairDistricts NOW, State Voices Florida, Disability Rights Florida, ReThink Energy Florida, Florida Asian Services, OCA South Florida Chapter, Florida Asian Women Alliance, AAFF South Region, Asian American Federation of Florida, The First Coast Leadership Foundation, CAIR-Florida, Broward for Progress, Broward Young Democrats, National Council of Jewish Women, State of Florida, Center for Biological Diversity, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Women’s March Florida, Indivisible FL13, Sierra Club FL, Ntl Council of Jewish Wmn Gtr Miami Section, Mi Familia Vota, Democratic Disability Caucus of Florida, Miami DSA and Miami Workers Center.

Read the full letter here.