Organizations Renew call on Florida House and Senate Leaders to Increase Transparency, Public Access to Legislative Proceedings
‘Transparency and accountability in the legislative process is critical to the public trust.’
Last week, more than 30 Florida grassroots organizations wrote 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 stated 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. It also outlined specific requests, including accessible technology, procedures for public testimony and ensuring that the Legislature provides ample opportunities for public input.
To date, despite followup phone calls, the organizations have not received any substantive response to their letter, and the policies the organizations object to remain unchanged.
“America’s elected officials are supposed to be public servants,” said Anjenys Gonzalez-Eilert, Executive Director of Common Cause Florida. “Our government is supposed to be ‘by the people.’ That means ‘We the People’ need to be able to see what our elected officials are doing, and we need to have our voices heard. With technology, there’s no reason for Florida’s voters to be shut out of the legislative process. If we can hold weddings and funerals on Zoom, we should also be able to use streaming technologies to testify before legislative committees.”
“The very important 2022 redistricting process is fast approaching and the FairDistricts Coalition is concerned that the Legislature has yet to publish any plans for engaging the public as it redraws district lines,” said Ellen Freidin, CEO and General Counsel of FairDistricts NOW. “No public hearings have been announced. Nor has any other plan for public participation or even observation of map drawing been made public. We urge Legislative leaders to immediately address these issues to ensure that, unlike in the previous cycle, redistricting in 2021-2022 will be totally fair, open, accessible, interactive and transparent.”
“Providing the people of Florida easy, safe access to governmental decision making is a no-brainer,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We have the technology to ensure that everyone who wants to be heard can be heard – let’s use it.”
“Being able to participate in the legislative process shouldn’t be a luxury. Every Floridian should feel empowered to attend legislative public hearings and provide comments, whether that takes the form of attending virtually or in person,” said Sadaf Knight, CEO of the non-partisan Florida Policy Institute. “People with low income, people of color, and Floridians with disabilities, who have historically faced roadblocks to access, have only seen these challenges exacerbated amid the pandemic and economic recession. We urge state lawmakers to publicize fair, transparent guidelines for submitting testimony to reduce these inequities and ensure that Floridians can make their voices heard on the issues they care about.”
“It is difficult enough under normal circumstances for the public to participate in our legislative process, but the legislature has capitalized on the COVID-19 pandemic to institute overly restrictive and unnecessary protocols making it virtually impossible for the public to have their voices heard,” said Kara Gross, Legislative Director & Senior Policy Counsel of American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. “During this health care crisis, we expect our elected officials to put our health and safety first and create avenues for alternative public participation. Instead they have designed a system that requires individuals to travel to Tallahassee and appear in person at the Capitol or at the Civic Center to testify in person during a pandemic. They have failed to acknowledge in the committee hearings or make publicly available on-line any written testimony received from the public. They have failed to create an avenue for anyone to have their voices heard unless they show up in person in Tallahassee. The public can’t even waive in opposition unless they submit a card in person in Tallahassee. We have the technology to be able appear virtually, to limit travel, and to contain the virus. But instead, the legislature is forcing individuals to risk their health and safety in order to have their voices heard. This is shameful and will only contribute to the spread of COVID and the silencing of Floridians.”
“Informed citizen participation in our government is crucial to the health of our democracy,”’ said Patricia Brigham, President of the League of Women Voters of Florida. “Our state’s legislative leaders should no longer delay implementing easy government access technologies like the ones we’ve seen numerous municipalities use since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“It’s imperative that the Florida legislature is accessible, accountable, and transparent – especially during this COVID pandemic. As the state that prides itself on having established the Sunshine Laws, our legislators must continue to abide by the spirit that public policy is best crafted in public,” said Brad Ashwell, State Director for All Voting is Local. “If Floridians can continue our work via teleconferencing, then the very least the House and Senate can do is adapt those same methods and show their work.”
“Until robust protections against COVID-19 can be assured in all aspects of our society, virtual participation in the legislative process must be afforded to the public,” said Deborah Foote, Government Affairs and Political Director for Sierra Club Florida. “People should not have to choose between their health and their right to be heard.”
“The current environment and the needs of the moment can serve as the impetus for much needed change surrounding good governance and transparency,” said Juanica Fenandes, Executive Director of State Voices Florida. “The modernization of our legislative process will make these proceedings much more accessible to working class Floridians moving forward; including those voices will make us a better state for all.”
The February 1, 2021 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.