The 2017 legislative session doesn’t begin in earnest until next March but lawmakers are wasting no time getting incoming members up to speed.
The state capitol’s fourth floor rotunda is packed with folding tables—stations for incoming House lawmakers to fill out HR forms, pick up their new laptops or get temporary office assignments. The new lawmakers and aides are milling around—smiling, shaking hands. But for Tallahassee Democrat Loranne Ausley it’s a bit of déjà vu. The representative held her current seat from 2000 to 2008, and she has some advice for new members.
“Get to know the staff because they can make or break you,” she says. “We have amazing employees in the state of Florida and in this building.”
In the Senate, there are 20 new faces—half of the overall membership. Presiding officer Joe Negron (R-Stuart) sees that as an opportunity rather than challenge.
“I see very talented, capable, energetic people from all walks of life, and so I’m looking forward to their participation in the process,” Negron says. “I think when the voters instituted term limits this is exactly what they expected to happen, so I see only upside.”
Part of his optimism could the fact that—like Ausley—many of those new lawmakers aren’t new to making laws. Fourteen of them were serving in the House just last year like Sen. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota). Steube believes the connections he forged there will give him a leg up as he pushes proposals through the Senate.
“I mean it’s great,” Steube says, “I think it’s awesome to have the ability to have the experience from the House—to have the relationships with the House members and the House leadership that I have—and I think that will be a huge asset for my district and the state as we move forward.”
Another lawmaker moving from the House to the Senate is Darryl Rouson (D-St. Petersburg), and as a member of the minority he’s eager to have a greater impact on policy.
“Well the House was fairly partisan,” Rouson says. “The Senate is more collaborative. I look forward to being able to not only express ideas but make things happen.”
Lawmakers return to Tallahassee next week to be officially sworn in.