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Part-Time Lawmakers Beginning To Feel Strain Of Overtime Sessions

Lawmakers return to Tallahassee August 10, but what are they putting off at home?
Nick Evans

Lawmakers are preparing their return to Tallahassee, but for some August’s special session will complicate professional lives at home.

Summer is winding down, and while the mercury mercifully begins to dip just a bit, students across Florida can almost hear that first morning bell creeping up behind them.  And so can the teachers.  August is typically the time when instructors are putting the finishing touches on lesson plans for the coming year.   But what if that teacher is also a state lawmaker. 

“We have to miss a considerable amount of time during the school year when you pair up committee weeks with session,” Rep. Rene Plascencia (R-Orlando) says.

He works for the Orange County school district, but like former Representative Karen Castor Dentel, he no longer works in the classroom.

“The district decided with Karen, as they decided with me, to pull me out of the classroom, and although I’m still an instructional employee, I work as an instructional employee at our school district office,” Plasencia says.  “There’s many of us that are instructional employees there that work as support for our teachers.”

But for Sen. Dwight Bullard (D-Miami), who teaches at Miami’s Coral Reef High School, the solution was a little different.

“Last year I was team teaching,” Bullard says, “it was myself and another teacher so that when I left to go to session, there wasn’t a learning loss because both teachers had been in the classroom the entire time.”

But both lawmakers admit the inclusion of a special session above and beyond their ordinary commitments is a strain.  Bullard worries he might miss the first day of school—something he says hasn’t happened in his 15-year career.  They also share concerns about the cost of session.

“I don’t get paid salary anymore,” Plasencia says. “It’s tax payer funded, as a schoolboard as a teacher, and so it wouldn’t be very ethical for me to be collecting a paycheck if I’m not actually at work, so I’m hourly now.”

And it isn’t just teachers who might feel a pinch with the extra session.  Rep. Bob Cortes (R-Altamonte Springs) runs a towing and a bussing company when he’s not serving in the Florida House.

“We had to make some changes,” Cortes says.  “I had to bring some people in to take care of the office while I was not there.  Since we just went through one session, we’re just going to have to repeat exactly what we did.  It’s somewhat of a burden, however when I took this job, I took it with the understanding that it even though it might seem part time this nowhere near part time this is all the time full time.”

But Cortes counts himself lucky to have a staff as committed to their job as he is to his.

“When they know that I’m going to be away, they step it up also,” Cortes says. “They stay out and work overtime.  The way they see it is if the boss is working overtime in the Legislature, then so will they.”

Plasencia, Bullard and Cortes aren’t on their chambers’ redistricting committees so they won’t have to be on hand for anything besides the scheduled floor sessions where the entire body comes together to discuss proposed maps.  But whatever arrangements lawmakers have to make, they’re busy making them so they can be on hand come Monday August 10.  Even if like Plasencia they’ll have to get back on the road to make it home for work Tuesday.

Nick Evans came to Tallahassee to pursue a masters in communications at Florida State University. He graduated in 2014, but not before picking up an internship at WFSU. While he worked on his degree Nick moved from intern, to part-timer, to full-time reporter. Before moving to Tallahassee, Nick lived in and around the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years. He listens to far too many podcasts and is a die-hard 49ers football fan. When Nick’s not at work he likes to cook, play music and read.