Now that the election is over, the Florida Legislature begins a process it carries out every two years; organizing itself. All members of the Florida House face re-election every two years, as does half of the Florida Senate. Toss in a dose of redistricting and you have a legislature that welcomes some veteran members back, many new faces and a lawmaker or two (i.e. Mike Fasano and John Legg} who successfully moved from one chamber to the other.
This newly created legislative body must consign its old leadership to the history books. With the election over, the two chambers must begin to operate under the rules and vision of the lawmakers chosen to lead their respective bodies for the next two years. This first meeting of the new legislature is called the organizational session. This relatively short meeting of lawmakers usually takes place two weeks after Election Day. Both the House and the Senate meet separately to swear in newly elected legislators, as well as removing the “designate” from the titles “Speaker-Designate” and “President-Designate” by officially installing the two individuals who were chosen to take the reins of the House and the Senate.
In 1996, the first Republican speaker of the House since the Reconstruction Era, Dan Webster (now a member of the United States Congress), was sworn in. At the time, the House was nearly split down the middle (61 Republican members and 59 Democratic members). In the years since, the Republican presence continued to grow in the House until it reached its zenith during the past two legislative sessions when the GOP held 2/3rds of the seats in the House. The Florida Senate, meanwhile, had been under Republican leadership prior to 1996 and has solidly remained so ever since.
The importance of which party is in charge can’t be overstated. The speaker and the president are chosen by their peers because they demonstrate not only the capacity for leadership but also a vision for the state that is shared by the majority of the members.
The presiding officers wield immense power. They appoint committee chairs. They create the make-up of standing and ad hoc committees. They have final approval over which bills and legislative priorities are heard in committees. They set the chamber’s overall agenda and decide what bills come to a vote on the floor. The ultimate power of the position is the opportunity to set the tone and philosophical direction of the state for many years to come.
The new Speaker of the Florida House is Representative Will Weatherford of Wesley Chapel. The new President of the Florida Senate is Senator Don Gaetz.
Both are proven leaders who have earned the trust of their fellow lawmakers. Historically, the relationship between the respective officers can either sidetrack respective agendas, or provide a path of cooperation which leads to great success for a shared agenda. By all accounts, the new leaders of the Florida Legislature will work together well not only for their respective bodies but for Florida as a whole. In a time of turmoil at the national level, there is comfort in knowing that Florida is in good hands.
If you have a question about the legislative process, how the respective chambers prepare for the upcoming legislative session, or any other issues of importance to you, please do not hesitate to let me know. I will gladly try to answer your questions.