Tallahassee Democrat by Patricia Brigham and Pamela C. Marsh
April 4, 2021
The Florida Legislature had quite a time in its now concluded 60-day session — passing legislation that will hurt Florida and Floridians — after limiting public access to testimony.
Public access, public comment and public protests hold governments accountable. When governments around the world restrict public participation, they can do whatever they want. Sadly, the 2021 legislative session came to the same end.
Typically, the Florida Capitol building is filled with activists, lobbyists and visitors who come to watch the democratic process of lawmaking unfold. This year, however, the Capitol building was all but closed due to the highly contagious coronavirus. As a result, concerned citizens who often travel miles to testify before committees about issues that matter to them were few in number.
DeSantis opened rest of Florida
It didn’t have to be that way. After all, we know that Gov. Ron DeSantis has completely opened the rest of the state. Bars, gyms, schools and nursing homes are all now open. But not the Capitol. Why is every place else safe to congregate, but the halls of lawmaking are all off limits? The state that hails itself as a model of “Government in the Sunshine” was closed and dark.
And our legislative leaders could have made different choices, if they cared about public participation. As we all know, there are multiple online platforms available for meetings. Countless organizations and companies use such platforms to conduct business safely. Leadership in the Florida Legislature apparently didn’t get the memo.
Instead, to testify before a Senate committee, members of the public had to assemble at the nearby Civic Center and wait in a small, uncomfortable room before being called to testify remotely before a committee. If they were lucky, they received two minutes to make their case. Most of the time they received one minute or less. The streaming connection from the Senate to the claustrophobic basement of the Civic Center was hard to hear, often froze, and was unreliable.