Update – 10:39 a.m. – Rep. Ron Saunders asks to be excused from special session (memorandum after the break).
Update – 11:08 p.m. – Late word coming down that Florida House Democrats plan to boycott the special session on Thursday and Friday.
Dear Speaker Cretul:
Upon reading the call for a special session on rail transit, we bring urgent concerns about the decision to conduct House committee meetings and floor sessions on Thursday and Friday, December 3 and 4.
As we informed you last week, your plan to hold meetings and possible floor votes in Tallahassee on these days will conflict with an important and long-scheduled national event being held elsewhere in our state — the annual legislative conference of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators. The conference takes place tomorrow through Saturday in Fort Lauderdale and is expected to draw the attendance of a significant number of Florida legislators.
Florida House Democratic Caucus members recognize the significance of the upcoming special session and look forward to opportunities to be meaningfully involved in the legislative process, including making important decisions about the future of our state’s transportation system. But our caucus also recognizes the role that many of our members serve as hosts to the National Black Caucus of State Legislators’ conference.
There is no apparent reason that you have given for convening House floor sessions this week rather than in conjunction with the Florida Senate on Monday. Without urgent rectification, the current scheduling conflict presents an unfair choice to many members of the House of Representatives and threatens to injure Florida’s reputation on matters of importance to the National Black Caucus of State Legislators.
Members of the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators wish to fully participate in considering, discussing, debating or amending any bill before it is brought to the floor for a vote, which would be facilitated by beginning the special session on Monday, December 7.
Rather than allowing the Florida House of Representatives to be admonished as exclusionary or your leadership being criticized as racially insensitive, we urge you to take action now to minimize the blowback from the scheduling mistake.
Further, it is not sufficient to our caucus members to be given excused absences by you from attending legislative business so that they may attend long-planned events of importance, especially when those events are ones that many of our constituents will expect our members to attend. It is simply not appropriate – and it is plainly unnecessary — for Republican leadership to create a scenario that could sever many minority legislators from fully participating in their legislative duties and their other responsibilities as elected representatives.
The legislative process involves more than just voting. It also involves deliberation and debate, and to simply disinvite a large portion of the body of the Florida House of Representatives shows disrespect to those members and the process.
We look for your response today.
Franklin Sands, Leader
House Democratic Caucus
Geraldine Thompson, Leader Pro Tempore
House Democratic CaucusMemorandum from Ron Saunders:
My legislative district has over 6,000 black constituents. Therefore, I am today joining the Florida Legislative Black Caucus and will be attending the National Black Caucus of State Legislators annual conference on December 3 and 4 in Fort Lauderdale to learn more about important issues affecting my constituents.
Your memorandum to members dated December 1, 2009, states: “Members of that organization who are involved in that meeting will be excused from Session on Thursday and Friday upon request.” Since I will be a member of “that organization” who will be “involved in that meeting”, I formally request an excused absence from the Special Session activities scheduled for Thursday, December 3, and Friday, December 4, 2009.
I would like to point out that despite its significant fiscal impact the proposed legislation (PCB EDCA 09B-01) was not referred to the Appropriations Council on which I serve. The bill is also not scheduled to be heard on Thursday or Friday this week in any substantive committees or councils on which I am a member. I do not plan on sponsoring any amendments. Therefore, my presence in floor sessions planned for Thursday and Friday will be unnecessary. I will be fully prepared to speak on legislation during the scheduled Monday session.
My absence on December 3 and 4 will save taxpayers unnecessary expense incurred if I attended. In light of the state’s current $2.6 billion budget deficit, perhaps you should encourage other members whose committees are not meeting to seek excused absences and save taxpayers even more money.
Although I am requesting an excused absence, I join many other House members in urging you to delay the start of Special Session until Monday, December 7. I believe that it is unfair to force members to choose between attending a session that could be delayed until Monday or attending an important long-scheduled national meeting.
In any event, my request for an excused absence is in accordance with the explicit items of your memorandum. I therefore expect to receive confirmation of an excuse from you by 3:00 p.m. today pursuant to the memorandum.
I appreciate your expressed willingness to grant excused absences, ask you to consider delaying the start of Special Session, and look forward to seeing you in Tallahassee on Monday.