A session unlike any before to kickoff Tuesday
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Florida lawmakers begin their annual 60-day session Tuesday.
It is the 123rd session since statehood, but it will be different than any ever held before, as the Capitol remains closed to most visitors over COVID concerns.
The flowers are freshly planted and the grounds newly pressure washed, but little else will be the same in the first full legislative session of the pandemic.
In years past, sessions would bring 1,000 or more people a day to the Capitol, but this year, the building remains closed to most of the public.
Senate Committee rooms remain off limits.
In-person testimony is now remote via video from a mile away, but you still have to be in the Capital City.
Even long-time lobbyists find it unnerving.
“It’s surreal. I don’t even feel like I am talking to anyone,” said insurance lobbyist Mark DeLegal.
The House is allowing a limited number of people on a first come basis to testify before committees.
Opening day Tuesday will be off limits to all visitors.
A coalition of groups is calling on both chambers to allow live remote testimony from anyone anywhere in Florida.
“Public testimony is not working,” said Carol Boyd with the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“The idea that you would open it up to any person that wanted to testimony anywhere in the world is pretty ridiculous,” said Senate President Wilton Simpson.
Florida’s Constitution doesn’t allow lawmakers to meet virtually, but there will be an effort to change that this year.
Legislators, staff and reporters are tested each week before being allowed inside the Capitol.
With all the precautions, the 2021 session will be different from the past; except for the politics that will permeate every discussion.
Two pandemic related committees are examining how to keep the state safe and open if a future pandemic were to hit.
A Senate Committee voted Monday to put a time limit on how long a governor’s executive order can remain in place.
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