Gator grads give perspective on Florida process of government

Published: March 10th, 2014

Category: News

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UF Law Center for Governmental Responsibility Staff Attorney Tim McLendon (JD 94) spoke at the Christian Legal Society event Feb. 21. (Photo by Kelly Logan)

By Kelcee Griffis, 4JM

Chris Carmody (JD 05) likened lobbying to sitting courtside at an Orlando Magic game: You can’t play, but you can influence the outcome somewhat by yelling advice to the players.

“If you like politics, you’ve got a front-row seat,” he said.

Carmody, an associate with GrayRobinson in Tallahassee who works as a lobbyist, was one of three guests who spoke as part of a symposium hosted Feb. 21 by the UF Law Christian Legal Society chapter.

At the symposium, speakers shared their insights during “Gator Perspectives of Florida’s Process of Government.” They talked about the Florida Constitution, the process for amending it, how citizens can launch ballot initiatives and how the Florida legislative process works.

Tim McLendon (JD 94), UF Law Center for Governmental Responsibility staff attorney, spoke about what activist groups must do if they want to change the Constitution, which he said can be “relatively easy” in Florida.

He noted that proposed amendments must deal with only one subject, and signatures must be collected within a two-year window to be valid. That limit is stricter than in the past – they used to remain valid for four years.

“Citizen lawmaking is harder now and comes with a heavy burden of collecting signatures and investing time,” he said.

He said activists should consider how they frame the subject matter of the proposed amendments. Sometimes proposed amendments don’t make it on the ballot because they contain too many emotional appeals. Word limits are important, too: Proposed amendments that aren’t concise have been struck down.

Carmody gave an overview of how state government works and who the key players are so would-be activists will understand what they’re getting into.

“It helps to understand who these key players are,” he said.

Carmody compared cabinet and legislature leaders to UF Law figures to help listeners understand capitol dynamics. He likened the roles of Gov. Rick Scott to Dean Robert Jerry’s in overseeing the overall operation. He said the House and Senate majority leaders are like the John Marshall Bar Association in representing a strong voice for the people. The state executive cabinet, which includes Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, oversees fiscal details similar to UF Law’s financial affairs.

Carmody also told listeners they must understand the dynamics between majority and minority parties. He said the House will probably be Republican for the next 10 years, and because of this, Democrats will continue struggling to pass bills.

Understanding who holds the power in the Legislature is helpful to lobbyists because they need to know who to target for their proposed legislation to be successful.

“It’s a dangerous play to take your piece of legislation and put it in the hands of a non-powerful member,” he said.

Finally, former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles T. Wells (JD 64) spoke about his experience on the court during the 2000 presidential election recount. He said the saga drew attention to the inner workings of the state government and pointed out how many of the statutes had loopholes.

“We had statutes that were a mess,” he said.

However, he said consensus in Florida’s government is a legacy to be proud of. Part of what keeps it functional is the ability to amend the Constitution.

“Amending it is a very vital part of this state,” he said.