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The Florida Senate

Minority Office — Press Release


February 24, 2021

CONTACT: Michelle DeMarco, 850.487.5833

Senate Democratic Leader Gary Farmer Files Legislation to Broaden Public Access Through Virtual Sessions of the Legislature

Tallahassee —

State Senate Democratic Leader Gary Farmer on Wednesday filed legislation to broaden access by Floridians to the legislative session through virtual meetings of the State Legislature. If passed, this resolution would put an initiative before voters to amend the State Constitution allowing for legislators to meet virtually and to guarantee public access to such meetings.

Leader Farmer had the following to say about SJR 1604:

“Since the early days of this pandemic I along with my fellow Democratic Senators have called for a special session to address the very large number of serious issues that have plagued millions of Floridians as a result of the virus. One of the objections that we faced was a concern for the safety of legislators. This bill would remove that impediment and ensure that if and when a serious public health crisis occurs again, the Legislature will stand ready and able to do the people’s business.”

Farmer went on to discuss how this bill would affect public testimony during a pandemic:

“As we have completed the committee week process it has become apparent that while stringent protocols are necessary for public safety, the current system for public testimony is insufficient. Allowing public testimony, but requiring that it be done from a single location outside of the Capitol, does not take the health of the public into proper account. Leon County is still listed as a “very high risk” area making it difficult if not impossible for many members of the public to travel in order to testify on pressing legislation. By requiring virtual meetings of the Legislature to be open to the public “to the greatest extent possible” we create a much needed avenue for virtual public testimony in committees.

“This year leadership in both chambers has decided to take up bills that jeopardize retirement benefits for our teachers and first responders, and would weaken their ability to negotiate fair contracts and workplace safety standards. We’re seeing bills that would limit voting rights, circumvent the will of the people on the successful minimum wage amendment, and favor big insurance companies over everyday consumers. These proposals are all being rammed through during a time when those directly impacted are unable to attend meetings and speak directly to the lawmakers passing these bills. This is unacceptable, and I hope that this legislation will prevent terrible injustices such as this from occurring again.”