Monday, March 30, 2009

How Do We Wind Up With Bad Community Association Bills?

It might be a long time since some of us took a Civics course in school so how familiar are you with the legislative process which impacts you as both a property owner and as a member of your community association?

In Florida, we have a part-time Legislature that meets for a 60-day regular session each year. The regular legislative session starts on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March each year and continues for 60 days. The regular session ends either in sine die adjournment with the ceremonial dropping of white handkerchiefs by each Chambers' Sergeant at Arms or it ends in an extension of the regular session to complete unfinished work. With the huge budget crisis facing our State, it will not be surprising if this year's regular session is extended.

There are 40 senators and 120 representatives currently making decisions on behalf of Florida's citizens in our State Legislature. The only requirements to be a State Senator or a State Representative are the following:

1. Person must be at least 21 years old;
2. Person must be a resident of the district in which he or she was elected; and
3. Person must have lived in Florida for at least 2 years before running for office.

Currently, a Florida State Senator serves a 4-year term (odd numbered districts' terms of offices are 2 years for seats elected in 2002 due to reapportionment), is limited to two terms and earns a salary of $31,932.00 as of July 1, 2007.A member of Florida's House of Representatives serves a 2-year term, is limited to 4 terms and earns a salary of $31,932.00 as of July 1, 2007. The salary earned by our elected representatives might surprise you especially since the last contested Senate race cost the candidates in excess of $500,000! Now that we have a little bit of the background involved, how do we wind up with the laws, particularly the community association laws, we have?

Each year, every legislator has 6 bill slots. Those legislators file bills as a result of their personal goals or projects, at the behest of a special interest group or after a discussion with constituents like you. Those bills are given numbers and referred to various House and Senate committees. The committee process can be tricky and it is during this process that bills can be killed or drastically modified. If a bill is not favored by House or Senate leadership, it can be referred to numerous committees and never make it out of the committee process. Conversely, favored bills may be referred to just one committee or they may go straight to the House or Senate floor for a vote.

Committee chairs have a lot of say in terms of which bills will be heard in their committees. Of course, politics always plays a role and currently a bill sponsored by a member of the minority party would fare much better if a member of the majority party signs on as a co-sponsor. Even if a bill is lucky enough to make it through the committee process unscathed, that is not a guarantee that the Speaker of the House or the Senate President will send it to the floor for a vote.Each bill needs to pass both chambers to become law so every bill must have a companion bill in the other chamber. If there is no companion bill at the end of the process, there will be no law. Even if a bill (which started out as a discussion between you and your legislator over the summer) passes both chambers and a full floor vote, its battle is not over yet. The governor has veto powers and can kill your bill. Bills can become law with the governor's signature (which is obviously his or her endorsement) or they can become law without the governor's signature.Bills typically take effect immediately upon becoming law or on July 1st or October 1st each year.

If all of this makes you think it is impossible to ever pass good legislation, think again. Legislators want to hear from their constituents. As a member of a community association, you are in good company. There are approximately 52,000 mandatory community associations in the State of Florida. That means millions of Floridians live in these communities and possess untold political clout. The groups that manage to pass legislation each year that is harmful to the successful operation of your communities or which costs you more to live in those communities are betting on one thing: that you cannot rally your troops to make your voices heard. Members of my Community Advocacy Network (CAN) receive quite a bit of information from me throughout the Session about the community association bills being heard in various committees. Please take a moment to read those alerts and mobilize key members of your community to use CAN's Capitol Connection email tool at www.canfl.com to send emails of support or requests for defeat to the committee members hearing these bills. Legislative aides keep a running tally each day of the emails and phone calls they receive in support of a bill or against a bill and they relay those numbers to their legislators. Your emails and calls do make a difference in whether a bill is passed or defeated. Unlike special interest groups, you don't offer the promise of large campaign contributions, you offer the chance for re-election to your representative as a reward for passing positive laws that help rather than hurt you and your communities.

Please take a look at CAN's Legislator Spotlight tab at http://www.canfl.com to see the Florida legislators who have made a commitment to sound community association legislation. If you would like to nominate your Senator or Representative for recognition in this regard, please let me know.