The Vox Populi Act, which is currently before the Florida legislature, is already the frontrunner for Worst Bill of 2008 (State Level). According to an editorial in the St. Petersburg Times, the bill would give residents the right to "speak at local government meetings on both agenda and nonagenda items." Moreover, residents would be "invited to speak on any topic for at least 15 minutes at the start" of the meeting. I spent a semester in law school interning for a county attorney's office (not in Florida), and I've had to endure way too many county- and city-commission meetings in Florida as a lawyer, and I can tell you that this is an unequivocally awful idea. As anyone who has attended local government meetings knows, the residents who take advantage of the opportunity to speak at the meetings are usually certifiably insane. I once saw a woman lead her kids into a county commission meeting on dog leashes (the kids were crawling on all fours), and then spend her 15 minutes of allotted floor time reading from an obscure poetry book. But even aside from the circus atmosphere and excessive government waste that this bill would create, the rationale underlying this bill, as well as the St. Pete Times' support for it, is just awful. Rep. Dorothy Hukill, the bill's sponsor, says that she's just "responding to people who say they feel disenfranchised by local government." Disenfranchised? Disenfranchisement is the loss of the right to vote, so not being allowed to speak at local government meetings in no way disenfranchises local residents. The St. Pete Times argues that the bill is needed because "too many disrespected citizens hav[e] their concerns ruled out of order or disregarded." So now we're legislating in response to hurt feelings? That's smart. Every constituency has residents with competing interests, so legislators always seem like they're "disregarding" some of their constituents' concerns. Giving residents the right to speak at local government meetings won't change the fact that laws -- and especially local ordinances -- always hurt some residents' interests. You can't force local governments to do what the residents who speak at the meetings say. The only non-retarded argument the St. Pete Times offers still displays a bonecrushing naïveté:
"[The bill] would make local government officials more aware of concerns facing their communities, if not more accountable and responsive."First of all, residents already have the ability to communicate their concerns to their representatives in numerous ways (e.g., scheduling an appointment with the representative, writing a letter, calling the representative's office). Second of all, any voter or voting bloc with enough sway to affect an official's vote on a particular issue is already able to communicate their concerns to local government officials; they don't need a special right to speak at local government meetings. Thus, local government officials won't adjust their behavior one iota in response to the bill. So ultimately, the bill will further frustrate the residents who speak at the meetings, and will waste a monumental amount of time. The boneheaded ideas that emanate from state legislatures in general, and the Florida legislature in particular, never ceases to amaze me.