Wednesday, November 4, 2015
I've been swamped with my new duties as President of the United Faculty of Florida, and as such, my blog posts fell to the wayside. But what happened today in the House Higher Education and Workforce Subcommittee meeting has compelled me to begin writing once again. For those who didn't have the opportunity to attend the meeting or watch it on the Florida Channel, let me recap. The Subcommittee had two agenda items: a textbook affordability workshop and HB 4001, which would negate the ban on firearms on college and university campuses for concealed carry permit holders. Both of these are important topics to be sure, and each should have had its own hearing. Instead, the first one hour and 20 minutes of a two hour meeting consisted of a panel of five people (no student involvement, interestingly enough, and a McGraw Hill rep that was just there to sell online textbooks and instructional materials [who also said that the company only updates textbooks every three years unless it's a book about tax codes--any student or faculty member or parent knows that this is far from the truth]). I am very very very interested in textbook affordability, and if the goal of the meeting was really to find out why textbooks are so expensive, they could have just asked me: because the book publishing industry is a shared monopoly that makes the majority of profits from--wait for it--textbooks. I can and will write a post about this later, including the fact that the push for online textbooks puts students who do not have ready access to broadband at a disadvantage, but the second part of the meeting today is what really has me concerned.
Of course, just about everyone in the room was not there for the workshop. They were there for the guns on campus bill. And we waited, and waited, and waited as the five panelists spoke and then Subcommittee members asked questions. And again, it's an extremely important issue. But there were two agenda items and a huge stack of appearance cards waiting (the Tampa Bay Times reported that 70 people attended). The Subcommittee chair encouraged questions for the panel, waited patiently for people to ask questions, asked many questions of her own, and let the workshop go an hour and 20 minutes, leaving only 40 minutes for a critical public policy question. They did add 15 additional minutes, but that is not nearly enough time for the members of the Subcommittee to debate and for all of the people in the room who came to speak to testify, several of whom traveled to be there. Members of the Subcommittee were discouraged from asking questions of the sponsor or the speakers, though a few did in fact ask questions. We--citizens, constituents, people directly affected by this proposed legislation--were told to speak for a minute or so, and by the end it was 10 seconds. Because there was so little time left, the dozens of people who wanted to speak could not due to what some are saying was a purposeful delay so that people couldn't speak, and if this is true, it is certainly a travesty of democracy.
Perhaps needless to say, everyone in the room knew that the Subcommittee members had made up their minds before we ever stepped in the room and indeed passed the bill 10-3 largely along party lines (as most Tallahassee folks know, Representative Rehwinkel-Vasilinda [D] not only supports the bill but is a co-sponsor). But to silence debate in this way--for both sides of the issue--is horrifying when we are truly talking about life or death situations.
I've heard people call this meeting a sham, and it's hard not to agree. I truly hope that the next stop in the House allows adequate time for discussion and debate.