- A Florida lawmaker has filed a proposal to study and recommend whether the Florida legislature should become full-time employees with higher salaries and whether Cabinet members should draw pay comparable to that of other large states.
- Studies on the subject have yielded mixed results, and the issue is complex, with the majority of states, including Florida, still having a part-time “citizen” legislature.
- Should the bill pass, the state analysts would study the measure and make a recommendation to the legislature to be considered in a future legislative session.
Should state lawmakers in Florida become full-time employees with higher salaries? That is the question that Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando, wants to be studied by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA). Antone filed a proposal (HB 1183) on Monday, which would ask OPPAGA to study and recommend whether the Florida Legislature should be full-time, part-time or a hybrid, and if salary increases are needed.
The proposal also seeks to examine whether Cabinet members – the attorney general, chief financial officer, and agriculture commissioner – should draw pay comparable to that of other large states. Statewide elected officials, including Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis are paid a base salary of around $130,000, but Florida lawmakers are supposed to serve part-time and receive an average of just under $30,000 a year for the job, plus travel and related expenses.
Antone, who was elected to the House in 2022 after serving terms from 2002 to 2006 and from 2012 to 2020, has argued that studying this issue will help improve the efficiency and productivity of the Legislature. However, there are conflicting opinions on the matter.
Some believe that a part-time “citizen” legislature would better serve the constituents, as lawmakers with other jobs outside their state duties must return to live under the laws they implement. However, critics say that only those who are already wealthy can afford to do what is really a full-time job with only part-time pay. The limited salary, coupled with the high time demands of the job limits the number of people who might consider doing running for office. Notably, over half of the Legislature has reported net worths topping $1 million. Many Florida lawmakers come from law firms or are successful business owners.
Supporters of a professional legislature that meets for most of the year and pays lawmakers as full-time employees say that not only would would be more effective and is more representative of the citizenry as a whole because the higher pay would induce more people to run for state office.
Studies on the subject have yielded mixed results. The underlying question of whether state legislators should be allowed to hold other jobs in the public sector is not an easy one to resolve. Conflicts of interest and improper favor-granting are also possible with private sector gigs, and electing legislators with a wide range of expertise helps facilitate thoughtful policy making. State legislatures across the country have chosen to deal with these questions in a variety of different ways.
One potential problem with a full-time legislature is that some lawmakers might also hold other public jobs at the same time. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 17 states do not restrict legislators from holding government jobs at the state and local level in any way, 14 states ban some but not all forms of public employment, and 9 states ban public employment completely. Two states allow legislators to keep public jobs they held prior to their elections. An additional 8 states allow public employment as long as legislators aren’t double-billing taxpayers for the same hours worked.
The issue is complex, as the majority of states, including Florida still cling to the idea of a part-time “citizen” legislator. However, Antone’s proposal directs OPPAGA to examine four specific states: California, New York, Maine and Alabama, plus any others deemed necessary.
Notably, Alabama switched to a full-time legislature because of a scandal. A number of lawmakers were found to be on other public payrolls through a legal loophole that allowed them to “double dip” to earn additional income within the public education system. An investigation revealed that many of those lawmakers overwhelmingly voted for measures pushed by the one education special interest group.