May. 08, 2007
They were average people who watched the news
occasionally, too busy with family and work to pay attention
to their representatives in Tallahassee.
intervened: A son hanged himself with his backpack strap; a
daughter was abducted, raped and buried alive; an undetected
eye disease sent a toddler to his grave.
became advocates, the suitless oddities of the state Capitol,
working harder than the well-heeled lobbyists to try to get
their legislation passed. After years of driving, telling their
stories and begging, they bridged the disconnection between
Tallahassee and the real people of Florida, learning more about
the Legislature than they ever wanted to know.
always raised to believe in the legal system and in justice,''
said Debbie Johnston, a Cape Coral woman whose son, Jeff, hanged
himself in a closet two years ago at age 15 after relentless
bullying in school and on the Internet. "I guess I had
a very idealized view of government.''
years, she has sought legislation to create a statewide ban
on bullying. As the session ended nearly eight hours before
deadline Friday and her bill died, she wept in the public gallery
above while senators congratulated themselves and their staff
for the session's hard work.
the legislation died as representatives debated whether Key
lime pie should be the state's official dessert. She still won't
who once thought the lawmaking session lasted all year rather
than 60 days, quickly became a regular at committee hearings
and in the labyrinthine halls of the Capitol. Last year, her
first session, she packed Jeff's friends into a bus, rented
two hotel rooms and put it on her credit card. They stared up
at the 22-story Capitol building, she said, like ``the Clampetts
go to Beverly Hills.''
to ride horses, and they can't see the jump before they come
to it,'' she added. "They say throw your heart over the
fence and go for it. I just closed my eyes, gritted my teeth
and put $4,000 on my credit card.''
rattles off the names of legislative leadership. Speaker Rubio.
President Pruitt. She calls her bill sponsor, Rep. Nick Thompson,
a Fort Myers Republican, by his first name. She says she will
be back in the special session on property taxes in June, and
if that fails, next year.
not quitting,'' she said.
is common for this special class of lobbyists, but not all have
had to return year after year.
Lunsford was killed in 2005 by her neighbor, sex offender John
Couey, it sent her father, Mark, of Homosassa on a crusade to
toughen state laws to include electronic monitoring and minimum
sentences for child molesters. That was accomplished in one
legislative session -- the girl's body was discovered in March
2005, and the bill was signed two months later.
wore a tie with 9-year-old Jessica's picture on it as Gov. Jeb
Bush signed the legislation into law. Lunsford called the tie
his ''hug'' from Jessica.
time I asked for something, from the beginning to now, people
did it and they did it quickly,'' he told The St. Petersburg
Times after the signing.
Not so for
Pam Bergsma, a Lake Worth woman whose grandson didn't have a
basic eye test that she says would have saved his life. He died
in 2000 at age 3 from a rare cancer that wouldn't have been
life-threatening if it had been caught earlier. She has been
fighting to pass legislation requiring the eye test for retinoblastoma
since the 2002 legislative session -- five years ago.
who can't count the number of times she has been to Tallahassee,
used to sleep in her car but now stays in a Motel 6, the cheapest
place she can find.
have experienced and what I have seen up there, I never would
have believed,'' Bergsma said. ``I always had an open mind.''
seen senators fight for her bill and against lobbyists for pediatricians,
who don't want the requirement. But she says the lawmakers should
feel ''shame'' for lengthening her quest, which she swears she
will see to the end.
she truly believes the bill will pass. After no one sponsored
it last year because it had failed so many times before, she
believed the support she got this session meant it was time.
But the bill died again.
so sure'' it would pass this time, she said, then couldn't speak
a newcomer to the process who was ''appalled'' at how lawmakers
dealt with her when she first visited them in January, said
she took action after her ex-boyfriend encouraged her then-6-year-old
son to steal a knife from the kitchen and stab her.
the conversation, and the boy's father was convicted of child
abuse, but the decision was overturned because the judge said
the legal definition of child abuse didn't include verbal manipulation.
So, this session, she tried to convince lawmakers to include
mental abuse in the law.
failed, too, but Walsh says she has learned a lot about the
Legislature, which she used to follow only in the newspapers.
She believes citizens should hound their representatives throughout
the session to remind them of who really holds the power.
that comes into play and not principle or priority or issues,''
Walsh said. "It's their own personalities at each other's
throats. That's what it boils down to. That really sickens me.''
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