An attendance problem: Several Senate Dems missing at a caucus meeting. Why?

By: - November 17, 2021 7:06 pm

Members of the Senate Democratic Caucus meeting found that several colleagues were not in attendance. Nov. 17, 2021. Credit: Florida Channel screenshot.

Senate Democrats gathered at a caucus meeting Wednesday afternoon about 30 minutes before the special session in the Florida Capitol, but only nine members out of 16 were present, including the absence of Democratic Leader Lauren Book.

What’s going on?

During the meeting, State Sen. Gary Farmer expressed his frustration, saying “we have an attendance problem” and that members should follow the rules.

“I’m shocked that we don’t have a quorum,” said Farmer, a Democrat representing part of Broward County.

“I’m disappointed in the attendance or lack thereof here today,” he said. “Our rules require that we have mandatory attendance at caucus meetings. And I think you’re required to request an excused absence.”

At the end of April, Farmer “was jettisoned as Democratic Leader in exchange for Senator Lauren Book,” another Broward County lawmaker, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. The two have clashed in the past, and Farmer resigned the leadership role before the end of the regular 2021 session, the newspaper stated.

It’s still not clear Wednesday evening about what happened when numerous senators failed to attend the caucus meeting.

State Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat representing parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, was in attendance but didn’t know why other members weren’t present.

“I can’t speak to where the other members were, because I had no prior knowledge of them not coming to caucus meeting,” he told the Florida Phoenix by text Wednesday evening.

Earlier this afternoon, State Sen. Darryl Rouson, representing parts of Pinellas and Hillsborough, showed up a few minutes before the meeting began, but left before it started.

Leading the meeting, State Sen. Bobby Powell, representing part of Palm Beach County,  acknowledged that there has been “challenges with attendance” at caucus meetings but said they plan to address that.

Farmer asked Powell if he was aware of any members requesting an excused absence. Powell said he could “probably get that information to you after caucus.”

“I think it’s important that if people aren’t going to be here they follow the rules and get an excused absence,” Farmer said.

“We need to stand together, we need to stand strong,” said State Sen. Victor Torres, a Democrat representing Osceola County and part of Orange County. Torres was at the meeting.

State Sen. Perry Thurston, a Democrat representing part of Broward County, stressed the importance of Senate Democrats being at meetings and on the Senate floor to vote on key issues addressed by their constituents.

Members in attendance focused on a public-records exemption which would shield personal information about medical histories and religious views of workers challenging workplace vaccine mandates.

Farmer opined that the public records bill will pass and be signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis. But it will be fought later in court, he said.

Farmer said via Twitter: “Disappointed the House passed the public records exemption with so many D votes…up to the Senate to stop this…but making a difference requires showing up & right now we only have 9 members at our Caucus meeting.”

The Senate is still in the chamber, so the Phoenix also attempted to gather information from members’ Senate offices. But they weren’t able to respond as of late Wednesday evening.

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.