Roll call: Florida lawmakers have good reasons when they miss work in Tallahassee during session

City & State looked through the daily House and Senate journals to see who was showing up – and who wasn’t.

An undated photo of the old and new Capitol buildings in Tallahassee.

An undated photo of the old and new Capitol buildings in Tallahassee. Photo by Sean Pavone/Getty Images

It turns out that when Florida lawmakers miss a day of legislative session, where they enact laws that impact nearly every facet of Floridians’ lives, they have good reasons why.

The annual regular legislative session – held this year from March 7 to May 5 – is only 60 days, but it’s not surprising there are some members who miss a few floor sessions. 

City & State looked through the daily House and Senate journals to see who was showing up – and who wasn’t. Then we asked why. 

To be sure, no one had an egregious number of missed days, though almost a dozen legislators racked up two or more absences.

But most who logged absences had understandable reasons, such as having a baby, going through personal ailments or dealing with family tragedies. 

State House members 

Fiona McFarland, a Republican legislator from Sarasota elected in 2020, racked up the most excused absences in the House so she could spend time with her new bundle of joy. The week before Easter Sunday, McFarland gave birth to son Matthew, so she was out 11 times between April 3 and May 1. 

But McFarland, a 37-year-old naval reserve officer, returned to the Capitol in time to vote on a signature piece of legislation that she’s been working on the past three years: A data privacy bill that blocks digital devices from collecting information when inactive, and allows consumers to access and correct personal data companies collect about them. The Senate version of the bill, which became law, had only two votes against it. 

The House member with the second most excused absences hails from the other side of the aisle. Michele Rayner-Goolsby, a Democrat elected last year to represent parts of St. Petersburg, missed five days of the session, including the final three days in early May. 

In January, her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Rayner-Goolsby told City & State. “The excused absences were because I was checking on my mother,” she said. “I made the decision to see her during session because she was very sick.” Her mother passed away May 18, Rayner-Goolsby said. 

Kevin Chambliss, a Democrat from Miami-Dade who’s held his House seat since 2020, and Mike Gottlieb, a Democratic representative for parts of Broward since 2018, each missed four days of the session. 

Chambliss did not respond to requests for comment, but Gottlieb said he “missed two days because my daughter was hospitalized. And I missed a couple of days because I was out with Covid.” 

First-term lawmakers Angela Nixon, a Democrat representing portions of Duval County, and Lauren Melo, a Naples Republican, each had three excused absences. Two other GOP House members, Mike Caruso of Delray Beach and Jim Mooney of Islamorada, also missed three days of the legislative session. 

Nixon missed time due to her having migraines and some of her five children being sick, the legislator said via text message. 

In Melo’s case, she had to rush home to Naples for a few days because her brother had a seizure and was placed in a medically-induced coma. “It was horrible for me,” Melo said. “He was still in a coma when I had to come back because we were in the middle of the session. It was a very difficult time.”

Her brother is doing better now, she added. “He was in that coma so long, they did not expect him to make the recovery that he has made,” Melo said. Caruso and Mooney did not respond to requests for comment. 

State senators

The Florida Senate had three members who each logged two unexcused absences during the 2023 session. 

Two of them, Republican Ileana Garcia and Democrat Shevrin Jones, represent Miami-Dade County. The third, Republican Travis Hutson, answers to voters in Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns counties and part of Volusia County. 

Jones could not recall the specific reasons he missed days. “For sure they were family issues or medical and work reasons,” Jones said. “I don’t arbitrarily miss days. It would be for a legitimate reason.” Garcia did not respond to voicemail on her cellphone seeking comment. Hutson also did not respond. 

Another eight senators each had one unexcused absence. The Republicans are: 

  • Bryan Avila of Miami Springs. 
  • Jason Brodeur of Sanford. 
  • Erin Grall of Vero Beach.  
  • Jonathan Martin of Fort Myers. 
  • Jay Trumbull of Panama City. 

The Democratic state senators who missed one day each are Jason Pizzo, Linda Stewart and Victor Torres. And three state senators – Ben Albritton, Rosalind Osgood and Clay Yarborough – each had one excused absence during the session. 

Francisco Alvarado is a Miami-based freelance journalist. 

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