Education, voting reform, property insurance, and political transparency were among the topics covered during Monday night's Town Hall event on Session 2013 of the Florida Legislature hosted by WLRN and the Miami Herald. The second annual forum marks the beginning of WLRN's coverage of Session 2013, which convenes March 5 and continues through May 3.
About 600 people packed into the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale to listen as two Tallahassee leaders -- Sen. Chris Smith (D-Fort Lauderdale and Senate minority leader) and Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater and chair of the Ethics and Elections Committee) -- took questions about everything from expanding Medicaid benefits for Florida's uninsured, to Gov. Rick Scott's proposed $2,500 bonuses for teachers. Mary Ellen Klas, Tallahassee bureau chief for the Miami Herald, also sat on the panel. WLRN's Phil Latzman moderated.
Luigi Barragan, a customer service manager from Hialeah, attended Monday night's event and was most interested in the discussion of healthcare. "I'm glad I actually stuck around for the healthcare portion of it," Barragan said. "Being that I have an elderly mother who lives with me. And so that's a really important topic for me as I see her senior citizen years come about."
Topics for the Town Hall event were determined by advance public survey via the Public Insight Network. WLRN solicited "hundreds and hundreds of questions" from its audience and via social media in the two months leading up to Monday's event, said WLRN radio news director Dan Grech.
"We want to elevate the voices and concerns of people living in South Florida," Grech said.
The high level of audience engagement meant that numerous individual questions had to go unasked and unanswered at the event. Town Hall attendees who were left wanting more -- like Barragan -- on certain topics may note that WLRN will use those questions to drive its coverage of the 2013 Session, according to Grech.
"Probably could have gone a little longer education," said Barragan, who otherwise appreciated the wide array of topics. "I understand with a session like this, time is of the essence...But I think education could have gotten more play."
This year's Town Hall event represents a significant change from last year's edition, which was held mid-day in the WLRN Miami offices and featured a "small but engaged crowd," according to Grech. This year, a grant from Global Integrity enabled organizers to fly in top leaders from Tallahassee and secure a large public venue. Broward County was chosen to host the event because it is "the core of the WLRN listener area."
"We were a little concerned that not all constituents in South Florida could make it," Grech said of the event. To that end, organizers paid for a bus to transport 55 people served by local non-profits in Miami to and from the venue. The group included immigrants, the elderly, disabled, and other underrepresented voices.
"We wanted this event to be inclusive," Grech said.
If you missed the Town Hall session, be sure to tune in to WLRN at 11 a.m. Thursday for a live broadcast. Or, watch it in its entirety here. On Twitter, search the hashtag #FL2013 to see what others had to say about the event as it happened.