Lawyers in the Legislature

first_img April 30, 2006 Regular News Lawyers in the Legislature Jan Pudlow Senior Editor What’s a Harvard educated lawyer doing in the Florida Legislature?Sponsoring complicated legislation, such as the probate law rewrite (SB 1824); the Uniform Commercial Code rewrite (SB 2716); the Florida Trust Code rewrite (SB 1170); and another complex lengthy bill creating the Florida Land Trust Act (SB 1956).“The legal stuff is falling to me,” says Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres. “I’d like to believe it’s because I have clout in the Senate. But really, it’s because the former go-to lawyer-senators are all running for higher office.”The Senate is where Aronberg loves to be, but never expected to be, elected in 2002 at the tender age of 31.After working as a White House fellow during the Clinton and Bush administrations in 2000-01, Aronberg learned how government worked from the inside and wanted to run for a Florida House seat.While working as an assistant attorney general in the Economic Crimes Division in Ft. Lauderdale, his boss, Attorney General Bob Butterworth, told him: “No, you should run for the Senate.”Aronberg’s initial reaction was a 31-year-old can’t get elected straight to the Senate in the first try. It was brand-new District 27 stretching from the liberal Democrats of Palm Beach County across the state through rural counties over to Republican-dominated Ft. Myers, containing voters who are 39 percent Democrats, 38 percent Republicans, and the rest independent.Three months before the election, Aronberg made the decision to switch to run for the Senate seat, reaping 81 percent of the vote.“General Butterworth, as usual, was right,” Aronberg said. “I was so thankful.”The Senate, he says, enjoys “a culture of bipartisanship. Democrats and Republicans work together to provide common sense solutions. Ninety-two percent of votes are unanimous. The other 8 percent of issues are partisan disputes. The issues get worked out in advance. In the Senate, they judge you on your ideas, not on your party.”In the Senate chambers, they sit together, and Democrats are not relegated to the back rows as they are in the House.That’s not to say Aronberg isn’t working hard for the Democratic Party. As chair of Florida Mainstream Democrats, his mission is to rebuild Democratic infrastructure in rural counties that are majority Democrat but vote Republican, such as Glades, Suwannee, and Baker counties.“We are trying to reunite the Democratic Party. I really want to help the party return to vibrancy, to be competitive again, and field candidates who can win. I think it will lead to results in this year’s election in November for governor, and down the line. We are supporting centrist candidates,” Aronberg said.“Everybody benefits from a two-party system. The legislature has not had a real two-party system. You need a vibrant minority to check the excesses of the majority.”And it’s good to have lawyers in the legislature who pull out statute books, read case law, and check the constitutionality of proposed legislation.“What brought this to life for me was during the Terri Schiavo debate,” Aronberg recalls. “The lack of attorneys in the legislature led to the passage of an unconstitutional, unconscionable law in 2003 for the government to get involved in a family matter. We passed that, and I was appalled by that.. . . I remember the sponsor of the bill that passed in 2003 said the governor has the right to require the feeding tube be put back in. My question was: Who checks the power of the governor? And the response was: the governor. It was a clear violation of the separation of powers.”Aronberg’s experience as an assistant attorney general sparked his two niches in the Senate: consumer protection issues and criminal justice issues. Among the eight committees he serves on are Commerce and Consumer Services, Justice Appropriations, and Judiciary. He is vice chair of the Communications and Public Utilities Committee.His proudest moment at the legislature, he said, was passing the Choice Point bill last year, which requires all companies who collect data to inform consumers when their data has been stolen. And, on April 20, with a unanimous vote, he ushered the Slam Spam bill through the Senate (committee substitute for SB80), which would criminalize the worst kinds of e-mail spam.Last year, he received the Florida Legal Services Equal Access to Justice Award, for amendments during the Medicaid debate that gave people access to prescription drugs.Aronberg says his public service spirit started with his grandfather, who was the mayor of Ashland, Kentucky. It skipped a generation and landed with full-force passion in Aronberg, who loves his job as a lawyer at Greenspoon Marder in West Palm Beach, doing a mix of local government law and general consumer law, as well as his job as a senator.“If you love people, and I do, and love public service, it’s a very noble and rewarding profession,” Aronberg says. “Politics is the art of compromise. It’s about rules and relationships, knowing the rules of the game and loving relationships.”And when you are the senator of District 27, it means loving to spend time in your car. On his official senator Web page, he lists his recreations as “golf, exercise, guitar, and driving back and forth on State Road 80.” Lawyers in the Legislaturelast_img

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