Three of Florida's most powerful lawmakers made a stop in Bay County Tuesday to tackle issues facing the state. Residents from all over the panhandle engaged the legislators in two hours of strong debate and discussion. Education and voting issues dominated the conversation.
It's a process senate president Don Gaetz says proves to be beneficial.
"This is a part of the retail process of making laws, and I was delighted to be here," Senator Gaetz said.
He, along with state representatives Jimmy Patronis and Marti Coley, were inundated with issues. Many of them were of the local variety.
"I like casinos," said one resident. "There's no reason why we couldn't tax it and give us a chance up here too. What if they decided only the Indians should sell seafood...how would you like that?"
Another resident stepped to the podium to address alleged corruption in Gulf County.
"Personal attacks and opinions of individuals or groups by county commissioners is an abuse of power and needs to be a more punishable violation," he said.
Others debates involved the state as a whole. Issues with the last election were a hot topic.
"Florida did not distinguish itself in a positive way," resident Alvin Peters said. "Big lines at the early voting sites in central and south Florida made Florida look like a third world nation."
"The changes made to Florida's election system may have been well intentioned, but they created more problems than they solved, especially in the big districts," said Jamie Shephard with the League of Women Voters.
Not to be outdone, teachers and educators made their presence well known.
"We're obsessed right now with assessments, and I think it's punitive to our children," said Bay County Superintendent of Schools Bill Husfelt.
Husfelt says students are being cheated by tests. Meanwhile, teachers expressed their frustrations with evaluations.
"We as teachers do need to be held accountable, but lets find a tool that can do this accurately," said Joan Daly, a teacher at Patronis Elementary.
Senator Gaetz says some of that blame falls back on Florida's Department of Education.
"Not properly implementing or helping districts implement teacher evaluations has really made well intentioned laws go awry," Senator Gaetz said.
As for the election issues, Senator Gaetz says the plan is to form an elections and ethics committee to find out what went wrong and where they can make improvements.