Florida Silver Haired Legislature in Session
Silver-Haired Legislature meets in the state capital

COURTESY : Ocala star Banner - The Reporter
Published October 31, 2003

TALLAHASSEE - Nearly 30 percent of Florida’s population is over 60 years old. And it’s about time state lawmakers pay better attention.

That’s the message of the Florida Silver-Haired Legislature, which met last week in the state capitol Tallahassee for its annual weeklong session.

During a series of conferences and special sessions mirroring operations of the state Legislature, the FSHL drafts elderly-friendly bills and then lobbies lawmakers.

"We do the same things as elected officials," said Tom Poss, chairman of FSHL’s Area 3, which covers nine counties in north and central Florida. Poss was elected as FSHL’s House Speaker last week.

"We don’t just look out for the elderly, but for everyone in the state," said the Oakland Hills resident. Poss and his wife, Charlotte, FSHL’s state membership chairwoman, are former residents of The Villages. Oakland Hills abuts the retirement community.

"It’s a snapshot of life what happens to us," Poss said.

Tom Poss, right, chairman of the Florida Silver-Haired Legislature’s Area 3 — which covers nine counties in north and central Florida — was elected as FSHL’s House Speaker last week. He poses here with Gov. Jeb Bush in Tallahassee.

FSHL members serve in roles as state senators and house representatives and meet in various committees to devise legislative recommendations, which are later delivered to state lawmakers and the governor.

"Everything that passes we’ll deliver," Charlotte Poss said.

Last year FSHL, which operates on members’ donations, mailed 200 packets to legislators.
The packets contain proposals for bills that state legislators are encouraged to use during their winter legislative session.

Florida lawmakers have enacted dozens of FSHL’s proposals in the last 10 years. Last year the state legislature mandated a FSHL proposal requiring doctors to write their patients’ prescriptions legibly.

"We just don’t want to be taken for granted anymore," Poss said.

FSHL assemblies present five "priority" bills and three "memorial" bills for lawmakers’ considerations. Former FSHL House Speaker and chief executive Vera Sickels said their top concerns are tightening nursing-home regulations, increasing funding for Medicaid and Social Security and monitoring the funeral home business.

"We have a lot of bills that have gone through," Sickels said. "We’re the older generation. We’re sort of (the legislature’s) babies. We know what’s going on. We’re just another advocate group."

In the past, FSHL members deliberated their sessions in the Capitol’s legislative chambers. This year they deliberated in conference rooms at a Tallahassee hotel because the legislature was holding special session.

Poss said his goal as speaker of the house is to boost FSHL’s membership. Members must be Florida residents and at least 55 years old.

"People never get involved until their foot is stepped on," he said. "We’re going to challenge everybody to get a certain amount of new members."

The greatest threat to FSHL’s influence is the lethargic attitude of many Florida seniors. Poss said many of the state’s elderly newcomers refuse to get involved in their new communities, politics or causes, reasoning that they moved to Florida to retire.

"That is the attitude we have to change," he said. 

FSHL also loses about six members a year to illness and death, FSHL leaders said.

Former speaker Sickels, 73, said she got involved in FHSL in 1990 after hearing about the group during a women’s club meeting. Her husband had died in 1985, and they had been married since 1947. She spent most of her adult life as a homemaker raising four children.

"I asked her how I could join," Sickels said. "I’m very opinionated, but I’m not very political."

She said FSHL helps to rectify elder-related problems that often get overlooked. Some of those problems arise because of the state’s large and recent influx of older people.

"There’s little things (seniors) are taken advantage of," Sickels said. "And most of the seniors don’t have family down here."