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Stalemate preserved by personal posturing

By LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 16, 2002

In some ways it looks like the end is near.

The floors outside the House and Senate are littered with paper, empty water bottles and food containers. A dozen or so lobbyists have brought in beach chairs and set up camp for the duration.

The reality is that legislators cannot go home before they actually do something. And before they do something they must start speaking to each other.

No one can remember when the atmosphere between the House and Senate leaders has been so bad. There have been dustups over issues many times in the Legislature's colorful past, but rarely have the House speaker and Senate president had such open disdain for each other.

You know things are bad when House Speaker Tom Feeney publicly questions whether there is any leadership in the Senate. Feeney says he feels like he's in the middle of a game of blackjack waiting for someone to hit 21 -- a majority in the 40-member Senate.

Since January legislators have been wined and dined by every lobbyist in town, battled their way through each day and partied their way through many of the nights.

But they have not passed a budget, completed redistricting or reorganized the Cabinet -- the three things the Constitution says they must do this year.

It's been such a tough session that some of them are not speaking to each other.

This weekend should be filled with conferences between the House and Senate over important bills that need to pass before they get out of town. No conferences are scheduled. Indeed, there is nothing to have a conference over.

Outside the House and Senate chambers Friday, gaggles of lobbyists gathered to hustle little amendments to bills as the final frenzy unfolds.

Former Rep. Dale Patchett paced the floor nearby wearing a Looney Toons tie that features Bugs Bunny sitting in Abraham Lincoln's place at the famed Washington memorial.

"It's time to lighten up a little," Patchett explained.

Patchett believes the session might end if the members of the two chambers would quit talking to newspapers and start talking to each other.

"It's been interesting, our first party food fight as a majority," Patchett noted. He was GOP leader in the House when Republicans were the minority and had little to fight over.

The atmosphere in the House is lighter than the sadness that surrounds the Senate.

The House on Friday passed an amendment requiring schools to post the Magna Carta, Washington's farewell address and one of the Federalist papers.

Meanwhile the Senate was in a redistricting fight that got a little testy because Sen. Debbie Sanderson, R-Fort Lauderdale, is being punished with a new district that would favor a candidate from Palm Beach County. Sanderson was an early opponent of President John McKay's tax proposal, but he insists he is not participating in the punishment.

McKay is at odds with Sen. Jim King, his majority leader. They are civil, but the relationship is more than cool because King backed away from McKay's tax proposal last week.

That leaves the Senate without the ability to use the one member best known for making peace in a time of war.

"We run the Senate a little bit differently than they run the House," McKay said Friday. "We've tried to run the Senate during the last 15, 16 months by consensus."

The Senate offered a trade Friday, accepting a House plan for redistricting House seats and asking the House to accept the Senate's plan for Senate districts.

Feeney, who wants to run for Congress, said he'd make the trade once the Senate sends the House a fair and legal congressional plan.

That means the stalemate is likely to continue for a long time.

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