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    Issues unsettled, but special session still likely next week

    By LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 23, 2002


    TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Jeb Bush said Monday he still plans to call legislators back in special session next week but is still trying to work out an agreement on three contentious issues.

    Weeks of negotiations have brought the House and Senate close to an agreement on the state's $50-billion budget and consensus on rewriting the education laws, Bush said.

    It's been harder to reach agreement on a bill to reorganize the way the state regulates banking and insurance. Some lawmakers want the issue to be considered separately in November when a new Legislature meets for the first time.

    Bush said he envisions a session that would begin around April 29 and end around May 10, leaving time for lawmakers to take up redistricting if necessary. The Florida Supreme Court has until May 8 to determine whether legislative maps for new House and Senate districts are acceptable. If the court rejects the maps, lawmakers have to start over in a special session.

    Bush said he might add some issues to the agenda, but only if they are not controversial.

    The House has scheduled budget meetings beginning Monday. Senate Majority Leader Jim King said he expects committees to begin meeting early next week.

    Lawmakers who hope to return next year are eager to get their work done, King said. "People at home just don't understand what we are doing," he said. "Those that will be left standing after the term-limited people leave want this to come to a conclusion."

    Meanwhile, the competing bills defining the duties of the state's new chief financial officer are causing some furious campaign activity pitting Republican against Republican.

    The House wants the elected officer to be one step removed from regulatory decisions. The Senate supports a plan that leaves the elected official more directly in control.

    Republican Comptroller Bob Milligan, who supports the House proposal, has grown so disgusted with the Legislature's failure to insulate regulators from campaign contributions that he has announced he'll run for the office. That would set up a confrontation with fellow Republican Tom Gallagher, the insurance commissioner.

    Republican Party officials are trying to persuade Milligan to run for Congress instead. Milligan has said he's not interested in Congress.

    The new regulatory structure is needed because voters in 1998 combined the jobs Milligan and Gallagher have into a single Cabinet office. Some Republican House members are eyeing Senate seats held by Republican senators who support the Senate bill.

    Rep. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said Monday he is considering running against his friend, Sen. John Laurent, R-Bartow. Alexander is the prime sponsor of the CFO bill in the House and has been at odds with Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, sponsor of the Senate version.

    "A few folks have talked to me and I've had strong support from some Republicans in the area," Alexander said. "I wouldn't make the decision lightly. But it could be the outcome, not just over the CFO bill, but a whole series of issues."

    Some other Republican House members have been conducting opinion polls in races involving Sen. Charlie Clary, R-Destin, and Sen. Harold Futch, R-Indiatlantic, Alexander said.

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    From the Times state desk