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Governor to lawmakers: Back to work

With no budget agreement, the governor wants legislators back and in special session in less than a week. Senate leaders squirm.

Published May 1, 2003

TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Jeb Bush is demanding a quick return for legislators who failed to agree on the state's $52-billion budget and other important issues during their regular session.

They are likely to be back Wednesday, far sooner than the Senate wanted.

The governor has summoned Senate President Jim King and House Speaker Johnnie Byrd to a meeting today to discuss plans for a special session.

Senate Rules Chairman Tom Lee said he was advised by Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings Wednesday afternoon that a special session will begin Wednesday, just five days after Friday's end of the 60-day session.

King said legislators need more than a week "to rest up and cool off," but will return when the governor calls them.

"We need to back off and take a deep breath," King said. "It gets pretty steamy in here."

Byrd had a different view.

"We'll keep working," Byrd said. "The House is here to work. We're here today, we're ready Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, whenever you want to do it."

But there also were political reasons for their different views.

Lee said some House members fear that returning home for an extended stay would expose them to public outrage over their proposed cuts. The Senate, meanwhile, wants a longer recess for that very reason: to build public support for its spending plan.

"My sense is there is a great deal of trepidation by some of going home and having to feel the realities of this budget," Lee said.

Two heavily lobbied bills appeared to be the most significant measures heading toward passage this week: one that sets the stage for higher basic phone rates and another that environmentalists say will endanger the Everglades.

When reporters asked how it would look if the only two bills that pass are those supported by big campaign contributors and a horde of lobbyists, Byrd dismissed the question, saying constituents judge them by all of their votes.

King deferred to Lee, standing nearby.

"That's easy, but you can't answer it," Lee quipped.

King and other veteran lawmakers warned that a special session without an advance agreement on the budget could end in disaster.

King compared the situation to a 1989 session called by then-Gov. Bob Martinez on abortion and another called a year ago to rewrite school regulations. Both began without adequate planning and ended with no bill passing.

Although the House and Senate will still be meeting today and Friday, it is obvious that most of the major issues they had been expected to resolve - medical malpractice, workers' compensation and auto insurance fraud - will remain undone.

"We need to have agreements," King said. "My druthers would be to go home for at least a week, but we don't need to take longer than two weeks."

Budget experts believe a special session on the budget will last at least 12 to 16 days.

[Last modified May 1, 2003, 04:06:34]

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