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Bush to Legislature: Work together, get your job done

The governor says he will watch the behavior of both chambers' leaders before scheduling a special session on the budget.

Published May 2, 2003

TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Jeb Bush sounded like a stern father taking recalcitrant children to the woodshed Thursday as he prodded House Speaker Johnnie Byrd and Senate President Jim King to work together to finish the state's business.

It was an extraordinary, tense scene televised live. King and his leadership team lined one side of a long conference table in the governor's office. Byrd and his team sat across from them.

If looks really could kill, there would have been blood on the table.

Bush and Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings sat at one end of the table, facing TV cameras and reporters the morning before the Legislature's 60-day session was scheduled to end.

"I ask you to finish strong," Bush urged. "I think the people of Florida would appreciate it. Clearly the budget is not going to be part of it and I'm really disappointed, to be honest with you. The most important thing that needs to be done at a regular session hasn't been done."

The governor said he will call lawmakers back for a two-week special session on the budget, but won't decide exactly when until he sees what they do in the final two days. He made it clear that he'll be watching how they behave.

King wants lawmakers to take some time off to cool their tempers and rest their weary bodies. Not Byrd: He's ready to start Saturday.

Bush has told lawmakers he wants them to return Wednesday and finish the budget by May 22. Another special session will likely be required to pass other major legislation.

Late Thursday, Byrd said he had asked King to extend the session instead of letting the governor call them back. That would let lawmakers control the agenda and the timing. King said he'll consult his leadership team before making a decision.

But the governor urged Byrd and King not to wait before resolving some issues. Put aside your differences, he said, and finish as much work as you can, particularly measures to end the crises in workers' compensation and medical malpractice.

"They are pressing problems that aren't going to go away," Bush said. "They have so much impact on our economy and the quality and access to health care, we have to deal with it."

Bush also urged them to communicate better and offered to help, but wants to avoid anything to "enable the behavior" that blew up budget talks.

"We're all grownups. We're all mature people," Bush added.

When Bush finished, Byrd began.

"Let me say, this is a great state and all this will fade into the mist of history," Byrd said. "We've had a budget every year since 1845 and we'll have a budget this year, so there is no need for being melodramatic."

King said the Senate wants to pass a budget and wouldn't mind if the governor submitted a new budget proposal.

"You didn't like the one I gave you?" Bush asked.

"Well, we're about $400-million lighter now," King said, referring to new revenue estimates.

"$300-million," Bush argued.

When Bush referred to the budget blowing up over $45-million Byrd wants for an Alzheimer's institute in Tampa, Byrd suggested the governor was engaging in "revisionist" history. Byrd attributed the breakdown to the Senate's desire to spend more money and offered to return to debate tax measures the Senate supports.

King was uncharacteristically silent during much of the meeting, but noted that the Senate spent the past two days awaiting the House workers' compensation bill and was stymied by a House rule that prohibits voting on a bill for two days after it is amended.

King suggested Byrd was holding onto the bill deliberately to limit any Senate amendments. "We're trapped by your rule because you didn't send us your bill," King told Byrd.

Byrd said that without the rule, amendments are adopted without the public knowing what they say.

He refused to waive the rule and was noncommittal about workers' comp.

When Byrd returned to the House, members immediately passed the measure.

Bush continued pressuring Byrd late in the afternoon, huddling with key House Republicans in a private lounge behind the chamber to urge the speaker to lift the two-day rule to pass the class size implementation bill, a measure to rein in auto insurance fraud, and the workers' comp bill as amended by the Senate.

Byrd refused, but said he would discuss the idea later with his leadership team.

Although Bush didn't single out either chamber for blame, criticism of both was implied in much of what he said. He urged lawmakers to debate the budget in public conference committees and take unresolved issues to leaders, a reference to Byrd's refusal to follow that traditional approach.

After the meeting, King rose and turned to leave. Bush called him back to shake hands.

Later King was dubbed "Rocky V" by his Senate colleagues.

"We have no intention of being disruptive or obstructionist," King told his members. "We'll do whatever we can. We've fought a good fight. We're not going to sacrifice what we believe in."

A few hours later, Byrd used the Bible to make a subtle dig at King.

After introducing a chaplain, Byrd said he'd been thinking about the Book of Judges, which says, "There was no king in the land and all the people did the right thing."

King was not amused. "That's a great way to calm the waters," he said.

Republicans control the House, Senate and governor's mansion, prompting some political observers to question whether the GOP is capable of governing. Bush told reporters that some recent developments trouble him about the Republican Party.

"I don't want my party to become the party of power, the party of government," Bush said. He wants his party to emphasize ideas and solutions "rather than "I'm in power, so too bad.' "

"There is a culture that's beginning to emerge that if we don't react, puts the Republian Party in a bad position."

But his comments weren't driven by the acrimony between Byrd and King, he said.

"It's not related to the House or the Senate and I probably shouldn't have told you," Bush said with a chuckle.

- Times staff writers Alisa Ulferts and Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

[Last modified May 2, 2003, 02:31:39]

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