Business remains as session fizzles
By STEVE BOUSQUET, Times Deputy Capitol Bureau Chief
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 22, 2003
TALLAHASSEE - The Legislature's latest special session quietly ended Monday with no solution to malpractice insurance rates, and many lawmakers weren't around to call it quits.
As the clock ran out, dozens of House members were 3,000 miles away, attending a legislative conference in San Francisco. Gov. Jeb Bush headed to Georgia for a regional conference on water.
After five months of on-again, off-again sessions, the House and Senate still can't resolve an impasse over the structure and size of limits on jury awards for pain and suffering in malpractice cases.
Bush said he would call lawmakers back Aug. 5 for a third special session on an issue that has exposed deep divisions in the elected leadership of the Republican Party, complete with name-calling and threats of election-year retribution.
"I'm disappointed that there wasn't an agreement," Bush said, adding that he's encouraged by movement toward a compromise.
"We're going to take that and build on it," Bush said.
But another sign of trouble surfaced Monday.
With negotiations at a critical juncture, some senators expect to be targets of a negative TV advertising campaign, paid for by Florida hospitals and insurers. Those groups remain frustrated by Senate opposition to a $250,000 cap on damages for pain and suffering.
At a morning strategy session at the Florida Hospital Association, one of the participants was Sally Bradshaw, a former chief of staff to Bush who works for Core Message, a Tallahassee public relations firm that specializes in media strategy.
"I attend a lot of meetings these days," Bradshaw said in an e-mail, in response to a question about a possible ad campaign.
Others at the strategy session, including lobbyists John Thrasher and Ralph Glatfelter of the hospital association, did not respond to requests for comment.
Glatfelter circulated an e-mail last week, describing Bush as determined "to use all the muscle of his office to rally support. ... It will get ugly."
Jon Shebel, president of Associated Industries of Florida, said an ad campaign would be a big mistake.
Shebel said AIF refused to take part in efforts to discredit individual senators and said such a strategy would make it even tougher to reach an agreement.
"We're not participating in any such effort, if in fact it exists," Shebel said.
Asked if his group had been asked to contribute money to such an effort, Shebel said, "We'd rather not comment on that."
Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, is one of those who expects to be targeted by the ad campaign. Other possible targets would be Senate President Jim King, R-Jacksonville, and two senators closely involved in crafting the legislation, Tom Lee of Brandon and Dennis Jones of Treasure Island.
"To target senators would be a huge mistake on their part," Pruitt said.
Many House members were a long way from the crossfire Monday. House Speaker Johnnie Byrd allowed 44 House members and six staff members to attend the National Conference of State Legislatures conference in San Francisco at public expense.
The weeklong NCSL meeting features seminars on education, health care and other topics.
House spokeswoman Nicole deLara said no precise figures were available on the travel costs, because many lawmakers booked their own airline flights and hotel rooms.
King revoked travel for senators, because it appeared two weeks ago that lawmakers would still be in session.
The cost of canceling reservations and flights for 14 senators was about $3,000, Senate spokeswoman Sarah Bascom said.
A group of hospitals, doctors and insurers, calling themselves the Coalition to Heal Healthcare in Florida, issued a statement praising Bush and the House and criticizing the Senate.
"The Senate is clearly not yet willing to recognize the magnitude of this crisis," the statement said. The coalition said last week's two-day Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on insurance rates featured "narrowly focused testimony designed to generate headlines against reforms."
- Times staff writer Lucy Morgan and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times state desk
Around the state
From the state wire