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Political 'horse trading' going down to wire in Legislature
As Friday's legislative close nears, lawmakers continue to cut deals while delaying votes on the major issues.
By LUCY MORGAN and JONI JAMES
Published May 4, 2005
TALLAHASSEE - With time running out in this year's legislative session, lawmakers were playing an elaborate game of chicken Tuesday as they sought to resolve dozens of major issues before the session's scheduled close on Friday.
House Speaker Allan Bense adjourned before 3 p.m. on a day that had been scheduled to end at 5 p.m.
The Senate spent the day skirting several bills that would resolve many of the important issues that brought them to town.
Asked why the House didn't take up Senate President Tom Lee's high priority lobbying bill, Bense could only smile.
"I don't think we are ready for the lobbying bill," Bense said. "As the week progresses we'll take a closer look."
Virtually every major issue on the table remains to be resolved this week: growth management, Medicaid reform, constitutional amendments, slot machine regulations, class size, tort reform.
Plus, several special interests continued to push their long shot causes, such as the Florida Marlins effort to win a tax break to help pay for a new stadium. Armando Codina, the influential Miami developer who once was a business partner of Gov. Jeb Bush, even traveled to town, meeting privately with Lee.
Would you say there was a lot of posturing going on?
"You could look at it that way," admitted Lee during an early evening meeting with the press. "We're going to try and send out the low-hanging fruit and keep it moving while we negotiate tort reform, Medicaid."
Lee said there is no animosity, just a difference of opinion on what should become law.
By Thursday legislators in both chambers should begin to realize they could be missing an unusual opportunity to create a landmark growth management law and resolve other state problems.
"The stars don't line up often in this process," Lee said. "We are in a posture where we could really achieve something for the state."
House Rules Chairman Dudley Goodlette said growth management reforms are caught between two factions: Senate leaders who want to allow counties to raise money for roads and other infrastructure needs without a referendum, and House leaders who want a referendum before any tax can be raised.
But gamesmanship was in full swing.
Among the Senate's clear maneuvering Tuesday: The chamber took up only the two least controversial of five bills on the calendar that are aimed at making state courts friendlier to businesses sued there. Such civil litigation changes are a huge priority of Bense and the House.
The upper chamber also failed to act on proposals for growth management, changes to how citizens amend the state Constitution, two plans to provide sales tax holidays for back-to-school supplies and hurricane-preparedness goods, and changes to the state's hurricane insurance market.
Bense said negotiators are making progress on all of the major issues. The final details will have to be decided by Bense and Lee.
Lee sent his top priority bill to the House on Monday. It would force lobbyists to disclose their fees and identify the lawmakers they wine and dine. He said the lobbying bill is the "linchpin" of the session and should pass the House today.
"A lot of things can happen in this session, but one thing is we can't let the lobbyists win," Lee added.
House leaders know Lee has made the bill a priority and are hoping they can gain concessions from Senate leaders on other issues before they take up the lobbying bill.
Some call it "horse trading."
It's a time-honored tradition in a Legislature that meets for at least 55 days before they really get serious about cutting the final deals that shape the way bills become law.