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Governor to sift through details of new bills

By LUCY MORGAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 8, 2001


TALLAHASSEE -- On the Monday after the state Legislature went home, Gov. Jeb Bush was among those trying to sort out exactly what the lawmakers did and whom they did it to.

TALLAHASSEE -- On the Monday after the state Legislature went home, Gov. Jeb Bush was among those trying to sort out exactly what the lawmakers did and whom they did it to.

"A lot of amendments were flying," Bush said as he talked about the final hours of the 60-day session. "We're just beginning to go through it."

The governor says he would have preferred more discussion about some of the issues that wound up in bills that his office is considering for his signature or veto.

This year, lawmakers placed numerous special-interest provisions in bills in the chaotic closing days of the session. Bush can use his line-item veto to reject individual spending projects buried in appropriations bills -- not to reject substantive provisions in other types of legislation.

But Bush and Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan indicated they would like to see the Legislature change its ways.

The transportation bill, for example, "had more stuff in it than we know what to do with," Bush noted.

Rep. Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, chairman of the House rules committee, agreed that something needs to change.

Byrd on Monday said he wonders whether the Legislature needs a cooling-off period for bills similar to the 72-hour period that the state budget has to sit on legislative desks before a final vote.

"We ought to have some sort of waiting period on final adoption of bills," Byrd said. "We have the right of the majority to act, but the right to know should make it so we know what's in the bills. Maybe if everything we did was posted on the Internet and we had a 24-hour waiting period."

Bush said he would have been more comfortable with some of the bills that passed if they had been openly discussed in advance. He cited an amendment to an omnibus education reorganization bill that makes New College in Sarasota an independent university.

"I would have liked to have seen a more open debate," Bush told reporters. "I would have liked to have seen more discussion about New College and its ability to be a viable and independent university."

But Bush indicated he won't veto the education package to get rid of the New College provision.

In some cases, Bush said he'll ignore things put into bills, and in other cases he'll try to use existing law to accomplish things he thinks need doing.

Legislators failed to approve the governor's growth management initiatives, which focused on making sure schools have enough room for new students before approving big housing developments.

"We can do a lot by executive order and existing authority at the Department of Community Affairs," Bush said.

Other things aren't so easy. Bush let an adoption bill become law earlier in the session after lawmakers promised to follow up with a second bill meant to fix a problem he had identified. But the lawmakers failed to come through with the second bill; it died in the Senate on the final night.

"I'm not going to do that ever again," Bush said.

Bush said he and Brogan spent a lot of time negotiating with legislators this year. Much of it involved carrying messages between the Senate and House.

And Bush said he didn't have to threaten any vetoes or promise not to veto anything to get an agreement.

Brogan also questioned the failure of legislators to approve a public corruption bill that has been one of the governor's priorities.

Brogan said he was unable to get a good explanation for the bill's failure from Senate President John McKay and House leaders.

House Speaker Tom Feeney defended the Legislature's final day in a news conference early Saturday. "It has always been my wish to be live right before Leno and Letterman," he joked. "We were pleased to have a busy last day. We make no apologies."

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