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Despite reports, special session not a lock yet

The House speaker will reportedly call for the session Monday, but the Senate president is still undecided.

By SHELBY OPPEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 3, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- State legislative leaders are struggling over whether and when to call a special session to choose the electors who could help send George W. Bush to the White House.

House Republicans made it clear Saturday that they want to convene the session on Wednesday. After some news organizations reported their statements as proof that a session would indeed be convened, Senate President John McKay released a strongly worded statement to the contrary.

"Contrary to news accounts, I will not call a special session on Monday. It is still my understanding that both (House Speaker Tom Feeney) and I must sign a proclamation for convening a special session of the Legislature. Therefore, reports that a special session will convene on Wednesday are inaccurate," McKay said.

House Republicans, in particular, say the session is critical to ensure that Florida's 25 electors are in place when the Electoral College meets Dec. 18.

"The speaker has informed me that he will be signing a proclamation on Monday for the purpose of having a special session on Wednesday," said House Majority leader Mike Fasano, a New Port Richey Republican.

McKay said Friday that he is "reluctant" to do the same and that he wanted to read a select committee's report before deciding. That report was not finished Saturday night, McKay said.

"As I mentioned yesterday, there are so many uncertainties contingent upon actions outside the control of the Legislature that we must proceed with the utmost caution," he said in a statement Saturday.

"This is perhaps the most important issue that the Legislature will ever face. The Senate will not be rushed to judgment. We have only one chance to get this right."

Earlier Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Jim King predicted a Wednesday start for the session -- if McKay decided to call for one.

"The presumption is that he would (call the session). If that presumption is correct, I would think that sometime on Wednesday is when it would start," said King, a Jacksonville Republican.

The main arena of election activity on Saturday was a Leon County courtroom, where attorneys for Vice President Al Gore tried to persuade Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls to invalidate the Nov. 26 certification of Bush's 537-vote victory over Gore in Florida. The trial resumes today.

About 4:30 p.m., CNN interrupted its broadcast of dry testimony about "chad build-up" and the characteristics of rubber styluses to report that Feeney and McKay would call the session Monday, attributing the information only to "GOP sources."

Minutes later, the Associated Press sent a similar story to its subscribers, citing Fasano as the source. As Fasano's phones started ringing, he backed away from the report.

He never said McKay had reached the same decision as Feeney, Fasano said.

"That's terrible. . . . Why would I speak for Sen. McKay?" he said.

Republicans who support choosing electors in a special session say Gore's legal challenges to the election results have put the existing slate of Bush electors in jeopardy. To ensure that Florida's votes are counted when the Electoral College meets, lawmakers say they must pick another Bush slate.

Democrats who want further recounts of disputed South Florida ballots have called the move a premature, partisan power grab that would rob voters of their voice in the presidential election.

If a session is convened, legislators will take up a joint resolution instead of a bill choosing the electors. McKay said Friday that lawyers advising the Senate think the action should be wholly the Legislature's and not involve a decision from Gov. Jeb Bush.

A bill would require Bush's review. He could veto or sign it or, after a waiting period, allow it to become law without his signature.

- Information from Times files was used in this report.

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