Florida lawmakers are winding down the 2003 regular session Friday night. The last 60 days have been marked by mistrust and bickering and, if lawmakers were graded like a school taking the FCAT, they would be getting an “F.”
At times, half the seats in the senate were empty while everyone pow-wowed. Across the building in the house, debate had long pregnant pauses. Outside there were the usual pats, the pointing, and lobbyists handing out talking points. This time lapse shows the scurrying of the final day. But the only thing required of legislators passing the budget, was a failure. Veteran lobbyist Guy Spearman has never seen anything like it.
"I've been doing this since 1974 and I've never seen a session like this, ever. This is the most confused I've ever seen one,” explains Spearman.
While none of the major issues came close to passing, two special interest bills passed easily. Big Sugar sought and got relief in the Everglades cleanup and major phone companies got what will turn out to be the biggest rate hikes in the state's history. But voters got nothing when it came to smaller class sizes, the no smoking amendment or pre kindergarten. Former member Dick Batchelor calls it a travesty.
"In the legislature's arrogance to say notwithstanding what the voters want, notwithstanding that we have a constitutional amendment before us, we're going to do what we want to do,” Batchelor says.
Gov. Jeb Bush called the failure beyond disappointing.
"Look I mean they have a responsibility to do this stuff. If they don't do it, we'll move to the next way of solving which will be proviso language in the budget. What a shame,” Bush says.
Lawmakers will now have to come back to try again, but unless the distrust between the House and Senate is settled the result is likely to be the same.
The governor is expected to call lawmakers next week for a two week special session that will cost taxpayers about $40,000 a day.