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Final Hours of 2004 Legislature

Florida lawmakers are working late Friday, cranking out bills in the final hours of the 2004 session. A final vote on the budget can't take place until just after seven.

The smile of victory, or the agony of defeat, all of it seen clearly on the lobbyists faces. More than anything veteran lawmaker and lobbyist John Thrasher says the final day has been hurry up and wait, and wait.

"It's kind of like watching paint dry. It has not had the element of excitement that the final day usually has," John Thrasher, former House Speaker.

Three months ago, lawmakers were screaming for justice in the case of Carli Brucia. Accused killer Joseph P. Smith was a frequent parole violator who got slapped on the wrists. By midday the fix that could keep future killers in prison was itself on life support.

"I'm requiring the probationers, the probation officers to give the court a report and let the judge know whether or not this guy is dangerous, or whether or not he should be in custody or not. Apparently the House doesn't want to do that and if we don't do that I'm going to kill the bill over in the Senate," says Sen. Alex Villalobos, R Miami.

Other major issues, parental notice for a minors abortion, the phone rate freeze, school voucher accountability, quality pre-k for four-year-olds, tougher requirements for citizens initiatives, and much, much more were the objects of trades yet to be worked out.

What's happening here is a giant game of chicken on the final day, both sides want what they want and if they don't get it they are not going to give anything. Still, by the time the final hankie drops, plenty of legislation will have been sent to the governor, but beyond numbers there will be little of historical significance by which to remember the 2004 session.

Lawmakers are now debating the state budget and they'll be voting on the $58 billion spending plan later Friday night before the midnight deadline.


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