LEGISLATURE

There’s something about Mary — if you can take the voice

 

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

For more than 10 hours Wednesday, lawmakers sat and listened to the drone-like voice of “Mary,” a robotic auto-reader used to speed through hundreds of pages of legislative text.

In protest of the House decision to reject federal healthcare dollars, Democrats voted to require all bills be read in full. Enter Mary, the Siri-like communication specialist brought in to preside over a partisan breakdown in talks between Democrats and Republicans.

The auto-reader was acquired after the last time the Florida version of a filibuster was employed, in 2008 when Democrats required the House, then controlled by former House Speaker Marco Rubio, to read every lengthy page bill in their entirely. During that time, Rubio locked the doors to prevent members from leaving the chamber and staff took turns reading out loud.

Affectionately named Mother Mary by House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, the auto-reader can be adjusted to designate the speed with which it reads the bill. It was turned up a notch Wednesday to speed through bills at a rate of one page every 45 seconds.

“In addition to the review and report required under paragraphs (1)(a) and (2)(a), respectively, the court shall hold a judicial review hearing within 90 days after a child’s 17th birthday,” the monotonous robo-voice said while reading mundane language from a 54-page bill on foster care.

Lawmakers, some of whom clearly appeared annoyed, had to endure the marathon reading session beginning just after 8 a.m. and lasting throughout the day. There was a brief break for lunch.

Mary was developed “in house” with software that cost about $40, said House spokesman Ryan Duffy.

As Mary spoke, the bills up for debate were projected on a large screen in the front of the House chamber, with each word highlighted in blue as it was read.

The scene reminded lobbyist John French of old-time sing-along movies.

“It’s like following the bouncing ball on speed,’’ he said.

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