Legislature’s last-minute rush offers plenty of political drama



I had intended to offer a half-time report on the Florida Legislature’s 60-day legislative session, but the vast majority of the action occurs in the last two weeks — or, more accurately, in the last few days.

While there are rules that govern the introduction and disposition of bills, in the end the will of the legislative leaders trumps the rules in each of their respective chambers. It’s not that they ignore the rules; it’s that the rules are written in a manner to allow them to use them to their benefit, particularly when the legislators have a vested interest in pleasing their presiding officers.

So as the legislative session enters its most action-packed phase, the best predictor of a bill’s outcome is based on where legislative leadership is on the issue.

While individual members exercise some free will during the committee process, the last 10 days are pretty carefully scripted within each chamber — the Florida House and the Florida Senate.

To set the stage, the budget conference between the House and the Senate has begun to work out the differences in the annual spending plan. To some extent, that, too, is micromanaged by the Legislature’s leadership when they release the budget allocations, forcing spending to conform to breakdowns by area such as education, health, criminal justice, transportation and the environment.

Much of the negotiation has already occurred at the highest levels before the conference formally begins. While some smaller decisions and details are traded during conference, most of the work is done out of sight and behind the scenes.

The major decisions are horse-traded between the House speaker and the Senate president. They can negotiate in good faith so each can walk away with a victory or they can dig in and risk a standoff. They can either have a plan to land smoothly or they can have a complete meltdown. The meltdowns are stunning.

What happens between the two chambers and the governor’s office depends on the relationship between those three major players. It also depends on their leadership ability, their negotiating skills, their trust and respect for each other and the willingness of their respective members to back them up in their deal making.

Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford all had pretty limited agendas. All three wanted to put money aside in reserves for use in times of a budget shortfall. It appears as though that is happening to the tune of $3 billion. Another area of agreement is tax cuts. Again it seems all three will be able to claim victory with $500 million in tax cuts and fee reductions. And because state revenues have increased by billions of dollars in the last few years, all three called for increased spending in numerous parts of the budget, including education. While the budget isn’t finalized, it does appear that education will see a respectable increase — albeit not historic as some might claim.

What else does Gov. Scott want? He asked the Legislature to reverse tuition increases in college tuition rates. The Legislature seems willing to grant only a partial reduction, denying him a full win on that issue.

Gov. Scott expressed support for one of Speaker Weatherford’s top priorities: in-state tuition rates for undocumented Florida students. Senate President Gaetz expressed opposition, but the majority of his chamber doesn’t share his view. Despite the support of more than half of the senators, it is unclear whether the bill will get a vote in the full Senate. This might be one of the issues used to negotiate or staged to allow Gov. Scott to be the hero.

Weatherford also wants school-voucher expansion and employee-pension reform, both of which are in a state of uncertainty. Gaetz, however, promised no voucher expansion without accountability measures relating to testing, a position on which he seems to be softening.

It’s more difficult to decipher what Gaetz’s priorities are but he seems to support Medicaid expansion, ethics reform and legalization of a particular form of medicinal marijuana known as Charlotte’s web. The first seems dead, the second stalled and the third moving in the Legislature but threatened by Gov. Scott.

These priorities, and contentious issues like craft beer, will most likely be decided in the last 48 hours of the session, with plenty of plot twists. Things are not always what they seem. Predicting their outcome is great political sport but as futile as guessing the next scene in an episode of Scandal. So tune in on May 1 and 2 for some great political drama. It’s no House of Cards, but it has a lot of interesting characters.

Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald



    We can’t delay the fight against sea-level rise

    Regardless of its cause, sea-level rise is the inevitable, non-debatable consequence of the warming of the oceans and the melting of the planet’s ice sheets. It is a measurable, trackable and relentless reality. Without innovative adaptive capital planning, it will threaten trillions of dollars of the region’s built environment, our future water supply, unique natural resources, agricultural soils and basic economy.

American jihadist Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha, who eventually burned his passport, died in May after blowing up a truck in Syria.


    White House should release 9/11 documents

    The death of American jihadist Douglas McArthur McCain in Syria raised few eyebrows. It is no secret that there are about 7,000 foreigners fighting alongside the terrorists known as the Islamic State of Islam (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq, of which perhaps 150 to 300 are American.



    Jihadis forcing the U.S. to support its enemy Assad

    History is moving to give us an answer to one of the great foreign-policy debates of this decade. President Obama has time and time again dismissed the argument, repeated recently by Hillary Clinton, that the United States should have taken a more-assertive stance to affect the course of the civil war in Syria. Clinton, who as Obama’s secretary of state argued that Washington should give more material support for moderate rebels, says a decision to intervene could have prevented the current calamity.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category