Florida Politics

Bathroom break, a bite of lunch cause lawmakers to miss big vote

Rep. Katie Edwards, D- Plantation, debates on a bill during the first week of the 2017 session in March.
Rep. Katie Edwards, D- Plantation, debates on a bill during the first week of the 2017 session in March. TAMPA BAY TIMES

Sometimes a poorly timed lunch break or trip to the bathroom can have consequences.

Broward County Democratic Rep. Katie Edwards said Tuesday she was taking heat from her constituents about why she wasn’t in the room when the House voted Monday on a $419 million education policy bill — one of the most consequential and controversial pieces of legislation lawmakers passed in the 2017 session.

Edwards, of Plantation, opposes HB 7069, but she was one of 11 House members who didn’t officially vote on it. (Eight of those 11 were excused to miss the last day of session.)

Edwards said her absence during the roll-call vote was simply a matter of poor timing. “Unfortunately I stepped away from my desk to use the ladies room,” Edwards explained in an email to the Herald/Times.

MORE: “How South Florida lawmakers voted on massive K-12 schools bill”

Tampa Bay-area Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-Treasure Island, also missed the vote for a simple reason. She said by email that she was “eating in the back and [the vote] came up quicker than I thought.”

The absence of Edwards, Peters or the nine other representatives wouldn’t have been enough to sway the 73-36 result in the House.

But by missing the roll call, none of those House members officially cast a vote to which their constituents might hold them accountable. Members can record their positions after the vote — as Edwards, Peters and others did — but that action does not equate to actually having voted. It also doesn’t change the vote tally.

Peters’ absence during the vote is particularly notable, though, because had she been there for roll call, she would have been the only Republican to intentionally oppose HB 7069 — a top priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes and his caucus. (Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., a Hialeah Republican and staunch supporter of the massive bill, voted “no” by accident.)

Peters indicated in the House record a couple minutes afterward that she would have voted “no.” She said Tuesday the voting board was locked before she could get to her desk to press her button.

“No one in leadership gave me any pressure to vote for that bill,” she said. “I don’t feel it should have been put in the budget. I feel extensive comprehensive language such as that should have gone through the regular bill process.”

The 278-page bill — which ballooned during private budget talks after Corcoran demanded it include various education policy unrelated to spending — has myriad proposals gleaned from at least 55 House and Senate bills filed this session. It also contained language never before discussed or considered publicly or — in one case — that was already defeated by a Senate committee.

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Peters represents a swing district. Missing a big vote can sometimes afford vulnerable lawmakers some distance from having helped decide controversial legislation. A message to Rep. Emily Slosberg — a Boca Raton Democrat who also skipped Monday’s vote but wasn’t excused to be gone — was not immediately returned Tuesday.

The eight members who had approved absences Monday were gone for varying circumstances, such as a death in the family, other family commitments or work obligations.

Seven members absent for the HB 7069 vote, including some of those excused, recorded their positions afterward.

Edwards, Slosberg, Peters and Democrat Kimberly Daniels of Jacksonville said they would have voted “no.” Meanwhile, Republicans Thad Altman of Indialantic, Joe Gruters of Sarasota and MaryLynn Magar of Tequesta indicated they would have supported HB 7069.

Democrats Daisy Baez of Coral Gables and Ben Diamond of St. Petersburg, and Republicans Bill Hager of Delray Beach and Stan McClain of Belleview didn’t note how they would have voted.

Kristen M. Clark: 850-222-3095, kclark@miamiherald.com, @ByKristenMClark