Session ends with hard feelings after major meltdownby Dara Kam | May 7th, 2011
Lawmakers approved a $69.7 billion spending plan and quietly ended the 2011 legislative session at 3:35 a.m. without any pomp and circumstance.
Instead, the 60-day session ended with Senate President Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon publicly rebuking each other over with Haridopolos accusing Cannon of playing “silly games” and Cannon claiming to “take the high road” by rejecting a controversial Senate tax break.
Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, called his members back after 2 a.m. this morning to take up a tax-break proposal that includes a three-day sales tax holiday for back-to-school shoppers after the House stripped out a tax break for at least one greyhound dog track in Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher’s district.
Haridopolos apologized for asking them to return about an hour after he sent them home and instructed them the session would reconvene at 10 a.m.
Shortly before Haridopolos recalled the Senate, Cannon gaveled down the House without passing two claims bills that were Haridopolos priorities. Eric Brody was set to get $12 million from the Broward County Sheriff’s Office for an accident more than a decade ago that left him severely disabled, and William Dillon was slated to get less than $1 million after being wrongfully imprisoned for nearly three decades for a crime he didn’t commit.
“They should have been served today by this legislature. Politics got in the way today and I’m embarrassed,” he said.
Gov. Rick Scott left the building around midnight as the legislative session devolved into chaos. Scott had been scheduled to participate in the ceremonial white hanky drop but instead went home to bed because he had a busy schedule this weekend, his spokesman Brian Burgess said.
The House approved the budget shortly before 2 a.m., about two-and-a-half hours after the Senate and following some very hard feelings between the two chambers.
The House then took up the disputed tax break bill (CS/SB 7203).
But the House remained angered by the Senate’s killing a pair of professional deregulation bills earlier in the night — with House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, saying that move broke an agreement between the two chambers.
“In light of the Senate’s inability to meet that obligation, I’ve decided that our chamber would take the high road…and send it all to the Senate tonight, and leave no ambiguity,” Cannon said.
The House took up the tax-break bill, voted to remove the Jacksonville track provision, repackaged the measure as HB 143 and sent it back to the Senate. With the budget behind them, and the tax-break package structured to their liking, Cannon and House members adjourned at 2:07 a.m., Saturday.
The tax provision that caused the Legislature to unravel and miss its scheduled Friday midnight close first emerged last weekend — and was ushered into a conforming bill by House and Senate budget-writers, said House Appropriations Chair Denise Grimsley.
“It’s been a very tough year, we had a lot of conforming bills,” Grimsley said shortly after the House adjourned and ended the 2011 session at 2:07 a.m., Saturday. “We just had some members who had some issues with it.”
Grimsley acknowledged she failed to fully gauge how a provision cutting the tax rate on coin-operated arcade machines would be seen as a major expansion of gambling by many in the conservative House.
The Senate, especially Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, wanted the measure to help dog tracks with card rooms.
But by then, the House had little love for the Senate — which Friday night had an uprising of its own over two other conforming bills that would have deregulated a dozen professions, but had never received a Senate hearing.
The Senate refused to go along with what the House wanted, killing the biggest of the two bills on a 32-6 vote. Haridopolos and his leadership team were on the losing side.
Sifting through the still smoking wreckage of the last night, Cannon, R-Winter Park, declined to question whether the 45 conforming bills lawmakers were asked to vote on, may have caused the upheaval.
The bills, containing vast policy changes, some of which were being aired for the first time, had been agreed-upon only by a handful of leaders before being foisted on the full chambers for a final vote.
“A conference committee is an effort where people agree to things that they might not have otherwise have done in their chamber because it’s important to the other chamber,” Cannon said. “That’s what conference is all about. And that’s why conference is sort of an implied agreement between the two chambers.”
Was there a lesson learned? Maybe 45 conforming bills settled by a narrow group of lawmakers isn’t so hot?
Cannon disagreed. But his explanation may have reflected the early a.m. hour.
“Every session is different. And every Legislature is different. And because legislators are made of people, they’re subject to different personalities and different challenges,” Cannon said.