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Politics

RIP: With Regular Session Over, Bills Suffer Untimely Deaths

May 3, 2015 - 6:00pm

The 2015 regular session will go down in history as one of Floridas strangest and more tumultuous sessions, defined by fiery disagreements between the House and the Senate which have ultimately forced the Legislature into a special session. The Capitol halls were seemingly empty Friday afternoon, a time when lobbyists are usually bustling around the fourth floor making their final pushes to legislators to pass or fail legislation for their clients interests.

The early departure was not without casualties -- by day 58, the chambers had only sent around 200 bills to Gov. Rick Scott for signing, while many bills simply died and did not make it to Scott at all.

After the House shut its doors and packed its bags to go home Tuesday afternoon, the Senate was in a precarious position. Members met Wednesday and Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, demanded the House return to Tallahassee to wrap up the regular 60-day session.

Bills passed by the House waited for their turn to pass or fail through the Senate. Members waited for Gardiner to call them back to take up bills on a special calendar. Gardiner championed the good work of the Senate, saying theyd meet to finish out the work they had left to complete.

The call never came -- members did not meet Thursday. Bills of all shapes and sizes scheduled for a special order calendar that day officially died.

Nearly 1,500 bills were proposed during this years legislative session and not even 200 of them passed the Legislature. Around 50 were in the Senate's possession at the end of the regular session.

Casualties were felt nearly everywhere.

Education suffered. Among the failed legislation was a school choice bill which would have allowed Florida students to transfer to out-of-district schools if they had the capacity and would also let students switch teachers under certain circumstances. Another was a bill to change penalties for schools which violated the states class-size amendment.

Water bills died swift deaths at the hands of the Legislature, too. SB 1582, a controversial fracking bill sponsored by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, would have provided regulations for oil and gas fracking. But after the House adjourned, Richter realized he couldnt get a supermajority vote from senators to vote on the bill. He was forced to temporarily postpone his own bill, thus effectively killing it altogether.

The Florida House and Senate have played the blame-game with each other, with the House saying their departure should hardly have come as a surprise considering there were no talks of Medicaid expansion in the joint legislative session agenda.

It takes two to tango, said Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers.

Katie Betta, deputy chief of staff on communications for Gardiner,said there were bills that met their untimely ends on both sides of the Legislature, but said many of the bills' deaths resulted from the Houses early departure.

Senators had to make decisions on what bills they were willing to accept and what bills they were not going to accept, she said. They elected to complete the work on Wednesday.

The result: Many of this years most important bills -- the ones lawmakers, lobbyists, interest groups had all fought long and hard for -- were done.

There are certainly consequences on both sides, said Betta.

Some Capitol insiders said the Senate simply gave up, however. Instead of meeting Thursday to pass or even hear bills, senators waited ... and waited. Eventually, the session came to a quiet end at midnight Friday.

Now the Legislature has to come back to Tallahassee to do the whole budget song-and-dance over again for a special session. Gardiner proposed a session lasting from June 1-20, but the House has not yet agreed to meet at that time. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said he would respond soon.

Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen by email at allison@sunshinestatenews.com or follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen

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