It's the 60th day and the Sine Die clock is ticking
Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, shows a smile Thursday on the floor of the Senate before his official portrait was unveiled. [SCOTT KEELER / TIMES PHOTO]
It is March 9, the 60th and last scheduled day of the regular session, and here's where things stand: Legislators have passed 166 bills only eight of which have been signed by the governor. They have sent 100 resolutions or memorials to the secretary of state and another 1,246 bills have died in committee.
In the House, where legislators drew redistricting maps pitting 38 lawmakers against each other, many of them have made peace. Legislators got a jump start on the budget vote, scheduled to occur no sooner at 4:22 p.m. on Friday, and worked late into the night Thursday debating the $70 billion spending plan.
After they adjourned at about 10:30 p.m., Republicans and Democrats headed to The Moon for a "Sine Die" party sponsored by the House's Legislative Black Caucus and the House's Legislative Hispanic Caucus. As the salsa sounds of "Tallahassee Nights" played, members partied and danced together.
Over in the Senate, where redistricting maps didn't pit a single incumbent against each other, tempers were far more tense for yet another day. The divided chamber still bears the wounds of an attempt two weeks ago to oust Sen. Andy Gardiner from the candidacy for Senate president by Rules Chairman John Thrasher and Sen. Joe Negron, with the blessing of incoming Senate President Don Gaetz.
Gaetz has since apologized for getting involved, but feelings remain raw. Gardiner and Sen. Jack Latvala attempted to mount a unified front over the controversial bill to allow parents to dictate the fate of their failing schools with turn-around plans that could have principals be fired and charter schools operators take over. Latvala helped to craft a compromise that allowed him and a handful of other opponents to sign onto the bill. Ten tense amendments later, and it was clear they may not have all the votes they need to pass it. Proponents expect it to die today 20-20.
Meanwhile, both sides eagerly await a ruling today from the Florida Supreme Court on the redistricting maps brought before them, where the conventional wisdom is the House complied with most of the new Fair Districts anti-incumbency and anti-gerrymandering standards but the Senate didn't.
The court had 30 days to rule on the map and some suggest that could mean Monday or Friday. But counting the days is an unsettled point of law that the court has not been asked to decide, so the odds are greater the ruling comes today.
Meanwhile, the divisions in the Senate have left many controversial bills to die. A bill to void marriage, divorce and custody contracts grounded in foreign law, called by senators the anti-Shari’ah Law, was scheduled for a vote Thursday but now can't come for a vote. Another bill, a priority of Gaetz, to give optometrists drug prescriptions powers in return for limiting lawsuits against medical doctors also died Thursday when it didn't come up for a vote.
There may be one final-day victory emerging Friday. House and Senate leaders both predicted a compromise is coming on the bitterly divided fight over PIP auto insurance reform, a top priority of Gov. Rick Scott. Each chamber has taken widely different approaches to the problem but the governor, and lawmakers, each badly needs to claim this victory for political purposes. So watch for both sides to capitulate and each accept half a loaf sometime today.
The countdown continues until the official sine die; 172 bills were still alive on the House and Senate calendars as of 10 p.m. last night. It will be an interesting day.