March Madness at the Capitol: $800 flights, a 15-minute floor session and Leonard Hamilton
March Madness is in full swing in the Capitol.
Members of the Legislature traveled from their districts to Tallahassee for a special session to redraw Senate electoral maps, and spent about 15 minutes in the chamber before heading back home, some on $800 flights.
Members of the House can thank their Senate counterparts for the brief return to Tallahassee. Redistricting maps drawn by the Senate were rejected by Florida's Supreme Court last week as unconstitutional. The House maps were unanimously approved. Gov. Rick Scott called lawmakers back for a special re-do session.
With their maps in shape, House members were left with nothing to do, so they invited Leonard Hamilton, coach of Florida State University's basketball team to the agenda-less Chamber.
"Today we proudly send our Seminoles to Nashville for the first round of the NCAA tournament, and wish them the best against St. Bonaventure, wherever that place is," Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, said as he introduced the coach. Hamilton and FSU's basketball team are fresh off the school's first Atlantic Coast Conference Championship and are expected to advance deep into the NCAA tournament.
House members were not allowed to discuss any non-redistricting legislation so, with Hamilton in the House, they took the opportunity to snap pictures and chat up the coach.
They were mostly smiles, but not everyone was happy about having to come back to Tallahassee for a single-day's work (if you can call it that: Several lawmakers spent less than 8 hours on the ground in Tallahassee).
Some blamed the Senate, for its poorly drawn maps.
"I'm a little disappointed that the half of us that got the job done still have to come back and push the button," said Rep. Ana Rivas Logan, R-Miami, who flew in at 7 a.m. and flew back to Miami in the afternoon. "I hope that this time they get it right."
Taxpayers will be picking up the tab for the trip, with roundtrip flights into Tallahassee's airport going for upwards of $800.
"There is a cost involved, and it's not a pleasant thing that we have to incur this cost, but it's our Constitutional duty," said Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, whose flight from Miami cost about $880.
Lawmakers were constitutionally required to show up and record their presence, and only 15 were able to get approved excused absences. One lawmaker said House leadership sent out a memo telling members that they'd better have a good excuse if they were going to skip the session.
Fresh off wins against Duke and North Carolina, Hamilton said he was looking forward to squaring off against St. Bonaventure to kick off the NCAA Tournament.
"They're a very good basketball team," he said. "We'll just take it one game at a time, and let the chips fall where they may."