TALLAHASSEE — As Florida legislators meet today in a one-day special session to transform into law a handful of bills vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist, they have agreed to remove two controversial items as a concession to both Gov.-elect Rick Scott and a bipartisan group of doctors and legislators.
Incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and Speaker-designate Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, agreed Monday to back off attempts to override the veto of a bill affecting the distribution of prescription drugs to workers' compensation patients because, they said, the controversial issue is better left to next year's regular session.
The new leaders also will not pursue another measure to reorganize the Department of Management Services by removing it from the governor's office and placing it under the Cabinet, whose members are independently elected, because Scott said he wants to reorganize the agency.
"He campaigned on the issue of reform and reorganizing government, and frankly I think he's entitled to that opportunity," Cannon said of Scott.
Scott met privately with Haridopolos on Saturday during the Florida State University football game and urged lawmakers not to override the veto of the DMS bill. Scott campaigned on cutting millions of dollars in state government to finance deep property tax cuts. The Department of Management Services, which handles most government contracting and building management, is expected to be one area where he hopes to find deep savings.
"You're going to see, I hope, the governor and Legislature as much as possible (work) in concert," Haridopolos said. "When the governor-elect expressed concerns about our veto override, he was given every consideration."
Legislators will convene today to first swear-in House and Senate members for the next two-year term of the Florida Legislature. Then they will meet for a half-day special session to take up seven veto overrides.
Lawmakers will also take up three other new bills: a measure to authorize rebates to consumers who purchased solar energy and high-efficiency heating and air-conditioning units; a message to Congress in support of Medicaid reform; and, a proposal to delay a new septic tank testing rule.
The session is an opportunity for Republican leaders to flex their newfound muscle after winning veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate on Nov. 2. It's also a show of force against Crist, who bucked their party and ran unsuccessfully as an independent candidate for the U.S. Senate.
"We want to make sure tomorrow goes as smoothly as possible, and we wanted to pick bills that we thought were in unison with everyone, Democrats and Republicans, alike," Haridopolos told reporters Monday.
But some Democrats and environmentalists say Republican leaders are leaving one controversial bill on the table. The measure, HB 1565, would allow lawmakers to ratify any rule that would cost small businesses a total of $200,000 a year or $1 million over five years. Cannon and Haridopolos see it as a way to restore legislative authority over policy.
Environmentalists argue that the measure will effectively put a stop to all agency rulemaking — from water protection standards to economic development programs — because most rules will have a cumulative cost.
"The practical effect will be to shut down rulemaking, but another effect will be to increase the role of lobbyists and political contributions," said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida. "Anyone who can throw $25,000 into the speaker's fund to stop a piece of legislation can have their way."
He predicted that the measure will interfere with cleaning up Lake Okeechobee and Everglades water.
Legislative leaders also agreed Monday not to override Crist's veto of a prescription-drug bill supported by major campaign contributors in the final weeks of the election.
Automated Healthcare Solutions, a Miramar company that could benefit from the legislation, gave more than $1 million to campaign committees headed by Haridopolos and Cannon during the election cycle. It also sent $145,000 to Scott's political committee and contributed $735,000 to the Republican Party of Florida.
Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink accused the legislators of siding with special interests by not overriding the veto.
"This gives the appearance that the Florida Legislature and Gov.-elect Rick Scott are getting square with the special interests who funded their campaigns," Sink said in a statement. "This was a perfect opportunity to save taxpayers millions of dollars and reduce workers' compensation costs for Florida businesses. Once again, Tallahassee business-as-usual prevailed."
Cannon said legislators agreed to let Crist's veto stand because the decision not to pursue an override received bipartisan support, including a letter written Friday by outgoing House Democratic leader Franklin Sands.
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com.