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Special session comes with special costs

TALLAHASSEE — It might have been the most expensive quorum call in the history of the Florida Legislature.

At a cost of tens of thousands of dollars, House members returned to the Capitol Wednesday for a session that lasted 11 minutes, and most of that was ceremonial.

Some South Florida lawmakers charged taxpayers nearly $1,000 for a round-trip plane ticket.

"It's a nine-hour day of driving for exactly 11 minutes of work," said Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, who was back in his Chevy Equinox on U.S. 19 and headed for home minutes after adjournment.

"It's a very expensive one punch of the green light," said Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach. "If the taxpayers understood the process, I think they would be very upset with us."

Lawmakers had no choice.

Acting on orders of the Florida Supreme Court, Gov. Rick Scott summoned lawmakers back to work to redraw a constitutionally defective map of Senate districts — a task the House has agreed to defer to the Senate.

The court unanimously approved the House map.

Legislators receive $80 a day in subsistence money for every day they are assigned to be in Tallahassee outside the regular session. They can opt to be reimbursed for meals and lodging instead, with a maximum nightly hotel reimbursement of $110 plus tax.

The House convened at 1 p.m. and recessed at 1:11 p.m., after one lawmaker introduced a group of visiting students and another welcomed friends who were visiting from California.

House members with ties to Florida State University happily posed for photos with Leonard Hamilton, head basketball coach of the NCAA tournament-bound Seminoles.

Eight senators and 15 House members were excused from the start of the session for a variety of reasons. Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, is getting married this weekend.

"We wish there was a way around it, where we could come up and only vote for the actual maps. But unfortunately, this is part of the process," said Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, the House majority leader, whose round-trip air fare from Miami to Tallahassee cost about $880.

Rep. Ana Rivas Logan's round trip air fare cost $800. Said the Miami Republican: "I'm a little disappointed that the half of us who got the job done still have to come back and push the button.

"I hope that this time, they get it right," she said of senators.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Special session comes with special costs 03/14/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 10:55pm]
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