TALLAHASSEE — Sen. Larcenia Bullard is heading to Tallahassee with 34 bills to pass and a tank of oxygen to breathe.
In the past year, the Democratic has endured a bevy of heart problems — three treatments for congestive heart failure and two cardiac arrests.
Her health prevented her from attending a special legislative session in December and committee meetings last fall and this year. As a result, questions have arisen over whether she'd be well enough to represent her district during 60-days of stressful political rancor in the Capitol.
Bullard, 62, says yes. But there will be fewer socials, fewer dinners and maybe even fewer of her colorful speeches. It's not just about protecting her projects this year, she said. It's about preserving her health.
"Do I expect my health to affect my ability as a politician? Not anymore than it affected former Vice President Cheney," she said.
Bullard's district stretches from Key West to Lake Okeechobee, a six-county swath that mirrors her oversized presence in the state Senate.
Her proposals this year range from banning cell phone use in school zones to banning the sale of sick dogs and cats, continuing her legacy of proposing legislation that affects kids and pets.
"We're very excited that she's coming back," said Jaryn Emhof, a spokeswoman for Senate President Jeff Atwater. "She's very known for her joy and cheeriness, always a smile, always greeting you with a hug."
On the floor of the Senate, she's also known for her speeches, which have been described as everything from unconventional revelations to exhaustive musings.
During last session, she noticed that she was getting exhausted. Her chest would clench. She'd have to excuse herself from the chambers, coughing.
"I tried to continue, but I could barely breathe," Bullard said.
Three times during the session, she was treated for congestive heart failure, she said. She learned she needed a new tool to get her point across: an inhaler.
The worst came after Thanksgiving. Bullard had a heart attack and required hospitalization for two weeks.
Until last week, she could do little more than whisper.
With her voice regained, Bullard said she never strongly thought about relinquishing the seat. She plans on serving her full term, which ends in 2012 —but added that her health is too poor for her to even dream of running for national office.
Staff writer Robert Samuels can be reached at [email protected]
Correction: Sen. Bullard's term ends in 2012. An earlier version of this story was incorrect on that point.