Florida Legislature's meltdown: How it happened

Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, left, rests early Saturday next to Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Nicevile.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, left, rests early Saturday next to Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Nicevile.

TALLAHASSEE — The final hours of Florida's 2011 legislative session spiraled into chaos that stretched until 3:35 a.m. Saturday. Here's what happened:

6:10 p.m. Friday

Republican Sens. Ronda Storms of Valrico and Paula Dockery of Lakeland complain about the overwhelming number of last-minute budget conforming bills. Rules chairman John Thrasher of St. Augustine rebukes them, saying they can complain about the process "all night" but it would be pointless. After the exchange, Dockery tweets: "In all my 15 yrs in the Legislature, I have never seen conforming bills handled like this. I can't read fast enough."

9:51 p.m.

HB 5005, a controversial budget-conforming bill never vetted by senators that would deregulate interior designers and several other professions, comes up for consideration. Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, suggests the Senate oppose it.

"We need to send a message back to the House. Don't send us bills we've had no chance to discuss," he says. "Don't come around the back door and expect us to swallow it."

The bill fails by a vote of 32 to 6, with only Senate leaders voting for it.

"Leadership went down on that," Senate President Mike Haridopolos says.

10:06 p.m.

Senate votes 21 to 18 against HB 5007, another deregulation measure included in a conforming bill that, among other things, lessens educational requirements for mold assessors.

10:30 p.m.

Senate tries to kill a third conforming bill, HB 5305, which would eliminate some jobs in state correctional institutions.

Seeing it about to fail, Haridopolos postpones the vote. It passes an hour later, 26 to 13.

10:30 p.m.

Senate begins debating budget.

11:15 p.m.

With House in recess, Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, plays the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night and Help for Democrats in the back corner of the chamber.

11:20 p.m.

Senate passes state budget, 31 to 8.

11:30 p.m.

House starts rejecting Senate conforming bills. Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, tells representatives to vote down SB 2134, which sets procurement rules for the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

It fails by unanimous vote.

Chamber erupts into cheers and shouts of, "It's us vs. the Senate." One House member yells: "Do it again to them, do it again!" during vote on SB 2100, requiring that state employees contribute 3 percent of pay to pensions. Bill passes by vote of 80 to 39.

11:43 p.m.

Senate unanimously votes to extend the 60-day session until 6 p.m. Saturday.

11:52 p.m.

House votes to extend session.

Midnight

The session extension begins and rules allow lawmakers to consider only bills related to the budget. That means other measures still on hold are dead, including compensation packages for a man paralyzed when a sheriff's deputy rammed into his car, and a man wrongfully incarcerated for 27 years.

With the House in recess, Europe's The Final Countdown plays on the public address system.

1 a.m.

Haridopolos sends senators home and says he will sleep in his office while he waits for the House to approve HB 143, which provides $126 million in tax cuts.

1:17 a.m.

Eyes filled with tears, Haridopolos tells an office full of reporters: "I've done everything in my power to make sure we didn't go in a ditch, even though people weren't saying the nicest things about us."

He is "flabbergasted" that House Speaker Dean Cannon didn't reach out to him.

"Republicans ran on tax relief," Haridopolos says. "And to hold tax relief hostage just doesn't make sense to me. I thought that would be the first bill the House would want to send me."

1:37 a.m.

House reconvenes. Speaker Cannon returns to the dais grinning.

1:54 a.m.

House passes budget by vote of 79 to 39.

"I've decided our chamber would take the high road," Cannon says in remarks to lawmakers. "That we would live up to our agreement and that we would pass tax relief and other conforming bills and send them all to the Senate tonight.''

2 a.m.

House passes HB 143, which provides $126 million in tax cuts, by unanimous vote and adjourns session as Handel's Hallelujah chorus plays on the public address system.

Haridopolos calls senators back to the chamber.

They straggle in looking tired. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, is not wearing shoes. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, is not wearing socks. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, sports jeans and a T-shirt. Someone gives him a jacket to accommodate Senate decorum rules.

2:45 a.m.

Cannon tweets: "Looking forward to watching FL Senate pass $126 million in tax relief."

3:01 a.m.

Senate reconvenes.

3:05 a.m.

House Majority Leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami tweets: "Winning."

Senate begins debate of HB 143, the tax cut bill. After resolving questions about whether rules allow them to take up the measure, senators praise Haridopolos for showing leadership.

"No one should think one house beat the other house. The people won," Thrasher says.

Humbled, Haridopolos tells them he thought the day would be "special for all of us."

"Politics got in the way today," he says. "I'm embarrassed for it."

3:35 a.m.

Senate passes HB 143 by a vote of 33 to 3 and adjourns session.

Sine Die.

Times/Herald staff writers Michael C. Bender, Mary Ellen Klas and Katie Sanders contributed to this report.

Florida Legislature's meltdown: How it happened 05/07/11 [Last modified: Sunday, May 8, 2011 2:05am]

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