TALLAHASSEE — Hear that whimpering? That's the sound of bills dying as the 2009 legislative session winds down.
The Legislature is scheduled to return to the Capitol late next week, but only to vote on the 2009-10 budget.
That means today is the last chance lawmakers will have to decide on a number of proposals, including setting significant new policies for residential property insurance and renewable energy standards. Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, has one more day to kill the proposed commuter rail proposal, SunRail, that she has been fighting so fiercely. Other bills still in play deal with controversial specialty license plates and a proposal to deregulate all but basic landline phone service.
Look for lots of drama, bargaining and horse trading as lobbyists and lawmakers crowding the Capitol step up the politicking they've been engaging in for the past 59 days. The last day of session tends to be the loudest and most frenzied, with bills and amendments flying back and forth between the House and Senate.
Longtime lobbyist and former House Speaker John Thrasher said this end-of-session isn't as chaotic as in years past because woes and stalled negotiations over the 2009-10 budget "sucked all the energy" out of the process.
"Not that much is happening, to be honest," said Thrasher, who is leaving lobbying after today to run for a Jacksonville Senate seat. "You've got SunRail, energy, and that insurance stuff, and that's about it."
One of the biggest fights might come with four insurance bills that are being used as bargaining chips between the House and Senate. The bills — dealing with last-resort insurance, Citizens premium rates, private insurance rates, and workers' compensation rates — are bouncing between the House and Senate chambers.
And the Senate is waiting to see what the House will do with a proposal (SB1154), championed by Gov. Charlie Crist, to encourage the use of more clean and renewable energy in Florida by 2020. The House has been less than enthused about the proposal all session, and the Senate's refusal to consider the House proposal for offshore oil drilling in Florida didn't exactly help matters.
No matter what happens today, one thing always holds true. When the chambers leave the Capitol today, they'll head straight for the nearby watering holes.
Shannon Colavecchio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.