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Last day of Florida legislative session may not pass quietly

TALLAHASSEE — Sine Die. The final day. Finally.

A week late and many tense negotiations later, lawmakers today are poised to end their overtime 2009 legislative session by voting on a $66.5-billion state budget that is propped up with federal stimulus dollars, a dollar-a-pack cigarette tax and scores of other new fees affecting millions of Floridians.

After the legislators' votes are cast, lawmakers can utter the Latin words, sine die, that mark the end of every session.

But don't expect today — day 67 of the session that typically ends in 60 days — to pass without some theater and maneuvering.

Thursday, House Democrats suggested that they plan to lock down on the budget and related items including a new gambling compact, forcing as many no-new-taxes Republicans as possible to vote for a budget that is loaded with tax and fee increases on everything from court transactions to fishing licenses.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate will vote on a number of bills tied to the budget, along with a bill establishing a new gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West, indicated his party would vote against the budget — which he likened to a trick chocolate pie.

"It looks pretty good until you take a bite and find out it's made of mud," he said during debate on the House floor Thursday.

The gambling vote could be tight, too.

Democrats have 44 votes in the 120-member House, where 33 Republicans earlier this session opposed a gambling compact similar to what is under consideration today.

The latest gambling deal was hammered out Wednesday night, just hours after talks between House and Senate leaders appeared to blow up — and literally, right before Gov. Charlie Crist and tribe leaders, who sat in a Capitol committee room as House negotiator Rep. Bill Galvano abruptly left a negotiating meeting with Sen. J.D. Alexander.

But the Senate ultimately agreed to the House proposal, which allows the tribe's Hard Rock casinos to keep their slot machines and card games and lowers the tax burden on South Florida parimutuels.

The compact, if approved by the Legislature and the tribe, is expected to bring the state a minimum of $150 million in annual revenue.

Staff writers Alex Leary and Marc Caputo contributed to this report. Shannon Colavecchio can be reached at scolavecchio@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Last day of Florida legislative session may not pass quietly 05/08/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 8, 2009 6:01am]
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