Thursday, January 18, 2018
Politics

There's something about 'Mary' — the Florida House robotic auto-reader

TALLAHASSEE — For more than 10 hours Wednesday, lawmakers sat and listened to the drone-like voice of "Mary," a robotic auto-reader used to speed through hundreds of pages of legislative text.

In protest of the House decision to reject federal health care dollars, Democrats voted to require all bills be read in full. Enter Mary, the Siri-like communication specialist brought in to preside over a partisan breakdown in talks between Democrats and Republicans.

The auto-reader was acquired after the last time the Florida version of a filibuster was employed, in 2008, when Democrats required the House to read every lengthy page bill in their entirely.

Affectionately named "Mother Mary" by House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, the auto-reader can be adjusted to designate the speed it reads the bill. It was turned up a notch Wednesday to speed through one page every 45 seconds.

Lawmakers, some of whom clearly appeared annoyed, had to endure the marathon reading session beginning just after 8 a.m. and lasting throughout the day.

Mary was developed "in house" with software that cost about $40, said House spokesman Ryan Duffy.

As Mary spoke, the bills up for debate were projected on a large screen in the front of the House chamber, with each word highlighted in blue as it was read.

The scene reminded lobbyist John French of old-time sing-along movies.

"It's like following the bouncing ball on speed,'' he said.

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