TAMPA — In a forum for Tampa area legislators Friday, lawmakers of both parties expressed disillusion with this legislative session, in which lawmakers failed to pass a budget and a voter-mandated medical marijuana law during the regular session and set education policy and budgeting in last-minute deals.
State Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, told the Tampa Tiger Bay Club forum he was "bringing home apologies that we cost you $70,000 a day in a special session to do what we should have done in the first regular session."
Rouson, a member of the Legislature's small Democratic minority, wasn't the only one expressing regrets.
"As a citizen I'm embarrassed about the performance of our Legislature over the last three or four years," said Rep. Dan Raulerson, R-Plant City. "I think everybody's upset."
Raulerson blamed the problems on term limits and the constitutional requirement for the Legislature to convene for 60 consecutive days each spring.
Although he represents conservative east Hillsborough County, where term limits are popular, Raulerson said they have cut institutional knowledge and "bred incompetence in the leadership," while putting too much power into the hands of the staff and the legislative leaders.
State Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said the Legislature's failure to handle the marijuana bill properly was because of influential special interests who "locked the process up."
"This didn't turn out to be about the patients. It turned out to be about the licensees who were going to win," he said. "That's just the process that we're in right now, and I apologize for that."
Changing the structure of the legislative session may be overdue, Lee said, but "I don't know that would fix anything until we address the money issue in politics."
Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa, said that when the controversial education bill was passed in the closing days of the session, "the process was not as transparent as it should have been . . . I don't defend how the process ended up. We were given something at the end that we sort of had to take or leave."
In response to a question about why the special session was necessary, Rep. Wengay Newton, D-St. Petersburg, responded, "We can start by apologizing, that's about all we can do."
An audience question about the Virginia shooting at a congressional baseball practice elicited partisan reactions.
Democrats said it showed the need for tighter gun laws. Some Republicans said it shows more people need to carry guns.
"We don't all have armed bodyguards," said the questioner, Elizabeth Corwin, referring to guards at the Virginia incident. "What would you recommend for us when we're playing softball in a public park, swimming in a public pool, jogging on the street?"
"I think that we all should be carrying a weapon," Raulerson said
Raulerson didn't respond to comments from the audience that it would be impractical to play softball while armed, but asked about it in an interview later, he said, "I think everybody should carry and . . . have a gun available."
Lee said the presence of legal guns in public isn't the problem.
"We're not seeing shootings by people with lawfully obtained concealed weapons permits," he said.
But Rouson and Newton, along with Harrison, said the incident shows the need for more control over whether guns get into the hands of those with mental disabilities.
Contact William March at email@example.com