Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Politics

As special session begins, not all state lawmakers will return

TALLAHASSEE — For reasons as varied as family travel plans, cancer treatment or events surrounding the one-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, several lawmakers won't be at the state Capitol this week when the Legislature reconvenes to resolve budget disputes.

At least one senator and 10 House members — most of whom are Republicans — had received excused absences, as of Tuesday afternoon, from the House speaker and Senate president to miss either all or some of the three-day special session that begins Wednesday.

Sen. Dorothy Hukill, a Republican from Central Florida, is the lone senator. After being diagnosed with cancer last year, she has been recovering from medical treatments for several months. (She also missed the entire regular session this spring and the Legislature's organizational session after the general election in November.)

"My recovery from cancer treatment and surgery has progressed very well. Unfortunately, my physicians are recommending that I not travel in an abundance of caution following my recent follow-up treatments," Hukill wrote in a letter to Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, seven Republicans and three Democrats in the House will also be absent for a variety of reasons, according to a list provided by the office of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes.

Only three of them are missing all of the special session: Republicans Jennifer Sullivan of Mount Dora, Alex Miller of Sarasota and Mike Miller of Winter Park.

The absences will affect vote tallies for any action lawmakers take this week to adopt a budget compromise on additional K-12 spending, funding for economic development and tourism and potentially also money for hospitals and university projects.

Hukill's absence put Senate Republicans down a member for the entire 2017 session. As chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, she contributed to policy from afar but was unable to cast any votes. Their majority narrowed again after Miami Sen. Frank Artiles resigned in April following a profanity-laced and racist tirade against other senators.

That leaves Republicans with a 23-15 majority over Democrats in the chamber, which gives the Democrats greater influence.

In contrast, the excused absences in the House are less likely to affect the outcome of any vote. If all members were present, Republicans would hold a 78-41 majority during the special session.

They are down one member, because Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando, resigned and left his seat vacant after Gov. Rick Scott appointed him to be an appellate court judge.

Although he formally resigned so he could run for Artiles' District 40 seat, Miami Republican Rep. Jose Felix Diaz won't officially leave the House until Sept. 26. That's the day of the special general election to replace Artiles.

Here is the full list of lawmakers who are excused, as provided to the Times/Herald by Negron and Corcoran's offices:

• Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando: Absent June 7 because of "previous commitments."

• Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange: Absent all three days because of cancer treatment recovery.

• Rep. Larry Lee, D-Port St. Lucie: Absent June 9 because of an "annual community event."

• Rep. Alex Miller, R-Sarasota: Absent all three days because of a surgery.

• Rep. Mike Miller, R-Winter Park: Absent all three days because he's "out of the country."

• Rep. George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale: Will arrive late on June 7 because he's returning from a family vacation in Hawaii.

• Rep. Cary Pigon, R-Avon Park: Will miss the morning of June 9 and arrive late for reasons not provided.

• Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood: Absent June 9 because of "previous commitments."

• Rep. Dan Raulerson, R-Plant City: Absent June 7 because of a "business matter."

• Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando: Absent June 7-8 because of "events surrounding Pulse tragedy," the one-year anniversary of which is on June 12.

• Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora: Absent all three days because of a brother's wedding in Arkansas.

Contact Kristen M. Clark at [email protected] Follow @ByKristenMClark

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