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Legislative legacy can be molded on last day

The briefcases are stacked up two deep and wide across the counters on state Capitol's fourth floor. The noise is intolerable _ a roar of chatter and cellular telephones ringing and the auctioneer-like voices of legislative leaders racing through an agenda that will end today.

Today is the last day of the Legislature's annual session. After 60 days, it is time to go home. Everyone is tired. Some people are angry. Some people are happy.

That's the way things are in an arena where lives and fortunes are at stake. There is a frantic taste in the air. Lobbyists and legislators know that there are only a few hours left before the final gavel drops, ending all opportunity for yet another year.

Some have already given up.

"I lost," said former state Rep. Norm Ostrau, as he watched the high-fiving among business lobbyists celebrating a victory.

Ostrau was there to back a tax to help the homeless in Broward County. The business lobbyists were celebrating the passage of a civil court reform bill that will either be the best thing that has ever happened or the worst thing that ever happened _ depending on whom you believe.

No issue had more people lobbying for or against it this year. It was one of those things we call a "lobbygeddon." It happens every time the state's business community squares off against the trial lawyers.

Most of the publicity goes to the men and women in the House and Senate. That's where the television cameras focus when bills are debated. But if you want to know what is happening, head into the crowd on the fourth floor.

The length of marble floor between the House and Senate is jammed with bodies this week. As bills bounce back and forth between the chambers, the crowd migrates. Outside the heavy chamber doors, lobbyists send notes inside, summoning legislators for one last whisper of advice.

On the first floor of the Capitol, Gov. Lawton Chiles entertains a gaggle of reporters who have come to get his pronouncements on what the Legislature is doing.

It is a day after his much-touted "turkey hunt" found little game to shoot in the state budget. Many Democrats in the Legislature were disappointed that Chiles failed to ax more special projects from the budget.

Sen. Ron Silver, one of the most loyal of Democrats, was especially ticked and pledged to become a Republican after surveying the list of projects he lost to the veto pen.

Chiles said he has apologized to the North Miami Beach senator because no one got to him before the vetoes took out his project.

"Ron is a volatile guy," the governor said. "He was pretty upset."

But Silver may not have to be upset long, as legislators started an end run around the governor's vetoes bright and early Thursday.

With the help of lobbyists, legislators who lost projects started amending bills so they could restore the expenditures.

Chiles wasn't ready to rate this year's session yet: "We'll have to see what happens _ it could be good and bad."

Today determines that for the folks up on the fourth floor as well.

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