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Amid the madness, a hint of sadness

The song of the day in the Senate was, "Please Release Me, Let Me Go _ I Can't Stand It Any More."

The words could have been coming from anyone in the Capitol as the state Legislature's 60-day session rushed headlong into its final day Friday.

There was a lot of hugging and kissing as old friends said goodbye. Even Rep. Victor Crist, the problem child of the House, had a sloppy kiss for Majority Leader Jim King as they adjourned.

King made a face, no doubt remembering all of the hours he spent trying to negotiate the peace between Crist, a Temple Terrace Republican, and other House members who were threatening to tear Crist limb from limb.

They spent some of the final day praising each other, giving gifts _ including a 3-carat diamond ring to Senate President Toni Jennings _ and saying good bye to members who are not seeking re-election.

One thing about the final day was just the same as it is every year _ lobbyists and legislators were fighting over a parimutuel bill. For more than 40 years legislators have been dragged into the middle of a feud between horse racing tracks at Hialeah and Gulfstream in South Florida.

The parimutuel fight this year was so bad that the Senate and House simultaneously took up bills _ one regulating the horse tracks and another dealing with dog tracks. When they passed, clerks from the two chambers met in the middle of the fourth floor rotunda to exchange them so they could be passed in the opposite house.

In the Senate, members were debating a bill that would award grants of $3,500 to the parents of some school children enrolled in private pre-kindergarten schools. In the House they called it a "voucher." But the Senate insisted it was not a voucher.

"It's all in the eye of the beholder," joked King. "If it walks like duck, waddles like a duck, quacks like a duck, it might be duck but then you have to define what a duck is."

King likes the last few days of a legislative session.

"It's like a pressure cooker and you get to see all of the different marketing techniques," King said as he resisted the lobbyist tugging at his sleeve. "Some send in little cards saying, "This is important.' Others send letters that say, "If I ever needed you, it's now.' "

Amid the madness on the fourth floor, sculptor Michael Jernigan worked on a likeness of Jennings that will some day become a bronze statute.

As Friday drew to a close there were signs of success.

Sen. Ron Silver, D-North Miami Beach, dashed out of the House, sprinting back to the Senate. He paused only long enough to trade "high fives" with lobbyist Ronnie Book. Book and lobbyist Guy Spearman were grinning ear-to-ear.

The translation lies in a few bills where some of the turkeys _ er, worthy projects _ vetoed by Gov. Lawton Chiles have been replanted in hopes that they will survive the next veto ax.

"We gotta move fast now," Book mumbled. It was 4:55 p.m. The final hour was beginning.

Minutes before 6 p.m. Wayne Todd and Wayne Westmark, the two men who keep order in the Senate and House, stood side by side on the fourth floor. Lobbyists formed a gantlet stretching from the House to the Senate as the final gavels fell.

Westmark and Todd dropped their white handkerchiefs and cheers arose from the crowd gathered around and above the traditional scene.

The end of another session _ before dark, in time for tea or a trip to a watering hole near the Capitol that might provide something a little stronger.

They'll do it again next year. You can count on it.

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