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Byrd's 48-hour rule

The Florida Legislature passed only 219 of the 2,427 bills, resolutions and memorials it considered during its regular session last spring. Do such numbers imply that members were careful and deliberate in doing the public's work? Alas, no. Nearly every important action was put off until the last week, leaving the House to deal with 90 bills on the last day.

Among them was the vitally important Everglades Restoration Act, HB 813, which had been corrupted earlier in the day with a Senate amendment seriously eroding the public's right to object to development projects that might harm the environment. The House should have rejected the amendment and returned the bill to the Senate. But with time running out, the House voted to pass the bill, just as the lobbyists knew it would.

This example, like many from prior sessions, illustrates why Johnnie Byrd, the incoming House speaker, is on the right track in calling for a rule that would inhibit such last-minute mischief. His proposal: The House would have to wait two days before voting on the final version of any bill, whether one of its own or one from the Senate. The adoption of any amendment would restart the clock.

This is akin to the provision of the Florida Constitution that requires each house to wait 72 hours before voting on the final version of an appropriations bill, but there is also a significant difference. The constitutional provision has backfired by preventing the Legislature, as it is preparing to adjourn, from making necessary corrections. It has played into the hands of people who want to plant so-called "snookers." As a House rule, however, Byrd's 48-hour clock could be waived whenever two-thirds of the members agreed on the necessity. A fine balance would have to be struck, of course, between doing that too frequently and not often enough.

Byrd makes the unarguable point that members shouldn't be voting to pass what they haven't had time to read.

It would be even better for the Legislature simply to pace itself so that no such rule would be necessary. But everyone knows that's not going to happen. Byrd's time-out call is the next best thing.