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Tallahassee not the only town with ‘sine die’ traditions

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Tallahassee is devoted to certain traditions on “sine die,” the final day of the yearly legislative session, but it’s the not the only state that has them.

In Idaho, capital reporters wear ugly ties near session’s end to “encourage legislators to finish their business quickly and go home,” says a Legislative Research Librarians newsletter.

In the Magnolia State, Mississippi State University lobbyists put tomato seedlings “on the desks of legislators, staff members and sometimes statehouse reporters.”

“The tradition started several decades ago after university researchers engineered a robust tomato plant capable of traveling well,” according to a Stateline blog post. “Proud of their development, they sent some to the Capitol, where the tomatoes were a hit.”

In Georgia, lawmakers toss ripped paper into the air above their desks, and in Alabama, legislators give a “shroud” award to the bill deemed least likely to pass.

Here in Florida, traditions focus on colors: Pink, red and white.

Pink, as in the color of ties, sport coats, dresses and flowers worn by lobbyists, lawmakers and others, especially as they mill about in the 4th floor Rotunda between the two chambers.

The wearing of pink, for those who still remember the reason, is to honor the late insurance lobbyist Marvin Arrington, who wore a pink sports coat on the last day of Session.

Arrington died the last week of the 2002 session, succumbing to a heart attack in his car near the Capitol. (For last year’s story on that tradition, click here.)

The red refers to the same-colored Solo cups ubiquitous on the last day. Capitol Police frown on the drinking of alcohol in the building, so (mainly) lobbyists sneak their tipple in the plastic chalices — though now it’s pretty much an open secret.

The same cups also were immortalized — maybe even “immoralized” – in song by Toby Keith, who called them “the best receptacle/For barbecues, tailgates, fairs and festivals.”

And white, as in the handkerchiefs that are ceremonially dropped by the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms to mark the precise moment of session’s end.

As the State Library and Archives of Florida explains, in the pre-technology days in the Old Capitol, the presiding officers of each chamber couldn’t see each other and weren’t in communication by phone.

“The House and Senate sergeants would stand in the rotunda where they could be observed by the Senate President and House Speaker,” the website says. “The sergeants would drop a handkerchief at the moment agreed upon for adjournment and the gavels would fall in each house to formally signal the end of the session.”

But that tradition has taken a hit in recent years.

In 2011, the chambers were at odds over a flurry of competing priorities, including claim bills and tax breaks. They adjourned separately in the wee hours of the morning, eschewing the traditional joint “hanky drop.”

And last year, the House went home three days early after the chambers deadlocked over health care funding, forcing a special session to finish the 2015-16 state budget.

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Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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