Lawmakers left the statehouse last week amid a stream of insults and without a budget in place for the fiscal year that begins in July. Most observers seemed to think time away from Tallahassee would lower the temperature in the room and allow budget work to begin but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Senate Appropriations Chair Tom Lee is taking exception to comments House Rules Chair Ritch Workman made in the media about an alimony reform bill left dead on the special order calendar when the House left town three days early.
Lawmakers were rewriting a 2013 alimony bill Gov. Rick Scott vetoed. The Senate measure included a child-custody provision standardizing a 50/50 time-share, with the judge having discretion to act “in the best interest of the child.”
It was language, the House sponsor, Workman, would not accept.
“What he cares about is getting back at the judge that didn’t give him 50/50 time share 15 years ago or whenever he got divorced,” Workman told the News Service of Florida when blaming Lee for the bill’s demise.
Monday, Lee called out Workman for dragging Lee’s family into the discussion and breaking legislative etiquette not to impugn another member’s motives. Lee said Workman’s comments established a “new low” for legislative debate.
“In 13 sessions I have never seen debate personalized to this extent,” said Lee Tuesday. “The allegations are so specific and objectively false … Why lay this at the Senate’s feet with such rancor and malice? I do feel like he hit a new low.”
Lee rebutted Workman’s assertion that Lee would not budge on the issue, saying he had a series of amendments ready for the floor and that he negotiated with stakeholders up through the session’s final week. He also said Workman was wrong about Lee never filing a stand-alone bill on child sharing and that Scott’s 2013 veto message cited economic concerns, not child sharing. Two points, Lee added, that he was sure Workman knew when he made the statements.
Workman accused Lee of using his leadership position to “coerce” bill sponsor state Sen. Kellie Stargel to include child sharing and used his leadership position to foist the provision on her bill.
“I’m an experienced legislator. It is not my job to load down a good bill with controversial provisions,” said Lee. “I didn’t have an opportunity to advance the discussions because they adjourned.”
State Rep. Ritch Workman had not returned a call seeking comment for this story.
It is unclear how long a cooling off period the Legislature may need before it can begin budget work. The current spending plan covers state expenses through June 30. Florida will need a new budget in 56 days.