Florida’s impasse over the state budget has rubbed nerves raw, throwing lawmakers and lobbyists’ plans for May and June into chaos.
On Tuesday, the Legislature quickly deflated the party atmosphere that usually engulfs the end of the annual 60-day session.
The House adjourned unexpectedly Tuesday and is in recess, in the words of Speaker Steve Crisafulli “until the Senate decides it is ready to negotiate.”
There will be no Sine Die traditions this year.
Usually, when the speaker of the House and the Senate President bang gavels to adjourn for the year, the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms meet halfway between the chambers. Each drops a white handkerchief to signify the end of lawmaking. When hankies hit the floor, a celebration erupts in the Capitol Rotundo, spilling out onto Adams Street and throughout clubs and offices in the Capitol City.
In 2013, Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz hugged heartily before delivering their end-of-session remarks in the Rotunda.
Don’t expect much hugging this year.
In 2007, Speaker Marco Rubio and dozens of lawmakers started celebrating the night before; dancing to salsa under strobe lights.
There will little dancing this year.
“There’s usually a very festive spirit on Adams Street but I don’t know when the end occurs this year whether it will be festive,” said Keith Arnold who lobbies for hospitals and municipalities.
A legislative session is a mentally and physically exhausting experience with a year’s worth of work at risk in the final hours when bills and amendments bounce around the Capitol like tennis balls.
“I’ll go home and see my wife and kids and kiss the ground of Fort Myers,” said Arnold about his plans once he can escape Tallahassee.
This year’s dispute over how to replace money lost when a federal healthcare program ends is different in nature than previous so-called end-of-session train wrecks.
When a coalition of senators balked at the end of 2012 session, delaying the hanky drop well past midnight, it was over procedure. The Senate balked when asked to approve a series of proposals not heard in committee. And the rancor and frustrations this year is different from 2004 when lobbyists mocked the leadership style of Speaker Johnnie Byrd by wearing sheep masks. No one is laughing this year.
This dispute is about fundamental principles — the relationship between state and federal governments and government’s role in the economy. The Senate wants to take money from Washington to expand Medicaid – albeit with free-market principles.
The House says that gives Washington too much control over state policy – and besides, we don’t like Medicaid.
Philosophical arguments are never resolved and have been known to spoil family reunions – see Republican Party of Florida, March – April, Tallahassee.
Still, Friday is the scheduled end and members of the lobbying corps will put their personal mark on the date.
“Once the last bill is passed our tradition is to try to get out of here as quick as possible,” said veteran lobbyist Jack Cory. “This year you got to regroup for the continuation. With the appropriation bill on the table and alive that is the most important issue for a lot of our clients. So we got to regroup and start preparing for that the day after.”
The budget is the reason lawmakers have a session. Almost everything else lawmakers do depends on how the state will spend money for the year.
This year, that decision has yet to be made.
Still, Friday is the scheduled end of the session, a date circled on calendars of lobbyists, lawmakers and staff as important. Some mark it with their personal traditions.
“I love the excitement and come down here every year,” said Ryan Wiggans. The past two sessions, Wiggans worked on Charlotte’s Web law.
“I enjoy going to the offices and everyone has a red solo cup,” she added.
“I always wear interesting socks and my end of session tradition is wild socks,” Ron Greenstein said. “They contain hidden words,” he said in a whisper as he moved closer.
“I don’t normally wear a bow-tie but for the last week of the session I do,” Wayne Malaney said, explaining he likes to mix things up.
And others will celebrate the event, like Arnold, getting out of town and home as quickly as possible.
“As soon as they drop the hankie I’m out of here,” said former state Sen. Steve Wise, who lobbies for the disabled. “I have my car packed and ready to go.”