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Welcome (back) to the Florida House: Session 2015 A begins

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Speaker Steve Crisafulli set a brisk, all-business tone as the “people’s chamber” kicked off the first Special Session since a challenge to the body’s 2011 redistricting efforts brought the House back to Tallahassee in the summer for a quick cosmetic fix to a small number of seats.

But this session is something else altogether.

With billions of dollars separating the chambers and major legislative priorities on all sides left very much unresolved, Crisafulli is preparing for by far the greatest test of his political career — which may double as a stress test on the status of cohesion within the Legislature, between the branches of government, and among members of Crisafulli’s own caucus.

Though one gets the sense that the House has an appetite for another get-in-and-get-out affair like we saw last August, with a carefully choreographed series of hearings scheduled for this week — and nothing scheduled at all for after — Crisafulli pledged following this afternoon’s largely procedural House session to adopt a lighter touch than he used in May.

For instance, though members will hear from virulently anti-Obamacare chair of Health & Human Services Committee state Rep. Jason Brodeur Monday afternoon in what will likely be a one-sided seminar, there won’t be a mandatory caucus position for the majority when it comes to Senate-favored healthcare legislation that held up the process this year.

“Members will have an opportunity to go to the workshop this afternoon and hear all the information we put out there for them, for them to digest and make their own determination based off that,” said an outwardly conciliatory Crisafulli in remarks to press assembled on the floor early this afternoon.

Still, before perfunctorily referring a slew of bills to committee and calendar, Crisafulli rallied the troops and bluntly stated what, despite some dissenting murmurs from the rank-and-file, is clearly the logic that animates House leadership.

Leaving little room for interpretation, Crisafulli told the full House, or at least what passes for it over the summer — 108 of 120 members were present for a quorum call that began the session — two overriding bits of “advice.”

Among talk of a “trade” between tax-cut dollars and healthcare dollars among Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner, first, an ideological stick: “Medicaid expansion under Obamacare is not the right choice.”

And then, the friendly carrot of esprit de corps: “We’re now in overtime — let’s finish big.”

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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