Fla. lawmakers wrap up session in a defensive stance

It is finished.

For now at least.

fl legislatureWith a final flurry of laws that included election reform, streamlining regulations development and medical procedures, the Florida Legislature wrapped up its 2013 session Friday a little less than five hours before its constitutionally mandated midnight deadline.

Senate President Don Gaetz and Will Weatherford officially brought the session to a close with simultaneous swings of the gavel at 7:16 p.m.

About an hour earlier, as the Senate prepared to approve the state’s $74.5 million budget, Joe Negron, R-Stuart, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Commmittee, said he was pleased with the process.

“I’m proud of the way we were able to work together,” he said, shortly before the final vote.

He compared the increase in spending this year – including raises for state employees that have been missing from previous budgets – to homeowners spending to maintain the value of their property.

It’s like “making sure your roof is working properly,” Negron said.

He also warned his colleagues to be ready for the slings and arrows that are sure to come  — whether from Gov. Rick Scott wielding his line-item veto pen or from watchdog groups such as Florida TaxWatch, critical of spending.

“We’ve all had a chance to create the budget,” he said. “For the next few months, it’s our job to defend it.”

“Our friends at TaxWatch” will be coming out with a list of “turkeys” — projects the group considers wasteful — Negron said. But he stressed that public spending is the judge of lawmakers, not watchdog group.

If TaxWatch, or anyone else, thinks they can do better, Negron said, they should run for office.

“They can become appropriators,” Negron said. ”We’re the ones … that managed to get ourselves here.”

And while Florida’s constitution gives the governor’s office the line-item veto, Negron said the power of the purse is in the House and Senate.

“The governor can’t appropriate a penny,” he said.

In the House, Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said he was proud of the work the Legislature accomplished, despite a move by Democrats Tuesday and Wednesay to slow down the session to protest Weatherford’s stance against accepting federal funding for Medicaid expansion.

That protest, which included a demand that all bills be read (by a nearly incomprehensible automated reader running on high speed), threatened to ruin an otherwise fairly smooth session. But good feelings, made easier by higher state revenues than was available for spending in recent years, helped smooth things over.

“It’s been a long 60 days,” Weatherford told the House. “It’s nice to end on a high note.

“I think we can all be proud of the 2013 Legislative Session in the House of Representatives.”

House Democrats might not have agreed completely. The session had barely ended when Majority Leader Perry Thurston issued a statement calling on Gov. Rick Scott to call lawmakers back into a special session to deal with Medicaid expansion.

And so it begins.

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