Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Lawmakers Are Progresing in the Bill Process; but There's Still More for Gov. Charlie Crist to Approve or Veto

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Lawmakers Are Progresing in the Bill Process; but There's Still More for Gov. Charlie Crist to Approve or Veto

Article excerpt

Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE

TALLAHASSEE - As lawmakers left Tallahassee Friday, they were halfway home.

With a four-day weekend, the Legislature won't reconvene until Wednesday - the 30th day of the 60-day legislative session. And while only a handful of bills - such as a measure postponing an increase in the unemployment tax and another reinstating a form of "leadership funds" for campaign fundraising - have been sent to Gov. Charlie Crist for his signature or veto, lawmakers say they're making good progress.

"I think the session has been pretty remarkable in terms of tackling the big issues," said Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine.

Certainly, the Senate has moved quickly to pass an education package dealing with some of the thorniest issues in public schools, including Thrasher's teacher pay-for-performance bill, a proposed easing of class-size standards and a measure aimed at boosting corporate support for private-school vouchers.

Thrasher said the Senate leadership has taken the right approach in pushing the chamber to consider important bills at the beginning of the session.

"I think any of those kinds of issues need to be heard early," he said. "The longer you wait on those kinds of issues, toward the end of the session, the more likely you might make mistakes."

Not everyone has been pleased with the outcome. Democrats have complained that the school bills will erode teacher morale, undermine learning gains made when class sizes were reduced and divert much-needed funding away from public schools.

"At this point, we're a little disappointed in the way our teachers are being treated in Tallahassee," said Sen. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville.

Meanwhile, House lawmakers have passed fewer landmark pieces of legislation.

"We've been surprised at how fast some of the things have been moved in the Senate," conceded Rep. Lake Ray, R-Jacksonville.

But House lawmakers say they haven't been twiddling their thumbs. Dozens of bills have passed through at least one committee, beating a deadline that would have left them all but dead. And both House and Senate panels have been hammering out spending plans for the fiscal year, which begins July 1, when the state faces a budget shortfall that could top $3 billion. …

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