Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Legislature Heads into Final Stretch; There's Still Much to Be Done before the Session Ends Friday

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Legislature Heads into Final Stretch; There's Still Much to Be Done before the Session Ends Friday

Article excerpt

Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE

TALLAHASSEE - A budget that numbers in the tens of billions of dollars. Medicaid reform. Overhauling property insurance. A divisive redistricting initiative.

That is just some of the unfinished business left for the Legislature as it approaches the final week, which begins Monday. But with political intrigue growing around the plans of the governor, and lawmakers eager to begin their own campaigns, there are plenty of wildcards in play as the close of the session draws nearer on Friday.

"A lot's left," said Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach and a candidate for attorney general. "Unfortunately, a lot's been done, too."

Republicans express confidence they will finish on time this year, unlike last year's session, which needed a week of overtime to resolve budget issues surrounding the federal stimulus package. Legislative leaders will spend much of this weekend trying to hammer out a compromise on the spending plan, the only thing lawmakers are constitutionally required to pass during their 60-day session.

Committees met on the sidelines all last week trying to fine-tune the plan. Now the chairmen of the two chambers' budget committee and House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, and Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, are left to grapple with what the committees couldn't (or weren't authorized to) agree on.

That's leading to a crush of last-minute efforts by interest groups trying to ensure hard-fought gains aren't lost or that losses are reversed.

"Having just finished all day on policy, I'm walking into my office and there are more notes from more advocates on more issues," Atwater said, "and that's why I think it's going to be very healthy that we have the weekend now to back up and take a breath and say, 'OK, let's look at what our committees accomplished and bumped [to the leaders].'"

Democratic lawmakers were already laying the groundwork for attacks on the budget plan, saying that education and transportation are among the areas being hit hard. …

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