Florida 60-day legislative session comes to a harmonious end

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- The Legislature wrapped up its annual 60-day session Friday after passing an $82.3 billion budget in a session that ended with more harmony than drama.

The House passed the budget on a 119-1 vote and sent it over to the Senate. State representatives then lingered on the chamber floor waiting for final passage on the Senate side while the Beatles' ``Come Together'' blared from speakers. The Senate then passed it 40-0.

Last year the song could have been ``Hit the Road, Jack,'' which the House did three days early, leaving town without a budget and with a long list of dead bills.

``I feel like we're in a much better place between the chambers, and that's how the Legislature should work,'' Republican Sen. Bill Galvano of Bradenton said. ``We can disagree, as we're designed to do in certain instances, but procedurally and process-wise, this is how it should work.''

Most of the major legislation was either dead or had already passed as the day began, leaving the budget as the biggest issue. It was oddly quiet at the Capitol in a process that's usually busiest on its final day, when the biggest priorities are often held hostage until deals can be struck.

The official ending time was 6:45 p.m., when House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner banged their gavels and then met in the rotunda between the chambers for a ceremonial hanky drop.

It was a far cry from last year, when the session blew up over a disagreement on the budget and the House went home early and let other priorities die as the Senate stayed to finish whatever business it could. The Legislature had to return for a special session to finish the budget, and then for two more sessions that ended without agreements on drawing congressional and state Senate political districts.

Even Democrats were saying great things about a legislative session where Republicans outnumber them by about a 2-1 ratio.

``Both chambers have been able to work together the past 60 days, and I think we've had some pretty good bills,'' said Democratic Rep. Alan Williams of Tallahassee.

Even Gov. Rick Scott, who had some of his top priorities crushed, including a $250 million fund to lure businesses to Florida and many of his proposed tax cuts, said it was a positive session.

``We've moved this state forward. We can say this was a very good session,'' Scott said while standing with Crisafulli and Gardiner after the session ended. He plans to tour Florida on Monday to boast about jobs created and taxes cut since he took office in 2011.

The defeat of many Scott priorities has prompted speculation that the governor could veto large chunks of the budget. Scott for his part downplayed any dissatisfaction and suggested he was overall pleased with the final spending plan. But last year Scott vetoed nearly $500 million, and a repeat of that could prompt Republicans to override Scott. One downside to that plan is that it would require legislators to return to town during an election year.

Other than the budget, the Legislature waited until the last day to pass long transportation and education bills, along with measures that will give Florida residents greater transparency on health care costs, require that the state-created Citizens Property Insurance give customers information on other policy options and require health insurance companies to cover speech and physical therapy for people with Down Syndrome.

Overall, lawmakers passed more than 260 bills. Among them were measures to set water polices, place new restrictions on abortion clinics, allow terminally ill patients to use marijuana for medical purposes, replace a statue of a Confederate general that represents Florida in the U.S. Capitol, require an arrest before police can seize money and property, and require at least 10 of 12 jurors vote to condemn prisoners before they can receive the death penalty.

The session was also about bills that died, like a $3 billion gambling agreement that Scott negotiated with the Seminole tribe, a proposal to allow guns on state college campuses and a bill that would have given civil rights protections to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.


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