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Politics

A Special Session Isn't the End of the World -- I Promise

May 4, 2015 - 6:00pm

Its interesting to see the volume of newspaper stories recently proclaiming that the world has turned on its head as a result of the Florida House going home early.

Sure, the House did something that neither chamber has ever done before. But is it the end of the world as we know it?

No. In fact, for those of us whove been lobbying for over 30 years, this was commonplace when the Democrats controlled both chambers of the Legislature.

Of course, no chamber ever went home as early as the House did this year, but the reporters, except for Bill Cotterell, generally fail to remind you that the Legislature used to meet into the early hours of the night, that intraparty fights were rampant and that special sessions were almost a yearly occurrence.

You dont hear that because the reporters want to sell newspapers.

Unfortunately you dont really get much analysis anymore that tends to put everything into perspective.

Even more interesting is the obvious slant of almost all reporters and blogs that the House is to blame for the dissension.

But, as in all cases of disagreements or misunderstanding, in he said, she said cases there is always a kernel of truth on both sides.

As someone who doesnt have a dog in the fight over LIP funding and Medicaid expansion, Ive had the chance to sit back and listen to both the Senates position and the Houses.

And I think they are both right to some extent. More importantly, each side has been inconsistent on some matters, yet the press almost to a person blames the House.

What we are really seeing, in my opinion, is a watershed moment in the maturation of the Florida House.

Historically, most lobbyists who have been around for a very long time will tell you that the Senate generally wins in the negotiations process. Not always, but more often than not.

Thats because House speakers are relative novices to the legislative process. A speaker nowadays takes office with only six years of legislative experience versus about 14-plus years prior to term limits.

Senators, on the other hand, almost exclusively come from the House, so they bring with them not only their House service but they also learn from their time moving up the ladder in the upper chamber.

Thus, senators have often had the upper hand in negotiating with their counterparts.

This year is different, though, and this may presage a sea change in the way the House negotiates in the future.

The answer is Rep. Richard Corcoran.

Not as the press would have you believe, because hes calling the shots, but in my opinion because hes sharing his deep experience having worked for past speakers and that time in service is changing the Houses playbook.

That experience has educated Corcoran and I believe that hes using this as a teachable moment within the leadership circle.

That means that, not only will Speaker Steve Crisafulli benefit, but so, too, will Rep. Jose Oliva and Rep. Eric Eisnaugle -- yes, I believe he will survive, and every speaker hence.

Of course, it doesnt mean that the House always goes home early, but many seasoned lobbyists know that the Senate has been known to quit earlier on the last day of the regular session in order to force the House to take their legislation as is or it dies.

This may sound devious, but remember that our forefathers created a bicameral legislature for the sole purpose of forcing compromise.

Over the years Ive often said that if the Senate filed a Mothers Day resolution, it eventually would come out of the House as a Fathers Day resolution. Not because the House is against mothers, its just that they're for fathers!

The process looks messy. It creates controversy. It makes legislators play games to amend or kill bills they dont like.

But thats what our founders wanted because they insightfully understood the necessity for checks and balances.It also makes for great soap opera.

The House also benefited this year because representatives knew -- everyone knew -- that the Senate president was a hospital executive and that LIP was going to be a key issue inasmuch as it was term-limited itself.

What the Senate didnt really know, however, was what the speakers key issue was.

I mean more than the acknowledged top issue of each chambers leader -- services for the developmentally disabled in the Senate and water in the House.

That gave the House a stronger hand this session.

A special session on the budget isnt the end of the world despite what the press writes.

Sure, theres lots of carping between the chambers -- and legislators.

You would, too, if you had to work side by side with your peers for 57 days.

For most of us, just working on a daily basis is tough, so when we're committed to a 60-day time frame to get all of the work accomplished, thats a lot of pressure.

Many of us have seen this before. Leaving three days early -- no.

But fundamental disagreements over political philosophy -- hell, yes.

It doesnt matter whether it's Republicans or Democrats, when you get enough of them in a room, any room, there are going to be disagreements about the details of implementation.

Its what makes us human. We love to debate, to pontificate, to duke it out.

So instead of waiting with bated breath over the next legislative maneuver, just know that the Florida Legislature will resolve its differences because members intuitively understand what the goal is and they will get there.

This isnt new. Its just this years version of what our founders designed.

It aint pretty, but its the best damn creative process of governance in the world.


Barney Bishop III, has been a lobbyist since 1979. He is a familiar personality around Tallahassee. And he writes this commentary representing only himself, stating his own point of view.He can be emailed at barney@barneybishop.com.

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