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Lawmakers surprised, saddened by indictment

House members returned to a floor session on the budget Friday afternoon when the news of Rep. Ray Sansom's indictment broke. The first few who were available to speak had not yet seen the grand jury's 10-page report, which also is highly critical of the power of special interest money in the Capitol and the high level of secrecy that surrounds the budget process.

Members of both parties expressed sympathy for Sansom and his family.

"I think we're a little taken aback. Nobody expected it," said Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City. Told of the report's criticism of the secrecy of the appropriations process, the second-term lawmaker said: "I can understand where public opinion would find that type of concern." He cited instances in which lawmakers are asked to vote on 50- or 60-page rewrites of complex bills, referred to as strike-all amendments. 

"Ray Sansom is a friend and I feel for him and his family," said Rep. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican who was Sansom's most serious rival for the speakership he had to forfeit. Galvano, a lawyer, said when grand juries are convened, "they will more often than not bring forth an indictment." 

"We're trying not to make it a focus in there. It's just sad," said Rep. Janet Long, D-Seminole. "But there's a difference between being indicted and being convicted."

"Everybody's reading the blogs, but nobody's talking about it very much," said Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West. "I think they're surprised by the severity of the charges. We're trying to tell people than an indictment is not a conviction."

-- Steve Bousquet