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Speaker Cannon's preview of 2012 session

House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, batted leadoff Wednesday at the annual AP Florida legislative planning session (the daylong newsmaker event is taking place two months earlier than usual because the reapportionment-year legislative session starts Jan. 10).

In 2012, Cannon said, more "hard choices" will be unavoidable to cover a $2 billion shortfall, and he said he hoped that the House would prevail in deregulating certain professions (it was one of the controversial issues that sent the 2011 session off-track in the final hours).

"Good and worthwhile programs are going to have to absorb cuts," Cannon said.

Cannon said he wants to start a "conversation" about reforming Florida's higher education system and he re-stated his personal opposition to expansion of gambling. "I am philosophically opposed to the expansion of gambling in our state," Cannon said. He spoke with pride of a series of technological changes that make legislative information more accessible to the public and the media.

Cannon recoiled a bit when reporters pressed him on whether he would commit to consider two personal-injury claims bills that are top priorities of Senate President Mike Haridopolos (another reason for the late-session meltdown last spring). "This is a new session. The bills may do fine and may not. I don't know, but claims bills are pretty far low down on the threshhold." 

"The session hasn't even begun yet," Cannon told reporters, "and you guys are already trying to forecast what might be the tension. It's so easy to talk about friction and miss the extraordinary strides we've made."  

He said he supports Attorney General Pam Bondi's appeal of a court ruling striking down privatization of state prisons because "the decision was wrongly decided." Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford said lawmakers illegally enacted the plan in budget proviso language and not in a stand-alone bill as the law requires. Bondi's challenge is before the First District Court of Appeal.

Cannon, a lawyer and UF journalism graduate, is entering his final session in a term-limited Legislature and will be succeeded by Rep. Will Weatherford, a Republican from Wesley Chapel. The speaker chided reporters for occasional sloppiness and for trying to peg a bill's chances of passage by asking if he personally supports or opposes it.

-- Steve Bousquet