The Florida Legislature's turbulent week is on its way to a harmonious close as lawmakers put the final touches on the state's $74.5 billion budget and, in slow-moving fashion, finished up a handful of bills as lobbyists served up real sausage.
Lobbyist Wayne Bertsch brought in trays of sausage to the Fourth Floor rotunda and offered them up to hungry visitors. The sign, complete with a new Twitter handle, read: You've helped make sausage now have some @SineDieSausage.
In the lobby, former Secretary of State Sandra Mortham was standing near a giant poster for long-time lobbyist and former senator, Ken Plante, who is hospitalized. Lobbyist and lawmakers signed the poster and stood next to the sign as Mortham snapped photos on her I-phone, whisking them off to Plante who responded back with a photo and thank-you sign of his own.
In the House, the bitter political divide that had slowed progress to a crawl early in the week, had given way to upbeat optimism as the session opened with the Black-Eyed Peas' tyrics, "tonight's gonna be a good night" and bouyant praise of the inclusiveness of House leaders.
The automated bill-reader, drafted into action for two long days when Democrats demanded every bill be read in full to protest inaction on health insurance reform, was back on the shelf.
As the $74.5 billion budget was zipped up and tidy, chock full of pay raises, projects and a smattering of tax breaks and fee reductions to reflect the first large revenue increase in six years, Democrats prepared to give it bi-partisan support, and showered leaders with bouyant praise of inclusiveness.
Rep. Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee was among several Democrats who said they were voting for the budget because of the way the inclusive way minority party had been treated compared to years when they couldn’t even get their bills heard.
“It is not only the fact that we had a better economy, is it the spirit that you brought to this chamber,’’she told her colleagues. “If we trust the process, if we trust what the founders gave to us, we will continue to have a strong state and strong nation…I’ve felt included. It’s been refreshing and wonderful."
Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith offered similar praise in the Senate, commending leaders for allowing contentious issues to be debated, never asking them to withdraw amendments and being a good listener.
John Phelps, who served 20-years as clerk of the House and is now director of the Senate Rules Committee, said he has been involved in 132 session since 1974, including extended sessions, organizational sessions and special sessions, is impressed with how leaders handled things this year.
“It's certainly the most well-managed session in my experience,’’ he told the Herald/Times.