Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran on Thursday dared the Senate to make good on a threat to file a lawsuit challenging the House's power to impose new budget-writing rules that affect how the Senate crafts a budget, but Senate President Joe Negron has shot back, saying that's not going to happen.
"Legislative business should be resolved in the Capitol, not in the court system,'' Negron told the Herald/Times. "I expect that to happen."
Negron's comments follow a day-long public feud between Corcoran and Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, after Latvala took credit for a compromise that he said would avoid a lawsuit and a feared shutdown of state government over differences in how to resolve the state budget -- the only bill legislators are required to pass each year.
Latvala sponsored a proposed joint rule designed to meet the House halfway and it passed the Senate Rules Committee Thursday.
"This saves us from going to the precipice of potentially gridlock, government shutdown, all those bad things," Latvala told reporters. "I think that's all going to be avoided now. It's not completely worked out between the two sides, but we're well on the way.
But it doesn't go nearly as far as Corcoran wants.The House rules imposed by Corcoran include a detailed questionnaire on every member-sponsored project and a requirement that only one-time non-recurring money can be spent on projects -- an effort to halt the practice of embedding permanent projects into the budget without annual review.
In a statement on Thursday, Corcoran stood by his rules and dared the Senate to follow through on the lawsuit.
"They threatened to sue us if we put that language in our House rules. We're still waiting," he said. "If they want to sue the House for fighting on behalf of the people for unprecedented levels of transparency, accountability and public scrutiny of pork barrel spending, I'll pay their filing fee."
The feud carried into the night late Wednesday as Corcoran and Negron negotiated by phone on how the Senate might offer a compromise that respects House changes to the budget-writing process. As they spoke, a story about the Senate's threatened lawsuit appeared in the Naples Daily News.
The story, bannered as an exclusive, quoted Latvala as saying: “We’re adhering to the fidelity of the Constitution ... We’re not abiding by the other House’s rules in the budget process. We’re going to abide by our policies and procedures and long-standing customs."
Although Negron said the Senate has no intention of filing a lawsuit, the Senate has retained the Chicago law firm of Sidley Austin to advise Negron on a variety of legal issues, Negron's spokesperson said. The Times/Herald could not get confirmation that the firm has drafted legal briefs in preparation for a lawsuit.
"All communications between the Senate and outside counsel are privileged,'' said Senate spokesperson Katie Betta.