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Florida House and Senate clash over budget negotiations — before they even start

Scott Keeler Caption: SCOTT KEELER | Times Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R- Land O Lakes and Senate President Joe Negron, R- Stuart, talk during a budget conference committee meeting in Tallahassee, Friday, 5/5/17.

It was a tense day at the Florida Capitol on Wednesday, largely because of the Parkland shooting survivors and gun control activists who descended on the statehouse in the thousands. But there was internal turmoil as well.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, told reporters after the floor session ended that the Senate has been unwilling to start budgetary negotiations.

"We don't know what to say more to the Senate in terms of, 'Let's start negotiations,'" he said. "They've completely stonewalled us. They're acting like  kindergarteners."

He explained that while many Senators have been cooperative with the House this session, there are "certain individuals" that are the problem. He confirmed those people are at  "the top."

"It's just silliness — grow up," Corcoran said. "The Senate needs to grow up."

These negotiations typically take place after both chambers have passed their budgets to reconcile the differences in their specific dollar amounts, line by line. Both chambers passed their budgets on Feb. 8 and that process still hasn't begun.

There's speculation that Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, is holding out until the House passes its equivalent of SB4, which is the university funding package that he has championed this session, along with Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.

But Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, who is the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, declined to discuss the reasons behind the Senate's lag time.

"I'm not going to negotiate the budget through the media," he said. "I'm surprised. That's an odd and unbecoming statement (from Corcoran)."

In general, the stakes and the rhetoric in the Capitol have been ramped up since the Parkland shooting on Valentine's Day, causing the Legislature to completely shift gears and refocus its session on an issue it has long ignored: restricting access to guns.

Because of this, the House Appropriations Chair, Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, said it's not inconceivable the Legislature will have to meet beyond its scheduled end date of March 9, regardless of other infighting.

They cannot pass a final budget until they pass their promised proposals to beef up mental health programs in schools, school security and add new gun restrictions. Those plans are expected to be released Thursday.

"What's an extra two weeks or three weeks?" Trujillo asked. "If we could pass good, comprehensive policy that makes our children safer, our community safer, is it worth the extra two weeks? The answer is a resounding 'yes.'"