Rare veto override votes set Tuesday in Florida

Nov 16, 2010

The following article was published in the Palm Beach Post on November 15, 2010: 

Rare veto override votes set Tuesday in Florida

By Bill Kaczor


Florida lawmakers are poised to do something they haven’t done in 12 years and that they’ve accomplished only twice in the last 24 — override a governor’s veto.

The Republican-controlled Legislature’s agenda for a planned one-day special session Tuesday includes override votes on up to nine bills and one budget item. All were vetoed earlier this year by Gov. Charlie Crist, who quit the GOP to run unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate as an independent.

None, though, will be as contentious as an abortion bill that was one of two vetoed measures the Legislature last overrode on March 11, 1998. Nor will the Legislature consider hot-button bills on teacher merit pay and retention, elections and abortion that Crist vetoed.

“My personal inclination would be not to try and take up anything in special session that was a big, more regular session-type issue such as health care or education,” incoming House Speaker Dean Cannon said.

Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos said they, instead, picked legislation that passed by wide margins and with bipartisan support. The override candidates include a $9.7 million appropriation for the University of Florida’s Shands Teaching Hospital and a couple bills that would dilute the powers of the governor and other executive branch officials. Another would let local governments put yard trash in garbage dumps so they no longer will have to make separate pickups for each type of refuse.

Besides the overrides, votes also are planned on appropriating $31 million in federal stimulus money for consumer rebates on purchases of solar energy and high-efficiency heating and air conditioning systems and delaying a new septic tank inspection requirement for six months until next July 1.

The last time the Legislature, also with Republican majorities in both chambers, overrode vetoes was when Democrat Lawton Chiles was governor.

It was a bill that changed the rules of evidence in civil cases, but that vote came about 90 minutes after the override of Chiles’ veto of the highly debated abortion bill. It banned a late-term procedure sponsors called “partial-birth abortion.”

Chiles vetoed it because there was no exception for a mother’s health. He asked the Florida Supreme Court to block the impending overrides on procedural grounds, but lawmakers didn’t wait for a decision. The justices later ruled against Chiles, but a federal judge then declared the abortion law unconstitutional.

The Legislature passed a new version in 2000 signed by Republican Gov. Jeb Bush. A similar federal law subsequently was passed and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court on a 5-4 vote in 2007.

The previous gap between overrides also was 12 years. Democrats ruled both chambers when lawmakers overrode the veto of a health care bill by Gov. Bob Graham, also a Democrat, in 1986.

One similarity in all three cases: Crist, Chiles and Graham are or were lame ducks, each in the final year of his governorship.

The rebate appropriation is being considered although most Republicans, including Governor-elect Rick Scott, criticized the federal stimulus program during their election campaigns that ended just two weeks ago.

Haridopolos said he and Cannon agreed to put that item on the calendar because consumers already have made purchases after being promised rebates that the state otherwise won’t have the money to honor.

“Given that understanding that was promoted by the different agencies and by different vendors, we want to make folks whole,” Haridopolos said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Scott also has nuanced his stimulus stand a bit, saying he doesn’t want to accept such funding for long-term spending commitments that will have to be replaced with state money when the federal dollars dry up. The rebate program, though, isn’t expected to be permanent.

Republicans also voiced opposition to higher taxes, yet one vetoed bill set for possible override would triple the tax on citrus to 3 cents a box. The increase is expected to raise $3.5 million a year for research on such things as greening, a citrus disease.

Haridopolos said he supports the increase because growers approved it in a referendum.

The special session is being held in conjunction with the Legislature’s constitutionally required reorganization session two weeks after each Election Day.

Lawmakers will formally elect Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and Cannon, R-Winter Park, as their new leaders. Both, though, were elected long ago by their respective GOP caucuses. Once sworn in, they’ll have the authority to call the special session they are planning for later in the day.

The GOP gained five seats in the House and two in the Senate at the Nov. 2 election. That gives Republicans veto-proof majorities of more than two-thirds in each chamber — 81-39 in the House, and 28-12 in the Senate.

One Senate Democrat, Frederica Wilson, will miss the special session because she was elected to the U.S. House and will be attending a congressional orientation session. A special election will be called to replace her once she resigns from her state position.

The House will welcome 44 new members. They include three former representatives returning after being out of office for at least one term: Reps. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala; Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, and Irv Sloshberg, D-Boca Raton.

There’ll be 13 new senators including two returning after breaks in service: Sens. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Gwen Margolis, D-North Miami Beach. This is a second comeback for Margolis, who was Senate president in 1990-92.

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