Florida Lawmakers Wrap Up This Year's Session After Midnight Saturday A.M.

By: Victoria Langley
By: Victoria Langley

Florida lawmakers say homeowner’s insurance relief is on the way after they passed a massive overhaul bill in the final minutes of the annual legislative session Friday night.

Education also gets a record increase in state dollars, but other important issues were left on the table as the clock ran out.

Lawmakers ended the 2006 session just after midnight Saturday morning with the usual elaborate, if strange, ceremony, the dropping of the handkerchief in the center of the Capitol between the House and Senate.

They passed the largest state budget ever, and pumped a record $32 billion into schools.

Senate President Tom Lee said it was a productive session.

“I’m extremely grateful for a historic increase in public education funding, 63 percent larger than any time in Florida history.”

Other key issues didn’t make the cut. Jeb Bush’s controversial priorities to save the state’s school voucher program and weaken class size restrictions failed, and the clock ran out on a $60 million package for the Florida Marlins.

Lawmakers did approve a measure to limit who pays in civil lawsuits, and they voted to use more than $700 million to offset homeowner’s insurance rate hikes.

Outgoing House Speaker in Panama City, Allan Bense, said, “We passed, I think, a good insurance bill; we passed eminent domain laws, I think, that will really help Florida. I could rattle off a long list. We did a great energy bill and affordable housing, a bill that’s great.”

Democrats called it a session of missed opportunities. Lawmakers put some extra money in to help the state’s juvenile justice system, but not nearly as much as many say was needed.

A bipartisan effort to ban school bullying also didn’t make it through, but supporters like Rep. Ken Gottlieb of Mirimar say they at least made their point.

“The great thing is that now we’ve had Democrats and Republicans and the entire House of Representatives realize that we have a problem in our schools.”

Lawmakers now go home to start campaigning for the November elections.

Another bill lawmakers passed in the final hours of the session will allow local governments to vote on a $2-a-day rental car surcharge, with the money going to fix and build local roads.

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