Lawmakers Anticipate More Bi-partisan Cooperation
March 04, 2013 | WMFE - The lawmaking sessions in Tallahassee have been contentious affairs during the last few years with conservative supermajorities running both houses and mostly shutting Democrats out of the process. But, as the 2013 session opens, the balance of power has shifted slightly and now both Republicans and Democrats are optimistic they may be able to work together this year.
Last year at this time, Democratic Representative Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale was steeling himself for another session under the heel of a Republican majority with an archconservative agenda.
Now he's the House Minority leader and he thinks things may be different in Tallahassee.
He says House Speaker Will Wetherford, a Republican from Pasco County and Republican Senate President Don Gaetz of Niceville, have signaled a willingness to work across the aisle in ways that their predecessors avoided.
“It's unusual in terms of what we've seen happen in the House in previous years.” Thurston says. “I think it's just a realization of the fact that we can accomplish more if we work together.”
Thurston says Democratic priorities for the 60-day session are passing an ethics reform bill and straightening out Florida's campaign finance laws ands election laws. He says Republicans seem to have roughly the same goals.
“We're gearing up for battle but we know there won't be so many ‘Red Meat’ issues.” Thurston says. “Things the average citizen doesn't think we should be dealing with."
Thurston says contentious social issues such as abortion rights, school prayer and banning Islamic law are only of interest to a minority of Tea Party conservatives in the Republican base but, he says, they inhibit serious lawmaking.
The November election reduced the Republican majorities in both houses and changed the priorities of the leadership.
State Senator Don Gaetz is the new Senate president.
“The concerns I bring to the presidency are, first and foremost, ethics reform.”
Democratic political consultant Ben Wilcox says the fact that Republicans are working for ethics reform is the best news he has heard in years.
“They've got a pretty good ethics bill moving through the senate and it'll probably come up on the floor in the first week of the session.” Wilcox says. “We haven't seen real ethics reform in Florida since the 1970s so this is a significant step forward.”
Sen. Gaetz says he is also hoping for campaign finance and election law reform. The political climate isn't the only thing changing.
The economy is recovering as well. Revenue is pouring into the state treasury and Gov. Rick Scott, elected two years ago as a Tea Party budget cutter, is proposing a record $74.2 billion dollar budget with pay raises for teachers and bonuses for state workers.