Final week of legislative session brings bill 'crush'

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - After eight weeks in the nine week legislative session, just 66 bills had been sent to the governor. But since Monday, lawmakers have sent him twice as many, and more are on the way.

The crush of the legislature's final week makes tempers flare.

House Democrats, unhappy that health care legislation hasn't gotten what they consider to be a fair hearing, have invoked a little used tactic requiring every bill to be read in full.

Meet Mary, the text recognition system. It took Mary just more than five and a half minutes to read the 1,533 words in the six-page texting legislation.

Once considered a slam dunk, that bill is now in trouble after a last-minute amendment.

"I would like to see that amendment on this. Our civil liberties are important," said Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami.

Former House Minority Leader Dale Patchett has seen it before.

"They made the point. Time to move on," Patchett said.

The House Republicans in control responded with tactics of their own, loading debate to three minutes on any bill.

Leadership on both sides is scurrying, trying to cut deals and save bills as time evaporates. Every big issue but one or two are still in limbo.

Lawmakers will pass five times more bills this week than any of the other eight weeks.

Veteran lobbyist Ron Book calls it the norm for the final days of the annual session.

"And it works that way every year," Book said. "It's worked that way since the beginning of time, since the beginning of government."

Lawmakers have until midnight Friday to finish on time. And finishing on time is never a sure bet until the final gavel has fallen.

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