By Jeff Burlew
Democrat senior writer | @JeffBurlew on Twitter
The 2015 legislative session ended Friday not with a customary party — or a balanced budget — but with a ruling by the Florida Supreme Court that the Republican-led House of Representatives violated the constitution when it abruptly closed up shop Tuesday.
Senate Democrats filed an emergency petition with the high court on Thursday asking that it find the House move unconstitutional and order members to reconvene the session Friday until its official end at midnight.
Justices ruled unanimously against the request, saying that ordering the House to come back into session would be “fruitless.” But in a 5-2 opinion led by Justice Barbara J. Pariente, the court found that the House’s “unilateral adjournment clearly violated the constitution.”
“Under the provisions of the constitution, neither house is permitted unilaterally to adjourn for a period of more than 72 consecutive hours,” Pariente wrote. “An adjournment of more than 72 consecutive hours can be accomplished only by concurrent resolution or by action of the governor.”
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli responded by saying he was pleased the court denied the Democrats’ request.
In an email to House members, he said his decision to adjourn sine die was one of the “most difficult choices” he’s had to make as a legislator.
“The level of acrimony and unprecedented demand that we pass a policy bill before providing budget allocations are what ultimately led me to finish our policy work and go home,” he said. “I believed taking a few weeks off was the best way to get us in a position to pass a budget.”
Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, went on to say that he hopes the Legislature can return “with a new level of civility on both sides.”
“We will make up for these three days, and then some,” he wrote. “Thank you for your patience during this unprecedented session. I believe better days are ahead.”
Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said in a news release he appreciated Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, and the efforts of her caucus “to seek a swift answer to this important constitutional question.”
“The Senate was ready and prepared to continue working to complete the business of the state regardless of the outcome of today’s ruling,” he said. “Cooperation and collaboration between the chambers should not require a court order. My colleagues and I look forward to returning to Tallahassee in short order to complete the work we were elected to do.”
The House and Senate have been warring not only over the Senate’s proposal to extend Medicaid to more low-income Floridians and continue funding of safety-net hospitals but also over the House’s abrupt departure more than three days before the regular session’s end. The Democrats argued in court documents that the constitution forbids one chamber from unilaterally adjourning for more than 72 hours without sign-off from the other. But the House countered by saying the 72-hour rule applies only to breaks during the 60day session, not to the end of legislative business.
In a news conference Thursday afternoon, Senate Democrats said the issue was about more than whether the House should be forced to reconvene.
“It’s whether or not we are co-equal chambers and whether one chamber can merely at their own discretion terminate at any time,” said Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando.
They also blasted Gov. Rick Scott for his handling of the stalemate. Joyner said Scott should have stepped in earlier.
“He should have called in the speaker of the House and the president of the Senate and got them to the table … to get the job done,” she said. “But he didn’t. This is one party that controls the executive branch and the legislative branch, and the leader of the executive branch failed to lead.”
The Governor’s Office responded to Joyner’s comments by referring to a news release issued Thursday. In the release, Scott said “we must immediately turn our focus to how we can work together” to craft a state budget before the end of the fiscal year June 30.
The House adjournment effectively derailed the last few days of the session. Gardiner has proposed holding a special session June 1-20 to resolve the health-care issues and the $4-billion difference in the two chambers’ budgets.
Original article here.