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Freshmen Lawmakers Brace For Budget Fight

The Florida Capitol Building from Adams Street
Steven Martin via Flikr

The 2017 Legislative Session is off to a tense start, with politicians already butting heads over the all-important budget. The fight could spell disaster for freshmen lawmakers hoping to earn their keep in the statehouse.

Every year, the one thing the Legislature has to do is pass a budget. But from day one, Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran, Senate President Joe Negron and Governor Rick Scott are preparing for a budget battle. The three Republicans fundamentally disagree on state spending and economic development. And some capitol watchers are worried the fight will derail the process entirely. Pam Olson prayed for lawmakers on the Senate floor Tuesday morning.

“And Lord, I know I’m asking for a miracle, but may this session end on time,” Olson said.

The fear of a rocky session is looming over first-time lawmakers, who are hoping to hang on to voter support. It’s driving freshmen representatives like Nicholas Duran, a Democrat from Miami, to reach across party lines.

“It’s true. Yeah my first bill that I cosponsored, first two bills that I cosponsored were with members of the opposite party, Republicans,” Duran said.

Duran says he’s optimistic. But he is keeping his summer schedule open, in case lawmakers have to come back to Tallahassee for a special session.

“I’ve sort of started talking to my wife, my family. I think they need to know a little bit about those sorts of things. But we have to play the cards as they lie,” Duran said.

But for Speaker Richard Corcoran, conservative principles outweigh most everything else. That’s riling up some veteran lawmakers who favor pragmatism and compromise. But freshmen Representative Byron Donalds, a Naples Republican, is ready for the difficult conversations.

“It’s a very good time to be in the Legislature despite all the quote unquote raucousness of it. I think what we’re really doing is having critical conversations for the future of our state," Donalds said. "If you take this job seriously, and I know all my colleagues do. But if you really take it seriously, you’re going to rub elbows. It’s gonna be sharp. There are things you’re going to fight about. Because that’s how you get to the best policy.”

But first-time Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith says the conservative crusade is leading to bad policy. The Winter Park Democrat criticizes plans to set term limits for judges, and to override rulings by the state’s highest court.

“We have made the Florida Supreme Court, which is a check on the legislature, as a separate branch of government, public enemy number one under this leadership!” Guillermo Smith said.

In order to pass the budget on time, lawmakers may have make compromises and sacrifices. But for now, they’re showing no signs of backing down.

As a Tallahassee native, Kate Payne grew up listening to WFSU. She loves being part of a station that had such an impact on her. Kate is a graduate of the Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts. With a background in documentary and narrative filmmaking, Kate has a broad range of multimedia experience. When she’s not working, you can find her rock climbing, cooking or hanging out with her cat.