TALLAHASSEE — The back and forth between House Democrats and Republicans is nearing its eighth hour. Bills continue to be read in full and debate is still limited to three minutes per side.
The House is now bouncing back to bills that were passed over earlier in the day. The bills are still being read by the House auto-reader.
As the day's session entered its seventh hour, House Democratic leaders called an impromptu press conference in front of the doors leading in to the House. Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, the minority leader, said Democrats weren't doing this to hold up the process or to skip over bills.
“We're not holding up any bill,” Thurston told reporters.
Thurston said the Democratic caucus didn't evoke the rule for leverage; instead, they're hoping Republican leaders will choose to take up the Senate health-care bill that was passed Tuesday and is currently in messages.
“We're prepared to vote on every bill,” he said.
A bill that would give the public the reasonable right to speak overwhelming passed the state House this morning, despite a procedural move aimed at slowing down the legislative process.
The state House this morning approved Senate Bill 50, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and in the House by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, which would require the public be given the reasonable opportunity to speak at public meetings.
The right isn't explicitly included in the state's open meeting law, and in 2010, two courts said the law only requires a public notice about a meeting.
The bill was briefly discussed on Tuesday, and was set for further debate and a vote this morning. But a procedural move by Democrats on Tuesday afternoon has slowed the process, and Republicans have called for debate to be kept at 6 minutes – 3 minutes for a bill, 3 minutes against a bill.
Rodrigues did not speak on his bill, but on Tuesday he said he was confident it would pass the House and the governor would sign it into law.
The bill passed 113-2.
More than a half dozen bills have been read by the House auto-reader in the first hour of session.
Rep. Robert Schenck, R-Spring Hills, has now taken over the role of asking that bills be read in full. Once the bills are read, the sponsor is asked to explain the bill before Schenck, the rules chairman, makes the request that debate be limited to 3 minutes per side.
Democrats first read the state constitution, but in the last two bills – Senate bill 160, which dealt with veterans, and Senate bill 422, the Cancer Fair Treatment Act – Democrats have used their three minutes to make an argument for expanding health coverage.
Senate bill 422 was sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, and requires insurance companies to provide the same coverage for oral cancer treatments as intravenous cancer treatments.
The bill – sponsored by Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach – passed out of the House 114-1.
Republicans temporarily passed – or TP'd – the four bills following the Mayfield bill.
The state House of Representatives convened at 8 a.m. Wednesday, an hour earlier than previously scheduled.
The move comes as House Democrats exert a rarely used rule that allows them to ask for bills to be read in full. The request first came Tuesday afternoon, and slowed down the legislative session in its waning days.
Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, minority leader, this morning asked that the bills be read in full. The first three bills were temporarily passed, while the fourth bill was read in full. Rep. Robert Schenck, R-Spring Hill, the rules chairman, then called a point of order to waive the rules and prohibit questions on the bill.
These maneuvers are expected to continue throughout the day.
"We're going to be here as long as it takes," said House Speaker Will Weatherford.
In response to the Democrats request to read the bills in full, Republican leadership has limited debate to three minutes per side, per bill.
While discussion was waived during the first few bills where this request was made, Democrats pulled out the state constitution during their three minutes to debate Senate bill 372, which would allow vendors to transport alcoholic beverages, and began reading from it.