State legislature special session ends with 11th-hour compromise

By Troy Kinsey, Capitol Bureau Reporter
Last Updated: Friday, June 09, 2017, 9:25 PM EDT

The Florida Legislature adjourned a turbulent special legislative session Friday afternoon, with Republican leaders reaching an eleventh-hour compromise on the session's major issues. Under the arrangement, each party saves just enough face to avoid political embarrassment.

  • Compromise preserves funding for state universities
  • Measures to implement Amendment 2 approved
  • House Speaker's "Schools of Hope" program avoids veto

Such embarrassment seemed all but inevitable just 24 hours before, when Senate President Joe Negron held a press conference lashing out at Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran for calling the special session without buy-in from the Senate.

"I hear this fake narrative by some that somehow the Senate is quote unquote not keeping its end of the deal," Negron told reporters, arguing that he had never signed on to a deal brokered between Scott and Corcoran that would have slashed higher education funding in exchange for increasing spending on public schools. Boosting funding for state universities and community colleges has been one of Negron's top priorities.

The compromise approved Friday maintains most of the campus spending, paying for it in part by tapping a newly-created $85 million economic development grant program. The program is a consolation prize for Gov. Scott, whose effort to salvage taxpayer-funded business incentives was met with defeat during the regular legislative session.

"We're in the graduation season, and all across Florida, thousands of students and their families are going to graduation ceremonies and we have students walking across the stage with a diploma in one hand and a job offer in the other hand, and that's because our universities and our state colleges are an integral part of economic development," Negron said during a post-special session celebration in the Capitol rotunda.

While disputing Negron's claim that he hadn't agreed to the initial terms of the session, Corcoran suggested Friday that a late-stage compromise had never been taken off the table. Under a widely rumored quid pro quo, in return for the economic development funding, the governor is now expected to forego vetoing Corcoran's controversial 'Schools of Hope' program to spend $200 million on building charter schools in areas served by failing public schools.

"I think the legislature has kind of become to you guys - I think we call ourselves the 'cardiac kids'," Corcoran told the crowd Friday. "We get you guys all worked up and then we come to a nice, smooth landing, and so, and we accomplish a tremendous amount of policy. But, it's been a great special session."

The legislature also approved measures to implement Amendment 2, the medical marijuana legalization referendum that passed with 71 percent of the vote last November. Ten new Florida nurseries would be allowed to grow cannabis, for an initial total of 17, but the smoking of medical marijuana would be banned.

The amendment's advocates say smoking was part of the amendment's language, and within minutes of the legislation's passage, a powerful voice was already threatening legal action.

"They should be ashamed," lawyer and prospective gubernatorial candidate John Morgan tweeted, referring to Republican leaders. "I'll fight once more for the 71% of Floridians."