State Politics

Democrats strike a deal that trades in a gun bill to get water for the Everglades

Rep. Richard Corcoran, a Land O’Lakes Republican who is now House speaker, talks with Rep. Jose Oliva, R- Miami Lakes, on the House floor during the 2016 session.
Rep. Richard Corcoran, a Land O’Lakes Republican who is now House speaker, talks with Rep. Jose Oliva, R- Miami Lakes, on the House floor during the 2016 session. TAMPA BAY TIMES

House Republicans quietly agreed Tuesday to pull from the floor a gun bill not yet considered at all by the chamber, after trading with Democrats to ensure a priority of the Senate president — also not previously vetted by the House — would be voted out that same day.

It’s a prime example of the type of deal-making and horse-trading that’s commonplace in the Florida Legislature during the final days of session.

Had SB 616 been heard on the House floor Tuesday as planned, the Republican-led chamber likely would have easily approved it on Wednesday. But instead, Democrats were able to use the power of their 41-member caucus — something they can’t often do — to convince House Speaker Richard Corcoran not to hear the bill, after all.

Monday evening, House leaders had, without explanation, added SB 616 to Tuesday’s calendar — a Senate-approved proposal that would have allowed concealed weapons permit-holders to store their guns with security while visiting state courthouses. Republican leaders, in a rarely used move, sent it straight to the floor although no one in the chamber had vetted it, because there was never a House version filed this session.

MORE: “House leaders will send Senate gun bill straight to House floor — after zero consideration”

However on Tuesday, Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, needed Democratic support to secure the required two-thirds’ support of the chamber — 80 out of the 120 members — so he could advance SB 10 and hold a final floor vote, rather than wait until Wednesday. The bill, a priority of Senate President Joe Negron, creates a water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee as part of Everglades restoration efforts.

House Democrats seized the opportunity.

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House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa Steve Cannon AP

“I told them I felt, ‘You take this wonderful bill in Senate Bill 10 that has a long way to go but it does a lot of work to protect the environment for Floridians, yet you’re willing to put forth a bill that will kill Floridians with gun violence,’ ” House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz, of Tampa, said.

“It was just simply unacceptable to the values of our caucus,” she added. “So we want to move Senate Bill 10 along? We know that that’s the Senate president’s priority — but we are gun weary, so let’s kill a bill.”

The House’s subsequent vote approving SB 10 sent it back to the Senate, which passed it a final time and sent it to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.

On the floor, the courthouse gun bill was “temporarily postponed” with no explanation. Rules chairman and Miami Lakes Republican Rep. Jose Oliva told the Herald/Times after the daily floor session that because SB 616 wasn’t taken up Tuesday, it’s dead for the session.

“Today, you saw the power of the Democrats,” Cruz said. “It was a good day, a very good day.”

RELATED: “Miami lawmaker’s leadership and ‘gun-bill fatigue’ disarm Legislature”

Before the floor session, Democrats in their daily caucus meeting strategized ways to obstruct consideration of the gun bill, such as by making a procedural motion to send SB 616 to committees first.

“I know what the odds are, but if we don’t do this, we’re essentially rolling over,” Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, said.

Democrats made a similar — and unsuccessful — motion on SB 10, because it, too, had never been vetted by the chamber. Unlike the gun bill, though, SB 10 had a House companion; it just was never taken up in committee for members to consider.

SB 616 from Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube passed the Senate just on Friday by a 19-15 vote, with the chamber’s Democrats opposed.

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The First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee. Kristen M. Clark kclark@miamiherald.com

Had it been considered by the House, it likely would have been on the rocks, anyway, when it returned to the Senate.

Polk County Republican Rep. Neil Combee had filed an amendment late Monday to tack on an unrelated gun measure he pushed this year, which de-criminalizes open-carrying for the first and second offenses. Combee’s original bill (HB 779) passed the House a month ago, but Steube’s companion version of it didn’t have the votes to pass his Senate Judiciary committee and was never heard.

If Combee’s amendment had been successful — and SB 616 had passed the House — Steube would have been confronted with a pledge he made the first week of session not to support an expansion of his courthouse bill in ways that would include other changes in gun law. His promise was a condition of getting Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores’ crucial support to advance the bill at that time.

Kristen M. Clark: 850-222-3095, kclark@miamiherald.com, @ByKristenMClark

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