TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Gov. Scott signed the last bill left over from the spring legislative session on Wednesday, leaving unscathed an almost historically high amount of the legislation approved this year.
In addition to the line-item vetoes he issued to strike items from the nearly $77 billion budget, Scott vetoed precisely one bill of the 255 approved by the Legislature, or 0.4 percent of the measures that passed. That is the lowest since at least 1986, according to state records.
It’s also a low-water mark for Scott, who nixed 10-12 bills in each of his first three years.
The lone bill to fall victim to Scott’s pen this year was a measure (SB 392) that would have allowed the Florida Department of Transportation to raise highway speed limits by 5 mph, including going from 70 mph to 75 mph on some roads.
Scott axed that legislation after a Florida Highway Patrol trooper gave an impassioned speech against the proposal during the funeral service for a fellow trooper, with the governor in attendance.
“I strongly respect the opinion of state and local law enforcement officers who have contacted me to warn about the possible serious negative consequences should this bill become law,” Scott wrote in the veto message for that measure.
As in other years, much of the legislation that passed this spring was relatively uncontroversial. The bill Scott signed Wednesday (HB 561), which deals with appointing attorneys for children with disabilities, passed both the House and the Senate unanimously.
But governors generally have problems with a handful of bills, some of which are minor and escape public notice, at least until a veto.
Republicans, who dominate both the House and Senate, interpreted the lack of vetoes from Scott as a seal of approval for their efforts this spring.
“We took on a great number of bold ideas, but we did so in a way that involved others,” said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. “I think the cooperation between the House, Senate and Governor Scott, more bipartisan votes and very few vetoes are indicative that the approach worked.”
Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, used the apparent lack of disagreement between the Legislature and Scott to take a shot at former Gov. Charlie Crist, a onetime Republican now running to reclaim his old office as a Democrat. Even when Crist shared their party, GOP lawmakers would sometimes fume about Crist vetoing bills that they believed he would sign.
“Unlike Charlie Crist who would say one thing and then flip flop his positions when it came to legislative issues, Governor Scott is honest, clear and consistent in working with legislators on bills,” Gaetz said in an e-mail. “That prevented what happened too often during the Crist administration — false starts, mixed messages, politically-motivated vetoes and broken faith.”
Others see political factors at play. Some of the more contentious issues that could have been taken on in 2014 were either delayed, such as a possible expansion of gambling, or imploded during the election-year session, like attempts to overhaul the pension system for public workers.
With Scott’s approval numbers already low, critics say, Republicans tried to avoid issues that might cause infighting and instead project unity.
“It has just been incredible theater,” said incoming House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach. “It’s been a wonderful production this year.”
The idea, Pafford said, was to repair whatever damage Scott might have done to his standing before he faces voters in November.
“They’re gambling that the people of Florida will forget three years of the most hideous, dangerous, reckless governance this state has probably seen since Reconstruction,” he said.
This report is by Brandon Larrabee with The News Service of Florida.