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TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – Officially, as of Tuesday, there will be 85 days left until the Legislature returns to the Capitol for committee meetings and 203 days left until the 2016 legislative session begins. But even as a special session to deal with the state budget finally came to an end Friday, there were questions about whether another session might become necessary this year.
Those who raise the specter of another edition of legislative overtime point to a few key issues, particularly an expected ruling by the Florida Supreme Court on whether lawmakers need to go further in redrawing congressional districts. But the U.S. Supreme Court is expected soon to issue a decision that could affect the health-insurance coverage of hundreds of thousands of Floridians, and the status of the state’s gambling “compact” with the Seminole Tribe is also up in the air.
“Considering we’re going in next year in January into regular session, it leaves a number of months in between that we may have to take additional action. … I’ll just keep my suits fairly clean,” said House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach.
But after the Legislature finished its work on the budget Friday, at least one key lawmaker didn’t seem worried about the prospect of a special session.
“I don’t see that those (issues) would necessitate that at this point. I really don’t,” said House Appropriations Chairman Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes. “I think what it necessitates is those committees that we normally have in the fall in an off-election year are going to be very busy. In order to get ready and prepared for the January session, those committees are going to have to be very productive and very busy.”
The one event that could be most likely to trigger a special session would be a ruling by the state Supreme Court holding unconstitutional a new version of Florida’s 27 congressional districts. In March, justices heard arguments about whether Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis went far enough when he ordered the Legislature to make changes to fix two districts he said were problematic.
Voting-rights organizations fighting the maps want the court to go further, throwing out the entire map for violating a constitutional ban on gerrymandering approved by voters in 2010. A ruling could be handed down in a matter of weeks.
Pafford also said that a circuit judge could rule before January on the constitutionality of a map for the state Senate, which is the focus of a trial set to begin in September. Either side could appeal a decision in that case to the Supreme Court as well, delaying the deadline for lawmakers to act.
If it loses at the Supreme Court, the Legislature would have to correct the congressional lines in time for candidates to prepare for the qualifying deadline in May; the deadline for candidates to jump into state Senate races is June.
Another potential tripwire for a special session is a U.S. Supreme Court decision in the King v. Burwell case, which concerns whether residents of states that are part of a federal health-care exchange should qualify for tax credits that are part of the landmark Affordable Care Act. According to the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, more than 1 million people in Florida could lose coverage if the court rules that the tax credits are limited to those in exchanges set up by states.
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, declined to say recently whether a court ruling against the federal exchange would prove that Florida should have set up its own marketplace.
“Ultimately, you’ve got to see what the courts hand down on that,” Crisafulli said. “And we’re waiting to see what that is. And we understand that we may see that in the next couple of weeks. And I think, at that point in time, we’ll be able to sit down and determine what the future looks like.”
Potentially complicating any effort to approve a state exchange under the Affordable Care Act is the fierce opposition from the House and Gov. Rick Scott to the law, commonly known as Obamacare.
Perhaps the least likely issue to trigger a special session is the gaming compact. The deal — which gives the Seminole Tribe exclusive rights to operate banked card games, such as blackjack, at five of its seven casinos — is set to expire in July. But it gives the tribe 90 days after the expiration date to shut down the card games, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican and a key lawmaker on the compact, told The News Service of Florida in May that there might not be a need for a special session.
“(Scott) could modify the existing agreement to expand the banked card games unilaterally, subject to ratification by the Legislature,” Galvano said.
Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, also poured cold water on the idea of trying to hold a quick session to deal with the issue.
“The reality is I think it’s going to be very difficult to just come in and say, ‘Let’s renew the compact,’ ” he told reporters last week. “You’re probably opening up a lot of dialogue on other gambling issues.”
Any special session could be held at the same time as committee meetings in September, October or November. But most lawmakers would likely be fine with waiting until January, if possible, to get back to the floor.
“Special sessions are supposed to be special, and there needs to be a crisis of some kind to force us to address these things,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon. “If it were me, I would encourage patience. But who knows what’s going to come down in these rulings? You never know.”
The News Service of Florida’s Brandon Larrabee contributed to this report.