Explainer: Budget changes aren’t “cool”

The News Service of Florida’s Brandon Larrabee explains how Gov. Rick Scott’s call for a special session interacts with the constitutionally required “cooling off” period regarding the budget.

One of the most-watched deadlines in Tallahassee is always three days before the end of the regular legislation session — because the Florida Constitution requires that the final version of the budget be delivered to lawmakers and a handful of other state officials 72 hours before the Legislature votes on it.

Around the Capitol, it’s called a “cooling-off” period, and ideally allows time for lawmakers, lobbyists and members of the public who are so inclined to pick through the final product and find out what’s inside. It is, we should note, dubious that your average Florida suburbanite is scrolling through the language of the budget, but that’s the idea.

So how are lawmakers able to schedule this week’s special session on budget issues to last less than 72 hours? Because it won’t be a full budget. Here’s the relevant part of the state Constitution:

“All general appropriation bills shall be furnished to each member of the legislature, each member of the cabinet, the governor, and the chief justice of the supreme court at least seventy-two hours before final passage by either house of the legislature of the bill in the form that will be presented to the governor.”

The “general appropriation bill” is a technical term for the budget. Lawmakers can and do tuck appropriations into legislation that doesn’t face the 72-hour cooling-off period. A look at the education funding bill filed in the House, for example, shows that it isn’t even in the same format as the annual budget bill.

So, no 72-hour requirement. Of course, lawmakers still have to get their job done on time without any other hiccups, but for now there’s little reason to believe that will be a problem.