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Some Representatives Plan to Skip Special Session

Top Democratic leaders are among 35 House members who will not be present when discussion begins Thursday in a special session on commuter and high speed rail, legislative officials said Wednesday.

Citing a conflict with an already scheduled conference of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, House Democratic Leader Franklin Sands, D-Weston, and his heir-apparent Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West, are among those who won’t be attending the session’s first few days. Sands and Saunders are both white, but this week urged House Republican leaders to delay the start of the session until next week to accommodate the schedules of black members – nearly all of whom are Democrats – who have long planned to attend the Fort Lauderdale conference.

Sands, Saunders and several other legislators will arrive in Tallahassee after the Saturday conclusion of the national conference in Fort Lauderdale. Those who will be late sent letters to House Speaker Larry Cretul on Wednesday asking that they be excused from the special session on Thursday and Friday to attend the conference.

With at least 6,000 black voters residing in his district and with no plans to offer amendments, Saunders said it is more important for him to attend the national gathering, which among other things sets policy and makes recommendations on federal legislation affecting the states.

“I will be fully prepared to speak on legislation during the scheduled Monday session,” Saunders wrote.

Lawmakers are scheduled to convene Thursday for a special session on commuter and high-speed rail. Lawmakers were already scheduled to be in Tallahassee next week for committee hearings.

Cretul has made accommodations for members who wish to attend the conference, such as allowing them to register committee votes late. But he said the session couldn’t be postponed because House rules necessitate that votes be cast this week if lawmakers are to conclude their work by Hannukah, which begins at sunset Dec. 11. The Legislature also includes several Jewish members, including Sands.

The Senate, which operates under different rules, has held off formal votes until Monday to allow black caucus members to attend the national convention.

So far, 35 House members have requested and been granted leave by Cretul, who on Wednesday chided members for expecting that scheduling conflicts would never arise in the course of their service.

“This job comes with a lot of demands and a lot of requirements and often times some inconvenience both on a personal level and on a professional level.” Cretul said. “…It’s just part of the job.”

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