Controversial bill requiring ultrasounds before abortions passes in Florida House

By Josh Hafenbrack, Aaron Deslatte and Tonya Alanez, Sun Sentinel

TALLAHASSEE-Florida’s lawmakers capped a rancorous election-year session Friday with a flurry of votes and a burst of furious bickering over a last-minute abortion amendment, before finally passing a $70.4 billion state budget that squeezes road building and raises college tuition.

The abortion debate Friday was so raw, heated and, at times, graphic, House Republican leaders ordered teenage pages off the floor and cleared the public galleries of children. Two Democratswept as they spoke against the ultrasound mandate.

After more than three hours of debate, the House approved the measure to require ultrasounds for women seeking first-trimester abortions, 76-44. The measure now goes to Crist, who already is expressing concerns and appears to being considering a veto.

The House adjourned sine die — the Latin term signifying a close to legislative business — at 6:59 p.m. The Senate followed at 8:47 p.m. Crist was notably absent.

The session ended with a symbol of frayed relations between Crist and the Legislature run by his former party: As legislators and lobbyists crowded in the Capitol rotunda to celebrate the session end, Crist was on a Miami-bound plane to spend the weekend with his wife, Carole.

“Whether he likes what we’ve accomplished, he still has the veto pen, he’s still the governor of the state, we’re getting ready to sine die — I would have liked to have seen him here,” said Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City.

On the final day of legislative action, lawmakers passed new rules banning sex offenders from loitering within 300 feet of schools, parks and playgrounds. They passed a massive insurance bill that balances consumer protections with potential rate hikes. And legislators passed a job package that provides $49 million in tax-breaks to yacht and jet buyers, employers who hire laid-off workers, and commercial space ventures, and even a new sales tax exemption to lure an NBA All-Star game to Orlando.

As always, bills big and small died in the final hours — more than usual because House Democrats, angry over the last-minute abortion fight, used parliamentary procedures to block some bills from coming for a floor vote. In the end, lawmakers failed to pass a bill banning sex with animals, to address corruption in state and local government, or to reform the troubled Public Service Commission, which sets utility rates.

The biggest drama, though, came from the bill requiring ultrasounds for women seeking abortions in their first trimester, when more than 90 percent of the procedures occur. Doctors ornurses also are ordered to describe the images on the sonogram and the stage of fetal development. Women must sign a form if they refuse to view the images.

Democrats offered emotional testimonials against the ultrasound bill. Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, wept on the House floor as he described his wife having to turn away from an ultrasound image of a fetus the couple lost to medical complications.

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