Tallahassee not only capitol with 'sine die' traditions - Florida Politics

Tallahassee not only capitol with ‘sine die’ traditions

Tallahassee is devoted to certain traditions on “sine die,” the final day of the yearly Legislative Session, but it’s the not only state that has them.

In Idaho, capital reporters wear ugly ties near session’s end to “encourage legislators to finish their business quickly and go home,” says a Legislative Research Librarians newsletter.

In the Magnolia State, Mississippi State University lobbyists put tomato seedlings “on the desks of legislators, staff members and sometimes statehouse reporters.”

“The tradition started several decades ago after university researchers engineered a robust tomato plant capable of traveling well,” according to a Stateline blog post. “Proud of their development, they sent some to the Capitol, where the tomatoes were a hit.”

In Georgia, lawmakers toss ripped paper into the air above their desks, and in Alabama, legislators give a “shroud” award to the bill deemed least likely to pass.

Here in Florida, traditions focus on colors: Pink, red and white.

Pink, as in the color of ties, sport coats, dresses and flowers worn by lobbyists, lawmakers and others, especially as they mill about in the 4th floor Rotunda between the two chambers.

Wearing pink, for those who still remember the reason, is to honor the late insurance lobbyist Marvin Arrington, who wore a pink sports coat on the last day of Session.

Arrington died the last week of the 2002 Session, succumbing to a heart attack in his car near the Capitol. (For the story on that tradition, click here.)

The red refers to the same-colored Solo cups ubiquitous on the last day. Capitol Police frown on drinking alcohol in the building, so (mainly) lobbyists sneak their tipple in the plastic chalices — though now it’s pretty much an open secret.

The same cups also were immortalized — maybe even “immoralized” — in song by Toby Keith, who called them “the best receptacle/For barbecues, tailgates, fairs and festivals.”

And white, as in the handkerchiefs ceremonially dropped by the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms to mark the precise moment of Session’s end.

As the State Library and Archives of Florida explains, in the days pre-technology days in the Old Capitol, the presiding officers of each chamber couldn’t see each other and weren’t in communication by telephone.

“The House and Senate sergeants would stand in the rotunda where they could be observed by the Senate President and House Speaker,” the website says. “The sergeants would drop a handkerchief at the moment agreed upon for adjournment and the gavels would fall in each house to formally signal the end of the session.”

That tradition, though, has taken a hit in recent years.

In 2011, the chambers were at odds over a flurry of competing priorities, including claim bills and tax breaks. They adjourned separately in the wee hours of the morning, eschewing the traditional joint “hanky drop.”

And in 2016, the House went home three days early after the chambers deadlocked over health care funding, forcing a Special Session to finish the 2015-16 state budget.

Jim Rosica covers state government from Tallahassee for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.
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