Speaker Will Weatherford introduced a new member of the Florida House this week.
“Members, we have an auto-reader. We had it in the closet just in case we ever had to actually read the bills,” Weatherford said amid laughs from the chamber. “It may be a little bit faster than normal.”
Weatherford's communications director announced on Twitter that the auto-reader's name is Mary.
Within an hour of her debut, Mary had her own Twitter handle - @HouseAutoReader. Some of her tweets include “I'm so bored” and “Anybody have a cure for the hiccups?”
Mary was born after a maneuver that is rarely invoked.
Democrats led by House Minority Leader Perry Thurston requested that every bill up for consideration be read in its entirety, not just the summary.
“One-third of the members in the present must agree on this request," Weatherford announced. "The clerk will unlock the machine and the members will proceed to vote.”
With the 44 Democratic members voting yes, that's a little more than the one-third vote required by the Constitution.
Thurston told reporters later that Democrats unanimously voted to use this tactic to protest the House's lack of action on Medicaid.
Lawmakers are trying to decide whether to accept federal money to provide health care coverage to more than a million uninsured Floridians. Thurston is angry that the House rejected a Senate plan to accept federal funds and instead approved a plan to use state money.
“We would like to see everybody be allowed to vote their conscience,” Thurston said. “If not, we just want to continue to be the conscience for the state of Florida and for those individuals who probably don't even know we're turning away $50 billion.”
But the Republicans have their own tactics.
Instead of reading lengthy bills that aren't considered a priority, they postpone them. Most of the bills that are postponed this late in the session won't get another hearing.
Higher priority bills still have a chance because Mary can talk fast. Her reading was noticeably peppier on day two, sounding a lot like a car commercial disclaimer.
Her words were hard to decipher, but Democrats say they did it to make a point.
Speaker Weatherford said lawmakers know they're never going to get everything they ask for.
“They know we've been open to the conversation. We didn't say no. In politics these days, a lot of people say no and then they walk away,” Weatherford said. “We didn't say no. We offered up an alternative.”
He said the chamber had already endured five hours of debate on the health care issue.
“I think it's a little disappointing and frankly unbecoming of some members to want to try to slow down the process,” Weatherford said. “We have a lot of work to do. I think the citizens of Florida sent us here to get work done, and that's exactly what we're doing.”
When the same thing happened in 2008, Senator Marco Rubio was Florida's House Speaker. It was a Friday, and representatives had to reschedule flights home as bills were read in their entirety into the wee hours of Saturday morning. House clerks grew noticeably hoarse as they took turns reading page after page of legalese.
Now, thanks to Mary, that probably won't happen again.