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Occupy Florida Greets Opening of Legislature

JAMES L. ROSICA, Associated Press
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MANCHESTER, NH - JANUARY 07: Occupy Wall Street protester Caroline Pearce of Boston holds a candle during a rally outside the site of a debate between the Republican candidates at Saint Anselm College on January 7, 2012 in Manchester, New Hampshire. (Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images)

MANCHESTER, NH – JANUARY 07: Occupy Wall Street protester Caroline Pearce of Boston holds a candle during a rally outside the site of a debate between the Republican candidates at Saint Anselm College on January 7, 2012 in Manchester, New Hampshire. (Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images)

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Dozens of Occupy Florida demonstrators made the most of their one moment to confront Florida Gov. Rick Scott before his State of the State address.

The address was to House and Senate lawmakers as they began their 2012 legislative session on Tuesday. As Scott emerged from a side hallway and walked into the House chambers, the protesters were ready.

“Hey Rick Scott,” one man shouted, immediately followed by a chorus of “We are the 99 percent!”

Then, the crowd on the fourth floor of the Capitol got even louder.

“Pink slip … Rick Scott!” they called out.

The first-term Republican governor glanced over and smiled without breaking his stride. “You have to face the people eventually!” another man in the crowd yelled.

Later, Scott joked about the brief confrontation before his address, saying he didn’t need to be introduced because “the people outside already did.”

After the doors to the House closed, the Occupiers continued to chant in the call-and-response style they use to make sure all their members hear what is being said.

Earlier that morning, Occupiers had been upset over being denied entry to the House gallery, where the public can watch floor proceedings.

“We need to be heard but we can’t even get into the gallery,” said Occupy Tallahassee member Taylor Kilpatrick of Boynton Beach, a Florida State University sophomore.

Katherine Betta, a spokeswoman for Republican House Speaker Dean Cannon, said that gallery seating on opening day is available only by invitation of a House member.

Instead, Occupiers stood in the rotunda, singing and holding the now-familiar signs that read “We Are the 99%” and “People Over Profits.”

They also handed out leaflets on grievances that included the need for more open government, better public education and fair wages. Even a couple of passers-by wearing Florida Tea Party hats and T-shirts could be seen with the fliers stuffed in their back pockets.

In the afternoon, Occupiers and other progressives held a rally on the steps of the Old Capitol, the same spot where tea partyers had rallied the year before.

The rally, sponsored by the pro-union Awake the State coalition, was somewhat smaller than a similar one they held across the street on the Leon County Courthouse lawn on last year’s opening day.

One Occupier who identified himself only as Tony of Austin, Texas, said he’s now traveled to a dozen states to “lend a helping hand” in organizing local Occupy movements.

“We’re all looking for a little hope but it’s very clear it’s not going to be legislated for us,” he said.

Another Occupier from South Florida called Julian — who said he was named after John Lennon’s son — said he understood why some people initially dismiss the Occupy movement.

“We talk about very personal things — politics, economics — that people deal with on a daily basis,” he said. “People feel threatened when someone says something different from their perception. But we have to acknowledge our differences and agree to discuss them.”

Later in the afternoon, after rain had largely scattered the rally, Occupiers also tried to enter the Senate public gallery. They were again turned away.

Senate Sergeant at Arms Donald Severance was not available but a spokeswoman said Severance had been concerned the group might disrupt the proceedings. Senate President Mike Haridopolos told reporters that protesters should be allowed in, but that they need to follow the rules.

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Associated Press writer Gary Fineout contributed to this report. Follow James L. Rosica on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jlrosica

 Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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