Florida's GOP-controlled Legislature kicks off its annual session on Tuesday amid the backdrop of the looming Jan. 31 presidential primary, a governor still battling low poll numbers, and legislative leaders who so far have shown a desire to keep the agenda limited during a critical election year.
The two main jobs are redistricting and passing a budget, but even that's not guaranteed at this point.
Senate President Mike Haridopolos has talked about waiting until later in the year to pass a budget. And while there appears to be a push to pass redistricting plans quickly there remains a chance that legal challenges to the final product could force legislators into a special session at some later date to adopt different maps.
Here at this point are the 5 biggest questions of the session:
Will redistricting keep moving smoothly and quickly? In anticipation of potential legal challenges, the GOP-controlled Legislature has already begun to accelerate to a possible final vote on changes for both Congressional and legislative districts. The Senate is poised to vote out its maps within the first few days of the annual session.
So far the political rancor has been fairly minimal although that could change quickly. Some South Florida Republicans have already been complaining about the treatment of U.S. Rep. Allen West due to a proposed shift that could make his seat more competitive. The question is whether state legislators will heed the complaints and push onward - or will they engage in more tinkering which could spark even more infighting.
There hasn't been a loud chorus of threats of lawsuits or recriminations yet. But it's hard to believe that debate and arguments over redistricting won't heat up and bog down the process at some point.
Does the casino bill really have a chance of passing? There's no doubt that one of the more enticing storylines of the 2012 session is the fate of the mega-casino bill sponsored by Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff and Rep. Eric Fresen.
In the last few weeks, the list of proponents and opponents has been growing (although Gov. Rick Scott has deliberately chosen to remain rather quiet about whether he would sign the bill).
After a series of workshops, Bogdanoff late last week filed a massive rewrite of the bill intended to try to win over critics and votes. The measure now includes a voter referendum option, including giving voters in local counties the option of deciding whether or not to let local dog and horse tracks add slot machines.
Usually high-profile legislative fights pitting deep-pocketed groups against each other result in nothing getting passed. One of the main axioms of the Florida Legislature is that it's 10 times easier to kill a bill than to pass a bill.
Right now many Capitol observers are anxious to see if the bill can actually make it out of its first committee and then actually get passed by the full Senate. The fact that the Florida House has shown no signs of seriously considering the bill has fed speculation that the legislation is doomed for this year.
Of course, sometimes major initiatives take more than one year (and when leadership changes). So part of the battle for this year may be just demonstrating to doubters that a fair number of legislators are willing to support the bill this time around. That could set the stage for its return in 2013.
What does Dean Cannon really want? The session is starting with a bit of uncertainty because Cannon has been reticent to discuss what he would like to see happen during his last session as House Speaker.
Cannon last year waited until the eve of session to let everyone know he wanted to pursue far-reaching changes to the judicial branch, including a proposal to break up the state Supreme Court into two separate branches. (In the end Cannon got a watered-down constitutional amendment that makes some changes but none as dramatic as he initially proposed.)
Heading into this session Cannon has basically insisted his main priorities are the budget and redistricting, or the two things that the state constitution requires the Legislature to do this year.
That gives Senate Republicans less leverage to use against Cannon in trying to get some of their priorities passed and makes it harder for dealmaking to occur. (And it's worth noting that Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel and the incoming House Speaker has sponsored zero bills so far this year as well. So there's limited leverage against him as well.)
How serious is Gov. Rick Scott's budget veto threat? Last month Scott did a turnabout on school funding. In less than one year he has gone from advocating a 10 percent cut in funding for schools to pushing a $1 billion increase and threatening to veto the entire budget unless there is a "significant" increase.
Initially Scott would not say what a "significant" increase is. But in later interviews, he said he likes $1 billion.
Scott has said his push for more school funding came after spending months listening to Florida voters who have told him education is a top priority. It may have also something to do with that fact that some in Scott's inner circle think that education cuts may have contributed a big part to his lagging poll numbers. Some public polls have backed this up, pointing out that some of other Scott's initiatives, including drug testing welfare recipients is popular.
The governor, however, relied on deep budget cuts in hospitals and health care spending in order to free up the money needed to increase funding for schools while also filling a nearly $2 billion budget gap. Such deep cuts may prove to be a hard sell to GOP legislators who are getting lobbied heavily by hospital officials who warn that the cuts will lead to layoffs.
So legislators must decide to either find other cuts to meet Scott's school funding goals - or they must pare back the increase sought by the governor to something more manageable. A much less likely scenario is that legislative leaders could shrug off Scott's threat since Republicans hold a supermajority in both the House and Senate and override a veto.
One other solution, of course, is to hope for extra revenue. And that's one advantage of potentially waiting for voting on a budget. If the economy continues to slowly recover, there's a chance that it will be easier to meet Scott's goal and avoid a confrontation.
What issue not on everyone's radar screen now will blow up? This is a reoccuring question because nearly every year there is a legislative initiative that seemingly comes out of nowhere and dominates debate and headlines in the final days of the session.
Part of it is due to the fact that the rules allow legislators to change bills at a moment's notice. Past examples include controversial bills dealing with abortion and elections. There are also some bills lurking out there that could quickly dominate part of this year's narrative. Drug-testing for state employees and another stab at mandating E-Verify for employers are just two such measures.
With so much attention concentrated on redistricting, it's easy to imagine a scenario where attention quickly shifts to something else if redistricting passes as easily as legislative leaders expect.
It seems that each session of the Florida Legislature is like a hurricane, with its path and intensity quite unlike the storm that preceded it.