Sun Sentinel Broward Edition
A roundup of the previous week in state government, compiled by the News Service of Florida.
Punching out early
The previous week had seemed, at least briefly, to offer hope that lawmakers would be able to strike a deal before too much time had passed. After all, they were swapping offers on the outlines of a budget, which would then be filled in by joint House-Senate committees.
But that work stopped last weekend, and by Tuesday, the House had apparently had enough.
Shortly after 1 p.m. that day, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, issued a “quorum call” meant to get House members back in the chamber. Once they were there, the speaker said the House had achieved all it could during the regular session and there was no need to continue to work so long as the Senate insisted on passing an alternative to Medicaid expansion.
“I made a promise to you when you elected me to be your speaker that I’d never ask you to vote for something that I wouldn’t vote for myself,” said Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island. “Accordingly, I will not force anyone to expand Medicaid. And so for now, we stand at an impasse with the Senate. ... I do not see a need to keep you here waiting around, away from your families, away from your businesses, until the Senate decides they are ready to negotiate.” And then, they left. Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said “nobody won” with the House’s decision and decided to press on.
“We will be here tomorrow, and we will do our job,” he said to a standing ovation from his Senate colleagues. “It’s what the taxpayers expect of us. And that’s what we will do.”
So the Senate went about its business. Which mostly consisted of sending bills to a House that was not there to receive them, while savaging House leaders for good measure.
Senate Republicans also questioned whether the House move was legal, under an obscure provision of the state Constitution requiring both chambers to agree to any adjournment of more than 72 hours. Senate Democrats took things a step further, asking the Florida Supreme Court to order House members to return. The court declined to step in — but a majority of the court joined a decision by Justice Barbara Pariente saying the House didn’t play by the rules.
Legislature, heal thyself?
With the regular session over, the House and the Senate had to try to move onto the mechanics of a special session to solve the remaining health-care issues: what to do about a $2.2 billion program, set to expire June 30, that provides funding to medical providers, and whether to spend $2.8 billion in Medicaid expansion money to help low-income Floridians purchase private insurance.
Gov. Rick Scott tried to take the initiative Thursday by laying out his parameters for a special session.
Scott, who opposes Medicaid expansion, said he hopes federal officials will eventually approve his administration’s request to continue the Low Income Pool — the $2.2 billion pot of money that might soon run out.
“However, we should begin preparing a budget in the interim that could be taken up in a special session without any LIP funding and without any expansion of Obamacare,” Scott said. “I look forward to continuing to work with Senate and House leaders in the weeks ahead to address critical funding needs and identify when and how we can direct over $1 billion in surplus state tax revenue back to the Florida citizens who earned it.”
Legislative leaders didn’t exactly rush to embrace the proposal.
“When you really start looking at how you do a budget, how you do all these other things that are being advocated for, when you have a $2.2 billion hole with no answer — I’m not sure how responsible that is,” Gardiner said.
So the Senate president wrote a letter to Crisafulli calling for the two chambers to hold a special session beginning June 1 to resolve the budget impasse. The Senate president held out hope that federal officials might get back to the state on how much it can expect to receive in LIP funding.
The walking dead
The House’s decision to leave the building, and the significant policy differences that lawmakers didn’t really have time to work out, ended up killing some big-ticket items in the session.
A push to reform the state’s embattled prisons agency was one casualty, though senators vowed not to drop the issue. One of the key disagreements was that the House’s prison measure lacked an oversight commission included in a Senate plan (SB 7020). But Gardiner said he will dispatch his own committee to investigate problems in the corrections system.
“We will put our corrections committee on the road within a couple of weeks and they will go and do their own investigations. I can subpoena people. We’re not done with that,” Gardiner said.
The Senate approved its version of a water-policy bill with the hope that some of the issues will be considered when lawmakers get back together for a special session, but the measure itself died. Also dead: a revival of a tax-incentive program to attract film and television production to Florida and rules for app-based transportation services like Uber and Lyft.
A proposal that would have boosted health and safety standards for earlyeducation programs (SB 7006 and HB 7017) died for the second straight year. And a sweeping proposal (SB 7068 and HB 7119) to expand mental-health and substance-abuse services was instead swept away.