Sun Sentinel Broward Edition

State pol­i­tics


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.

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