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Legislators, Lobbyists Prepare to Beat the Clock in Budget Special Session

May 29, 2015 - 2:15pm

Legislators and lobbyists are ready again to descend on Tallahassee, as the Florida Senate and House try to put together a budget, grapple with Medicaid expansion and tie up myriad loose ends during a special session that kicks off Monday.

While the Senate backs Medicaid expansion, Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida House remain against it. This deadlock wasn’t broken in the regular session, mandating the need for the special session which is scheduled to last until June 20. The state Constitution mandates a new Florida budget by July 1.

Americans for Prosperity (AFP) launched a new ad Friday, urging legislators to stand against Medicaid expansion.

"The Florida Senate's Medicaid expansion plan is wrong for Florida," said Chris Hudson, AFP’s Florida director. "The only thing that is certain is that Florida families who depend on this already bloated program will have an even harder time getting care and, like other states’ expansions, it could cost billions more than expected, ultimately forcing legislators to raise taxes or make cuts from other essential services."

The ad is currently running online but will soon be on TV stations across the state.

Supporters of Medicaid expansion have also been busy, with Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., holding a media event in Pompano Beach Thursday to urge the Legislature to stand with the Senate.

“Florida ranks 49th in the country in the number of low-income working parents who lack health coverage. They head to work every day knowing an illness or an injury could bankrupt their families,” Deutch noted on Thursday. “They are among the 800,000 Floridians statewide too poor to qualify for private insurance through healthcare.gov. They do, however, qualify for federal Medicaid expansion coverage, should our state Legislature reach a compromise over implementation. Nationwide, about 18 percent of Americans stuck in the coverage gap live in our state.”

New League of Women Voters of Florida President Pamela Goodman also waded into the debate on Medicaid expansion.

This week, Goodman called for legislators to “get down to work, stop posturing, and approve a budget that provides a path to health care coverage for 800,000 low-income workers” and praised the Senate for “proposing a new coverage plan” while condemning the “House leadership” for “stubbornly refusing to act.”

“It was unconscionable of the House to abruptly end its regular session three days early to avoid discussion of this issue and the Senate’s bipartisan plan,” Goodman added.

Hudson threw the blame back on the Senate for continuing to pursue Medicaid expansion. 

“Floridians don’t want to keep playing games with the Senate or with their health care,” Hudson insisted on Thursday. “Florida families deserve the best access and quality of care possible. That care is endangered if they have to keep playing the convoluted board game that is this regulatory environment. Obamacare has only resulted in doctor shortages, higher costs, and longer wait times. More of it simply doesn’t belong in Florida.”

AFP launched a mailer on Thursday, playing up the same theme Hudson did, slamming the Senate for playing the “health-care game" on Medicaid expansion.

But there are other issues in the special session besides Medicaid expansion and they garnered some attention this week. Florida TaxWatch released its “Budget Watch” report on Thursday and noted there are plenty of other issues outside of the budget that the Legislature should tackle.

"Health-care expansion is certainly the biggest obstacle delaying a state budget, but lawmakers also have to iron out many other differences in the multibillion-dollar House and Senate budget proposals," said Kurt Wenner, Florida TaxWatch’s vice president of research, on Thursday. "Compromises will be made and the final resolution for goals including per-student funding, tax relief and health-care spending is still uncertain."

"While many good public policy initiatives did not cross the finish line during the legislative session, lawmakers have a chance to create a responsible, transparent budget that meets the need of Floridians, and makes smart investments in the future of our state," said Dominic Calabro, the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch. "As lawmakers carefully determine how to best spend Florida taxpayers' hard-earned money, we hope that they will uphold their commitment to sufficiently review and deliberate all appropriations."

Florida TaxWatch showcased other matters in the Legislature during special session, including allowing advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs) and physician assistants (PAs) to write prescriptions. The group insists Florida will be able to reduce health-care costs if that bill passes.

Other concerns are also being pushed by groups with their own agendas. Environmental activists Defenders of Wildlife and Florida’s Water and Land Legacy will be rallying across the state Saturday, calling for legislators to approve more environmental spending.

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com or follow him on Twitter: @KevinDerbySSN

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