Halfway through session, speed is a factor as legislators make dramatic shifts in policy
Legislators are at the halfway point of their 60-day session and are on track to make dramatic shifts in policy across the board in Florida. The sweeping shift is accompanied by a fast pace. For example, dozens of substantive policy proposals that will affect the budget were rolled out in the Senate Budget Committee last week in more than 40 bills.
One of them, a bill to cap the state contribution for health insurance at $6,000 had the effect of forcing families making less than $40,000, who now use the most comprehensive coverage, to pay $8,000 of their salary into health insurance. That would come on top of a proposed 3 percent salary cut to pay for retirement. The proposal was modeled after a plan by Gov. Rick Scott, using language provided by the governor's office. But when Senate Budget Chief J.D. Alexander discovered the impact of the measure in committee on Thursday, he pulled the bill. A more modest proposal that would require employees to contribute at much smaller rates was approved by the committee on Friday.
In two big policy shifts affecting the budget this year, there have been hours of hearings: Medicaid reform and pension reform. But after the Senate Governmental Oversight Committee spent hours listening to testimony on the impact of the pension benefits cuts to workers, they proposed a bill that would have limited the effects of the cuts on the lowest paid workers, and recommended no cuts to the more than 65 percent of the state work force making less than $40,000 a year.
With little warning, that idea was scotched completely when the Senate Budget Committee released its budget. It unveiled another bill that instead proposed instead an across-the-board salary cut of 3 percent to pay for retirement.
All this serves to illustrate what David Murrell, president of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, worries is happening often this session. "When skating on thin ice, safety is in speed,'' he said. “On some of these issues, these folks don’t want the public to catch up."
There are just some of the major policy shifts the Republican-led Legislature is pushing in the final weeks of their 60-day session. Others include dramatically changing the way the state handles abortion, courts, growth and the environment.
“You’ve got a very conservative governor, president, and speaker, so they’ve gone down some roads that people have kind of been afraid to go down before,’’ said Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton.