Legislative budget panel accepts ObamaCare money; Gaetz and Negron vote no
The state Legislative Budget Commission is ordinarily a sleep-inducing group that rubber-stamps state agencies' requests for mid-year spending authority. But a small federal grant in the Department of Health stoked a passionate debate Wednesday.
In the end, the commission approved a request by Gov. Rick Scott's administration to accept a $3.4-million grant under the federal Affordable Care Act to help at-risk families by providing home visits by professionals who will steer them to various services. The grant is a requirement for states seeking Race to the Top early-childhood learning money, which Scott also favors.
The panel approved the grant on a voice vote, with Sens. Joe Negron of Stuart and Don Gaetz of Niceville voting no. "I don't think it's proper that we wrap ourselves in the flag of low educational achievement, addressing poverty, helping with domestic violence and dealing with addiction, since this program provides no services that actually assist people," Gaetz said.
Two Department of Health officials were doing a lackluster job of explaining the need for the grant until a member of Scott's budget team, Jane Johnson, stepped to the podium and offered an impassioned speech on why the grant makes sense. Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, urged lawmakers to vote for the grant to not "damage" Florida's ability to qualify for up to $100-million in Race to the Top money.