BRANDON — Speaking at a gathering of local business people, Rep. Ross Spano insisted the state House wasn't "hard-hearted" because it voted against an expansion of Medicaid.
Spano, R-Dover, was among the representatives who shared stories and answered questions about two months of state legislative battles during the 2013 session at the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce's Legislative Wrap-up Luncheon Wednesday.
Spano, fellow state representatives Jake Raburn, R-Lithia, Dan Raulerson, R-Plant City, and state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, did a similar event at a breakfast in Plant City before making their way to Brandon for lunch.
Several guests at the Brandon event submitted questions regarding the failure to expand Medicaid and the decision to turn away $51 billion in federal health insurance aid.
The moderator combined them into one, over-arching question for each legislator to answer.
Spano, who was first up, took time to explain the problems the legislation faced and the different approaches the state Senate and House of Representatives each took. The House view, as Raburn explained, was that Florida simply couldn't afford to rely on federal money that might be depleted or run out in three or five years.
"What if someone gave you a $2 million dollar home and said for the first three years we're going to pay the mortgage for you," Raburn said. "And then after three years we're going to pay less of it, and then there's really no guarantee we're going to pay any of it at all."
Though the Legislature didn't reach a conclusion on Medicaid this session, Spano wanted residents to know that both the House and the Senate are committed to finding a solution.
"Please believe us, we're not hard-hearted," Spano said. "I think everybody should have medical care. The issue is what kind of care. Is it a government system that Medicaid has shown is broken, too expensive and out of control, or are we trying to come up with something that's better and still provides care?"
Lee called the pension system and Medicaid the issues that will define the trajectory of the budget over the next 10 to 20 years. He also quickly put to rest any rumors of a special legislative session being called to order.
"The Legislature will not, should not, will never go back into special session until we have some idea what we're going do when we get there," Lee said. "Until we get some consensus between the House speaker, the Senate president, our leadership teams and the governor's office on just what kind of program we're going to craft, it'd be awfully premature for us to proceed."
Each of the representatives served as freshmen legislators, facing the complications of state politics for the first time. Lee was back for his second stint as a state senator, having left the Senate in 2006 after serving as Senate president.
The three rookies each commented on the learning curve associated with their first year. For Raburn, the biggest frustration arose when seeing the politics of it all prevent good legislation from being passed.
"You'd like to think everyone in Tallahassee is there fighting for public policy, but realistically there are people there that don't necessarily have that as the top of their priorities," Raburn said. "As you're writing your bills, to have something you think is a good bill, good public policy, die in the process over personality issues, it's tough."
About 1,600 bills were filed this session, Raulerson said, but only 284 passed. Many others were combined, added as amendments or tabled for another year.
Each spoke with pride about the bills they sponsored and passed this year: Raburn's legislation on a K-12 education plan preparing graduates for college or vocational school, Raulerson's on stormwater drainage and Spano's on human trafficking.
Lee, who said he didn't focus on sponsoring as much legislation this time, was a valuable asset for the three freshmen as they looked for allies on the senate side.
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.