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Today in Tallahassee: Senate budget, House Medicaid reform

TALLAHASSEE — A day after the Florida House held a 12-hour meeting to take up budget issues, the Senate's Budget Committee has scheduled a nine-hour hearing to take up its spending and pension reform plans, as well as dozens of budget-related bills.

In the House, the focus turns to Medicaid reform, where the bill to steer Florida's Medicaid patients into managed care programs will be voted on by the full chamber.

The Senate Budget Committee agenda includes not only the $69 billion budget but 40 other bills that detail how the Senate will handle policies from retirement benefits to juvenile detention facilities.

For example, a 177-page bill on pension reform — which has not been heard by any committee — was introduced this week to substitute for a compromise measure worked out by the Senate Government Accountability Committee. The bill will require all 655,000 state and local employees in the Florida Retirement System to pay 3 percent of their salary into the retirement account to offset the state's $3.8 billion budget deficit.

The measure will also end cost of living adjustments for future beneficiaries and close the DROP program that encourages employees close to retirement age to put money into savings and retire early.

The Senate plan also closes the traditional pension plan, known as the defined benefit plan, to all workers except those in high-risk occupations, such as police, fire, prison guards and paramedics, and it raises the retirement age for all new employees.

The Senate benefits cuts will result in $1.1 billion in savings, including $500 million just by eliminating all future cost of living adjustments.

The Senate plan is in sharp contrast to a more modest package of cuts that came out of the Senate Government Accountability Committee. But committee chairman Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, said the proposal will continue to be refined in the remaining month of the legislative session.

"The pension bill is going to be going all the way down to the end," he said. "We spent hours and hours of committee hearings and tried to be sensitive to state workers. We also have to realize the state has a budget crisis."

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@miamiherald.com.

Today in Tallahassee: Senate budget, House Medicaid reform 03/31/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 31, 2011 7:00am]

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