Sunday, January 21, 2018
Politics

Theatrics at St. Pete council meeting; delegation talks of rejecting Medicaid expansion

Only in St. Petersburg

Theatrics are common when controversial votes go before the City Council. And Thursday was no different.

Council members and the public heard one resident quote Shakespeare and the late U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy while pointing his finger at officials. Then Frankenstein arrived.

Resident Howard Taylor played a PowerPoint presentation showing creepy pictures to mock the council members and the proposed Lens. A few officials cracked smiles; the public laughed and clapped at the skit.

During public-speaking periods, residents have three minutes to talk. The sky is the limit unless they use profanity. "I don't want to get into the business to be a censor," council Chairman Karl Nurse said.

Not to be outdone, council member Wengay Newton got in the act after a parade of residents spoke about the Lens.

With about 12 Boy Scouts in attendance, Newton told the audience that people sank to a "new low" when the Scouts spoke. The Scouts must attend a public meeting as a requirement to earn a merit badge.

The problem: The Scouts never spoke and sat in the back of the room.

Medicaid chest thumping

To hear the Pinellas delegation members tell it, the list of their accomplishments from the 2013 legislative session is long, but they'd prefer to be remembered for what they didn't do: expand Medicaid to cover a million uninsured Floridians.

At a meeting of the Pinellas GOP last week, members of the state Senate and House said they came under intense pressure, including targeted radio and TV ads, to accept the $51 billion the federal government offered the state to expand health insurance coverage. (They did, however, manage to keep their own health care costs down.) And in glowing terms, they described how each of them said "no," even though the governor and Republicans in the Senate were pushing for a different answer.

"The challenge of Medicaid was not easy," said Rep. Jamie Grant, who represents District 64, which straddles North Pinellas and Hillsborough. "On one side you had a feel-good story that said: 'Don't you believe that everybody should have access to health care?' Well, yeah I do. Do you think that the taxpayers and that future generations should be burdened with it, is a very different question.''

The meeting, held at the Feather Sound Country Club, was attended by state Sen. Jeff Brandes — the lone member of the Senate to vote against a plan to expand coverage using private insurers — as well as Reps. Larry Ahern, Ed Hooper, Kathleen Peters, and Grant.

Brandes thanked his colleagues in the House for rejecting the Senate's plan. When it comes to insurance, "if you want it, you pay for it," he told the crowd. "We did not obligate your kids and your grandkids to pay for an expensive Medicaid expansion that they would be paying for for generations."

Quote of the week

"People should be in the streets." — Maria Scruggs, one of three plaintiffs in a term-limits lawsuit that a circuit judge decided in favor of the county on Thursday. The suit could have removed four Pinellas commissioners from office, or prevented them from running again, but the judge's order said term limits did not apply to the commission. Scruggs said her side's loss had more to do with local politics than legal arguments.

Mark Puente can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow @markpuente on Twitter. Anna M. Phillips can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @annamphillips on Twitter.

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