Bousquet: This is a pivotal time for Tallahassee lawmakers

Published April 27 2015
Updated April 28 2015

Describing the state of affairs in the Florida Legislature, Senate President Andy Gardiner summed it up well.

"We are kind of where we are right now," Gardiner said.

That's where they are, all right. But state lawmakers must confront some pivotal questions this week, the final week of the 2015 regular session.

Here's what they agree on: They can't possibly resolve their $4 billion health care budget impasse by the time of a scheduled adjournment on Friday.

Beyond that, they don't have a clear path to get to the next step.

Here are the three most likely options:

• Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, can agree to extend the current session, up to June 30 if needed, the last day of the current fiscal year. They would decide which issues if any would be considered besides the budget.

• Gardiner and Crisafulli can adjourn the session and agree on a special session. Every bill pending at Friday's end of the regular session would be dead, and lawmakers would return to Tallahassee for the sole purpose of adopting a budget.

• Gardiner and Crisafulli can't agree on how to proceed and do nothing. Under that scenario, Gov. Rick Scott could call a special session without the Legislature's approval and he could dictate the agenda.

Gardiner doesn't want Scott to call a special session, but the House probably would like that. House leaders and Scott are in agreement that Medicaid should not be expanded.

The Senate, unlike the House, wants to extend the current session.

"I think everything is still on the table. We're prepared to stay until June 30, when the fiscal year ends, to get this resolved," Gardiner said.

Crisafulli said there's no point in extending the session unless budget progress is being made. Otherwise, he said, lawmakers should "reset," go home and return later to resolve the impasse.

"If were not getting to a point of where we're working through a reasonable approach to solve the budget impasse, then we would leave and reset and take a clear mind and come back," Crisafulli said.

Clearly, both sides are sticking to their script. Literally.

The Times/Herald got a copy of the remarks Crisafulli delivered to House Republicans at a controversial closed-door caucus last week. In the script, Crisafulli is quoted as saying: "We are where we are today."

One policy roadblock: The Senate sees the budget as inseparable from the questions of whether to expand Medicaid and how to help hospitals, who face the loss of a federal program that helps pay for the cost of treating the poor.

The House views the budget and those health care questions as completely separate, which suggests that the House would never agree to an extended or special session where Medicaid expansion is on the agenda.

"It's important to separate the policy from the budget. Understanding that is important for us, to make sure that those two issues are separated," Crisafulli said Friday.

As of Monday afternoon, Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said there were no substantive discussions under way.

Something's got to give. It will. It always does in Tallahassee, because time is running out.

"We have lived through special sessions before. There is a great deal of negative press," Crisafulli said, according to a copy of his remarks from the closed-door caucus. "However, we are on the right side of the issue and the right side of history."

Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263. Follow @stevebousquet.

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