Florida Senate and House agree to scope of special session

Senate and House leaders agree to discuss a budget, Medicaid and other topics in June.
The Florida House of Representatives chamber was empty, Wednesday, 4/29/15, except for a group of pages who were given a history lesson of the Florida House. [SCOTT KEELER   |   TIMES]
The Florida House of Representatives chamber was empty, Wednesday, 4/29/15, except for a group of pages who were given a history lesson of the Florida House. [SCOTT KEELER | TIMES]
Published May 15 2015
Updated May 16 2015

TALLAHASSEE — In their first tangible sign of progress in weeks, legislative leaders Friday set the agenda for a June special session to include a budget, Medicaid expansion, tax cuts and several other issues.

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, issued a joint proclamation that specifies issues to be considered during a three-week session starting at 1 p.m. June 1.

Included in the list of issues is the Senate's modified version of Medicaid expansion, a health insurance exchange that relies on federal Medicaid money to expand health care to 800,000 uninsured Floridians.

House leaders have said that the Senate plan had no chance of passage, but its inclusion in the proclamation is a sign that it will be debated at least once more.

"I am grateful Speaker Crisafulli has agreed to debate the critical health care challenges facing Florida," Gardiner said in a statement. "I look forward to the opportunity to again make the case for the Senate's free-market solution to coverage expansion."

Friday's proclamation does not resolve the budget stalemate. No agreements have been reached, only a broad road map of what will be covered in the session.

"This is going to evolve," Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said, calling the situation "far too fluid for me to predict what's going to succeed."

The session agenda also will include discussion of spending one-third of documentary stamp proceeds on voter-approved water and land protections known as Amendment 1; elimination of a certificate of need program for hospital bed expansion and allowing more licensed medical professionals to write prescriptions, both priorities of House Appropriations Chairman Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes; a coast-to-coast network of bicycle trails, a priority of Gardiner's; and a package of tax cuts that's important to Republican lawmakers and to Gov. Rick Scott.

Legislative leaders acted in part to pre-empt Scott, who said he would convene a special session on his terms by Monday if lawmakers did not act.

"We appreciate the Legislature's work. We will review it," said Scott's spokesman, Jackie Schutz.

Scott has ordered state agencies to draw up plans to continue critical state services if lawmakers fail to pass a budget, and he has raised the specter of a "government shutdown," which could result in state workers not being paid.

A special session became necessary after the two chambers failed to agree on a budget last month in a stalemate over health care spending that forced an ugly and premature end to the regular session.

The Legislature is required each year to pass a budget that must be signed by the governor by midnight June 30.

The Senate and House have not yet agreed on the amounts of money for various programs, but Gardiner and Crisafulli said they will before June 1.

"Florida will have a balanced budget by June 30," Gardiner said. "Narrowing the set of issues to those outlined in today's proclamation enables us to focus on the critical work before us and to meet our constitutional obligation in the open and transparent manner the people of Florida expect."

Crisafulli called the joint proclamation "an important milestone" and thanked Gardiner "for his partnership in developing the scope of our work during the upcoming special session."

"Although we differ on policy approaches regarding health care, the House welcomes the opportunity to have a vigorous debate over the issue," he continued.

Martha Baker, a registered nurse in Miami and president of SEIU Local 1991, a health care workers' union, called Friday's development "promising."

"Medicaid expansion is connected to the LIP program," Baker said, referring to the low-income pool, a $2.2 billion federal-state program that reimburses hospitals for uncompensated care. The federal government has told Florida the program will end this year, creating a budget shortfall that some believe can be filled only by expanding Medicaid.

Not included in the list of special session items is a Crisafulli priority to overhaul state water policy, which had drawn criticism from environmentalists.

Times/Herald staff writers Michael Auslen, Kathleen McGrory and Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report. Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263. Follow @stevebousquet.

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