House, Senate leaders agree to meet in June for special session

That was Step 1. Step 2 is agreeing on a budget. That may be harder.
Published May 6 2015
Updated May 7 2015

TALLAHASSEE — It's a start.

After dissolving the annual legislative session last week over a budget and health care impasse, House and Senate leaders on Wednesday agreed on one thing: the dates of the special session to finish their work.

In a joint news release, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, and Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, announced that they will convene a "tentatively scheduled" special session on June 1 and conclude it on June 20.

Lawmakers must return to the state capital to finish the budget by June 30, and integral to that decision is addressing the question of how much money from the federal government the state can expect to get to provide hospitals compensation for charity care under the Low Income Pool program, or LIP.

Disagreement over how to handle that money, which the federal government is phasing out, led to the stalemate. The Senate leaders want to expand Medicaid and draw down federal Affordable Care Act money to compensate for the loss of LIP money in the future. The House leadership refuses to expand Medicaid and prefers to rely on the LIP money for another year.

Still unresolved is the scope of the session and whether it will include any other issues outside of the budget. "A proclamation will be issued in the near future,'' the joint statement said.

The agreement on the session dates also avoids having Gov. Rick Scott call the session, and dictate the terms. Gardiner originally proposed the session schedule last week, and on Wednesday Crisafulli called the House's decision to agree with the Senate an accomplishment.

"While significant discussions lay before us, (Wednesday) marks a very good day for Florida as we have reached agreement on dates for a budget special session,'' Crisafulli said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Scott came up empty-handed Wednesday when he met with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell to remind her of the state's budgetary deadline and get her to approve the state's proposal for a waiver to continue receiving LIP funding.

"We want the HHS Secretary to approve our LIP waiver,'' Scott said in a statement after the meeting. "That is what we asked her to do today. … We need that approval immediately so we can start a special session and pass a budget."

Burwell's office responded that she asked the governor to consider expanding Medicaid but noted that the state's proposal for a waiver was inadequate. The statement also hinted that the state's Medicaid reimbursement rates are too low and indicated the state may be expecting more LIP money than its going to get.

Contact Mary Ellen Klas at Follow @MaryEllenKlas.