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Court fight pits Bush against state lawmakers

Lawyers representing state lawmakers will square off against Gov. Jeb Bush in a courtroom the same week that the Legislature will take a second stab at balancing the state budget.

The end result of the legal showdown will determine whether school boards, county governments and nonprofit organizations have to come up with millions of dollars to make sure that poor children get health care.

Bush sued lawmakers four months ago, charging that several provisions they included in the budget this year were illegal and violated the state Constitution.

One example was an attempt by Senate leaders to take state road money away from Leon County unless county officials removed speed bumps on a road leading to the Tallahassee airport.

That provision and several other disputed measures included in the budget were settled out of court in late September. Attorneys for the Legislature conceded that the speed bump requirement was unconstitutional, and it won't be enforced now.

But Bush and legislative leaders remain at odds over a provision that would require the Florida Healthy Kids Corp. to dip into its surplus money to help cover costs.

That will be the issue in a Tallahassee courtroom on Nov. 28, a day after lawmakers begin their second special session to balance the budget.

The first session ended in a deadlock, with the Senate and the House at odds over how to balance tax cuts and budget cuts.

Healthy Kids, a nonprofit agency created in 1990, provides health insurance to nearly 214,000 poor children across Florida.

Lawmakers want Healthy Kids to use its own money this year instead of asking that school boards, nonprofit organizations and county governments pay nearly $12-million as a "local match" in order to participate.

Bush opposes eliminating the matching funds, saying local groups need to pay, even at a time when school boards and county governments are bracing for a loss of state money because of the $1.3-billion budget deficit.

But social service advocates say it is wrong to ask school districts and county governments to contribute when Healthy Kids has a surplus that the Legislature estimates is at least $28.2-million.

Unlike state agencies, the nonprofit organization does not have to return unspent state money at the end of the budget year.

"It would be one thing if there was no money available in that program," said Karen Woodall, who represents the Children's Health Coalition. "With the Healthy Kids board sitting on a surplus, it becomes particularly outrageous."

Healthy Kids is available to children ages 5 to 18 and their siblings. A family of four whose income is between $17,650 and $35,300 a year usually pays $15 a month to be enrolled in Healthy Kids.