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Democrats pressure Florida Gov. Rick Scott to call special session on Medicaid

Published May 7, 2013

TALLAHASSEE — Pressure is mounting on Florida Gov. Rick Scott to call a special session to end the Legislature's impasse on Medicaid expansion.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and the 14 Democratic members of the Florida Senate sent separate letters Monday making the request, following House Democratic leader Perry Thurston's request for one Friday.

Scott isn't likely to oblige them if he doesn't think Republican lawmakers are ready to deal.

At stake is $51 billion in federal funding to provide insurance coverage to 1 million low-income Floridians. House Republicans blocked that from happening during the regular session, which ended Friday.

Neither Scott nor Senate President Don Gaetz have said they would support reconvening the Legislature to address the issue.

House Speaker Will Weatherford was cool to the idea when the Times/Herald spoke to him on Monday.

"I don't know what it would achieve," Weatherford said. "Unless there was an agreement of what the session would do, calling one doesn't make sense. We would have to have some agreement on policy, other than drawing down on federal funds."

Weatherford would not say what type of alternative plan he thinks would make a special session a good idea.

Scott may not be keen on calling a special session if he's not assured the Legislature is ready to compromise. In 2010, the Florida House famously adjourned a special session convened by then-Gov. Charlie Crist after only 49 minutes of work, rejecting his proposal to initiate a ballot referendum on offshore drilling.

In his letter, Nelson said Scott had a moral duty to urge the Legislature into action. "Your announcement last February — when you publicly declared you wouldn't be the one to 'deny' these Floridians this coverage — was seen by many as a 'watershed moment' for the nation's health-care bill," Nelson wrote.

"Now, the Legislature has done exactly what you said you wouldn't: it has denied these Floridians access to coverage. And now, only you have the chance to remedy the lawmakers' failure to expand Medicaid to these needy Floridians."

During the last week of the session, House Democrats forced every bill to be read aloud for two days in protest of the lack of a Medicaid deal. Minutes after the session adjourned, Thurston issued a statement saying Scott should require them to return "at the earliest convenience" and work out an agreement.

On Monday, Thurston said he would keep the pressure on Republican leaders because the state can't afford to wait until the 2014 session. "The time to do it is now," he said.

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