Florida Legislature can afford these three things | Editorial
These are cost effective solutions to address important challenges.
Aerial drone image from Piney Point in Palmetto earlier this month.
Aerial drone image from Piney Point in Palmetto earlier this month. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Apr. 23
Updated Apr. 23

It’s crunch time in Tallahassee, as lawmakers enter the final week of this year’s legislative session. The House and Senate are split on a range of issues, from education, infrastructure and health care policy to how to spend billions in federal pandemic relief. Lawmakers, though, should rally around three spending priorities that have bipartisan appeal, and where the state’s investment would produce long-term gains for families, the economy and the state’s natural resources.

Healthier moms and families. House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, won bipartisan praise and rightly so for backing a plan that would extend the amount of time new mothers could be eligible for Medicaid. Providing coverage for up to one year, rather than the current 60 days, could significantly boost the health of the mother and baby alike. The measure would give mothers extended access to health care visits, mental health services and additional follow-up care, helping to stabilize households, especially in poor, minority and at-risk communities. About 97,600 women annually could be covered, and Florida would pay only about $92 million of the $240 million in costs for the state-federal program. This is a cost-efficient idea that serves a pressing need, and the Senate should welcome the chance for bipartisan accomplishment.

Unemployment that works. Lawmakers are poised to spend an additional $36 million on Florida’s unemployment system, which collapsed spectacularly during the coronavirus pandemic, keeping millions of dollars from churning more quickly through the ravaged economy. The question is: Where to spend it? Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, wants to spend the money processing a backlog of claims and ensuring that the millions of cases filed comply with state and federal laws. The House would spend the money on upgrading the troubled unemployment system, known as CONNECT, which has been plagued by problems since its launch in 2013. Lawmakers should fund both. Getting money to claimants is critical for families and the economy. Florida also needs to ensure that claims are legitimate, and that its system can withstand heavy demand in the future.

Clean and close Piney Point. The danger that unfinished business poses to human lives, property and public health was exposed most recently by the wastewater spill at Piney Point. Authorities believe a torn liner in a reservoir at the closed Manatee County phosphate plant was responsible for the breach that threatened more than 300 homes near the site. Fearing a flood would rip through the community, officials diverted more than 200 million gallons of highly-nutrient wastewater into Tampa Bay. This catastrophe-in-waiting has existed long enough; state officials are right that Piney Point needs to be cleaned up and closed for good. Now the hard part — providing the funding. Lawmakers should make at least a hefty down payment on the $200 million estimated to clean and close the site, even as state lawyers look to hold the private operators responsible.

We understand the horse-trading that’s essential to getting deal-making done in the final days of the legislative session. But these are three fairly affordable initiatives that promise enormous payback.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.