With the legislative session under way, the Republican majority’s legislative plans are beginning to take shape. Minority leadership got in on the action Thursday stressing the need for better water and anti-discrimination legislation.
With solid majorities in both chambers, majorities in every committee, and the Governor’s pen on its side, it would seem the Republican Party is in a position to dictate policy throughout the state. But with more members comes more opinions and in a number of public and less-public disagreements, it’s become clear the majority isn’t completely unified of purpose. Republicans rejected Gov. Rick Scott’s choice for a party head, and more recently, discussions over the low income pool, or LIP, which sends funds to hospitals for treating low income patients, have given rise to renewed debate over expanding Medicaid. In the lower chamber, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli (R-Merritt Island) is adamant LIP funding and Medicaid are separate.
“Some may say, well just do Medicaid expansion that’ll take care of the LIP problem,” Crisafulli says. “That is not the case, those are two totally different issues from the funding standpoint.”
But in the Senate, some lawmakers are looking to get their hands on the federal funding that would come with Medicaid expansion. At the same time, some have looked askance at House plans for Amendment 1. Senate President Andy Gardiner (R- Orlando) says there’s plenty of time for compromise, but he feels the Senate plan is better.
“Ours is more comprehensive, ours has a lot more of the oversight, it has the science based decisions, it has the bike trails and the access to public lands, the land management,” Gardiner says. “Those things are really important.”
But water is a bipartisan issue, and Gardiner’s sentiments are echoed by House Minority Leader Mark Pafford (D-West Palm Beach).
“It’s been described as the comprehensive water bill, and it’s missing one thing—it’s not comprehensive,” Pafford says.
But Pafford is more perturbed with the choice by House leadership to rush the bill—sending it to the floor after just one committee stop.
“We had two committees that, in my view, were bypassed on the water bill,” Pafford says. “Both Ag and Natural resources committees, one dealing with policy, one dealing with appropriations.”
Meanwhile, Democratic Senators put emphasis on their efforts to fight discrimination.
“We have a great ability being able to force the rules as Democrats here in the Senate to stop discriminatory bills like that,” Sen. Darren Soto (D-Orlando) says in reference to a controversial bill filed by Rep. Frank Artiles (R-Miami). The bill makes it illegal for transgender men and women to use bathrooms designated for the opposite sex.
“[They] not only hurt and discriminate against our citizens, but give our state a bad name,” Soto continues, “and so we look forward to crushing that bill if it ever makes it over here.”
But his statement points to the strategic realities of a minority party—it’s far easier to block legislation than pass it. But Senate Minority leader Arthenia Joyner points to her caucus’ fortitude in the face of failure, and notes the courts have been on their side for issues like welfare drug testing.
“On the scale of things, this is a win, and we’re seeking other wins, you know you have to continue to fight, and that’s what we do, every day, we’ve never stopped,” Joyner says.
The Department of Children and Families chose Tuesday not to continue its appeal to reinstate a law championed by the governor to drug test welfare recipients.
Senate Democrats also introduced measures that would prohibit employment discrimination based on pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender, increase minority police recruits, and encourage the hiring of former felons.