House Adjourns 3 Days Early Over Healthcare Fight; Major Policy Bills Are Dead

Apr 28, 2015

Credit WFSU

The Florida House has adjourned for the 2015 lawmaking session. The move comes as the legislature was gridlock over whether to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

The Florida legislature – at odds over the expansion of Medicaid – abruptly ended its session three days early on Tuesday, leaving hundreds of bills unrelated to health care unfinished.

Senate President Andy Gardiner says he’s disappointed with the House’s decision.

“The House didn’t win, the Senate didn’t win and the taxpayers lost. There are a lot of issues that aren’t going to make it, and it’s unfortunate.”

But House Speaker Steve Crisafulli says it was the right thing to do.

“We’ve made every effort we can to negotiate with the Senate on a budget and at this time they’re standing strong on Medicaid expansion.”

Shortly after the adjournment, Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, filed a lawsuit against the federal government over healthcare funding, to the derision of Senate leadership.

“I don’t think it changes anything. Once he announced he was going to file a lawsuit against the federal government, I think everyone sort of shut down and lawyered up and all that sort of thing,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee.

Here’s a brief overview of the fight: The Republican-led state House is firmly against Medicaid expansion, while the Republican-led state Senate supports it. Scott once supported expansion but is now against it.

And the federal government raised the stakes of the battle by refusing to negotiate on the renewal of a $2 billion fund called the Low Income Pool that reimburses hospitals for unpaid bills.

“The pool money was about helping low-income people have access,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell told WFSU in January. “I think we believe an important way to extend that coverage to low-income individuals is what passed in the Affordable Care Act, is this issue of Medicaid expansion.”

Scott’s suit says it’s a case of coercion – Florida must expand Medicaid or lose $2 billion – and that was expressly forbidden by the Supreme Court when it upheld the health law in 2012.

House Appropriations Chief Richard Corcoran recently delivered a 20-minute speech against Medicaid to fellow lawmakers.

“Here’s my message to the Senate: They want us to come dance? We’re not dancing,” Corcoran said. “We’re not dancing this session, we’re not dancing next session, we’re not dancing next summer. We’re not dancing. And if you want to blow up the process because you think you have some right that doesn’t exist? Have at it.” 

Scott also tried to pressure the legislature to the bargaining table to craft a state budget. He threatened to veto Senate priorities. But the Senate remained unmoved.

Now, the one task the legislature is mandated to do—a budget—remains incomplete, and major priority bills, such as prison reform, Amendment One funding, and Medical Marijuana, are dead. So are bills that would expand educational opportunities for children with disabilities.

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Update 4:47 p.m.: Governor Rick Scott is going forward with a lawsuit against the federal government over healthcare funding. The move came after the Florida House abruptly adjourned over the Medicaid dispute with the Senate, and Senate President Andy Gardiner says he’s disappointed.

“The House didn’t win, the Senate didn’t win and the taxpayers lost. There are a lot of issues that aren’t going to make it, and it’s unfortunate," he said.

But House Speaker Steve Crisafulli says it was the right thing to do.

 “We’ve made every effort we can to negotiate with the Senate on a budget and at this time they’re standing strong on Medicaid expansion.”

The House’s decision to adjourn means there is no budget for the upcoming fiscal year, and top priority reform bills to Florida’s prisons, and water issues, remain un-addressed.

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Update: Here's a transcript of House Speaker Steve Crisafulli's comments to House lawmakers on the chamber's decision to go home early:

I want to thank the Florida House for their commitment to the 2015 Work Plan joint agenda with the Senate. The Florida House passed legislation that covered every principle in the joint plan.

During session, the House worked tirelessly to implement the Work Plan developed in partnership with the Senate to pave a stronger future for Florida families.

Together, the Florida House passed bills to cut taxes by $690 million, create a comprehensive water policy bill, establish a transparent structure for Amendment 1 funding, reduce student testing while maintaining accountability (signed into law), lower tuition, strengthen families by promoting adoptions (on the Governor’s desk), and secure pathways to economic independence for persons with disabilities. I firmly believe that each of these bills will greatly benefit Floridians.

Despite our differences on Medicaid expansion, it is noteworthy that the House and Senate appear to have found common ground on long contentious issues such as PSC reform, ALF reform, comprehensive Department of Corrections reform, mental health reform, and Grandparents’ Rights (sent to the Governor).

We look forward to returning to Tallahassee for a special session to complete our work on the budget prior to the July 1 deadline.

The decision by the Florida House means  priority bills that haven't gone through both chambers, are now dead.

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