House Democrats To Press Debate On Health Care, Education, Minimum Wage

Feb 20, 2014

(left to right) Future House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, current Minority Leader Perry Thurston and Leader Pro Tempore Mia Jones announce their priorities Feb. 20.
Credit Blaise Gainey / WFSU News

On Thursday, Florida Democratic House leaders announced policy priorities they say they won’t let go of without a fight this session: increasing education funding, raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and getting more Floridians health insurance. But Democrats likely face an uphill battle with almost twice their number of Republicans in the Legislature.

House Minority Leader Perry Thurston says Democrats want the education funding to include a new need-based component to the state’s Bright Futures college scholarship program.

He says Dems also want to continue the debate about getting more Floridians health insurance after the state chose not to take $51 billion in federal funding under the Affordable Care Act.

“Without a doubt, the Republicans are looking for a very smooth session. We think that the last thing that they want to address is the $51 billion elephant in the room," he says.

Future Minority Leader Mark Pafford adds, “There are people that will die in this state. And we as a Legislature--one and half weeks out of going into the regular session--every member of the Legislature knows that. So is that worthy of talking about? That’s our job as a minority.”

Thurston and Pafford accuse Republicans of election-year tricks. For one, they say rolling back 2009’s car registration "fee hike" is now being touted as a “tax cut.”

The Democrats say they also want to continue debating changes to the state’s Stand Your Ground law. And that the caucus does not support new corporate tax breaks. As he runs for re-election, Republican Gov. Rick Scott has proposed $500 million in tax cuts, including several for businesses.

Despite the challenge of being the minority party, the Democrats say their ultimate goal for the legislative session is for Floridians to know they were there pushing important conversations to happen.