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Democratic Party chair says its ‘completely reprehensible’ to play politics with special needs bills

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In a growing rift between the chambers, the House of Representatives has sidelined a number of special needs bills pushed by Senate President Andy Gardiner and agreed to in a joint priorities’ agenda by both chambers before the start of session.

Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant blasted the move in a press release saying it was completely reprehensible. Tant is a mother of a special needs child. “Some things are beyond partisan politics and political grandstanding,” Tant said in a press release.

The House of Representatives released its last special orders calendar of the year Monday night. The Miami Herald noted the the calendar does not include priorities the Senate passed the first day of the 2015 session. including SB 7022 and SB 7030. Another bill, SB 602, was amended by the House on April 23 but Gardiner said the Senate had some concerns with the strike everything amendment.

The Legislature has passed CS/SB 642, the ABLE program or Florida Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE). It allows individuals with disabilities to save money without losing their eligibility for state and federal benefits. ABLE accounts resemble in some respects the federal 529-college savings plan that are tax-advantaged savings accounts. It is made possible under the federal ABLE act, championed by U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, a former president of the Florida Senate.

Medicaid and healthcare financing have been the divisive issue of the 2015 session and the Legislature has not been able to pass a budget. The Florida Senate has made expanding Medicaid to the uninsured and working poor a priority as well as the renewal of the federal Low Income Pool program and included both issues in its proposed spending plan for 2015-16.  The House has held steady against Medicaid expansion. As a result the chambers are more than $4 billion apart on spending proposals for the upcoming fiscal year.

The General Appropriations Act is the one must-pass bill of the year but the Legislature won’t be able to pass a budget by May 1, the scheduled end of the 2015 regular legislative session.

Gardner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli unveiled a joint legislative agenda before the start of the 2015 session. The agenda contained a number of issues that the chambers had agreed to pass. Medicaid expansion was not included in the list.

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