Going, going, gone: Highlighting which bills died at end of session

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State lawmakers had a week-long funeral for proposals to expand health coverage to tens of thousands of low-income Floridians.

But as the legislative session ended Friday, piles of other bills met the same fate, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

The House, for example, let die a Senate proposal that would have given motorists a break on their vehicle-registration fees. The rub: It would have required eliminating a longstanding tax credit for insurance companies.

Other dead bills ranged from a measure to overhaul the Florida High School Athletic Association to a proposal to change sentencing laws for juveniles who commit murder or other serious crimes.

Also dying were a bill that would have made it harder to seek punitive damages in lawsuits against nursing homes, proposals to revamp the regulation of assisted-living facilities and an attempt to pass what had become known as the “anti-Sharia law” bill.

Each session, hundreds of bills die, some without even getting heard in a committee. But perhaps the most-controversial issue of this session — expanding health coverage — died a slow, public death before getting put out of its misery Friday.

Legislative leaders made clear throughout the week that the prognosis was not good for reaching agreement on such a plan. House and Senate Republicans decided weeks ago they wouldn’t expand Medicaid to carry out the Affordable Care Act, but they took vastly different approaches in trying to come up with an alternative.

That didn’t stop House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, from immediately reiterating a call Friday night to hold a special session to take up the issue again. House Democrats and Gov. Rick Scott backed a Senate bill that would have used federal Medicaid money to offer private health-insurance to roughly 1 million people, but House Republicans rejected the federal money and proposed a smaller-scale program that would have offered state subsidies.

“Despite ample opportunities to pass a bipartisan health care solution that enjoys the backing of Republican Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Senate, House Republican leadership dropped the ball,” Thurston said.

But not everyone was unhappy that a Medicaid expansion and the Senate health proposal failed. The conservative James Madison Institute issued a statement Friday night pointing to potential problems with the Affordable Care Act and praising the House for not getting pressured into a “rash decision.”

“In this case, taking no action instead of the wrong action was a wise decision by Florida’s leadership,” Bob McClure, president and CEO of the institute, said in the statement. “Expanding a badly flawed program such as Medicaid — which already consumes an inordinate share of the state budget — would not even necessarily benefit those whom it’s intended to help.”

Some of the issues that died Friday were tangled in broader bills that died. For example, the Senate included the proposal to reduce vehicle-registration fees in an omnibus insurance bill that never got taken up in the House. 

But the anti-Sharia law bill (HB 58), which would restrict courts from applying foreign law in family-related cases, was publicly put to rest Friday morning by Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, after it failed to clear a procedural hurdle Thursday. Gaetz singled out bill sponsor Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, for trying to get the measure passed.

“Senator Hays did all he could to advance the bill,” Gaetz said.

But the Anti-Defamation League, which opposed the bill, had a less-charitable view, issuing a news release saying the Senate “sidestepped embarrassment for Florida” by preventing the measure from moving forward. While the bill was dubbed the “anti-Sharia law” and was widely perceived to target Islamic law, the Anti-Defamation League said the measure would have prevented Florida from recognizing divorces granted in Israel to Jewish couples.

撤assage of this bill would be another unnecessary, legislatively manufactured inanity for the State,” said David Barkey, the group’s national religious freedom counsel.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.