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ICYMI: Legislators agree to do budget, health care during session

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Florida’s Republican-led Legislature will return to the state Capitol in June and try to do what they couldn’t do during their 60-day session that crashed to a halt.

GOP legislative leaders announced late on Friday that they have come up with a long list of items they want to tackle during a 20-day special session, including a new state budget and even major healthcare changes.

The most pressing item is the budget since state government could be shut down if lawmakers fail to act by June 30. Gov. Rick Scott has already been warning about a shutdown and this week ordered state agencies to come up with a list of the state’s most critical services in case legislators cannot pass a budget.

But both House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner also decided to include in the formal session proclamation items being sought by both men including a package of nearly $700 million in tax cuts and a proposal to extend healthcare coverage to 800,000 Floridians.

It doesn’t mean that any of the proposals will pass during the session that starts on June 1, but it does mean that they are under consideration again.

“I am grateful Speaker Crisafulli has agreed to debate the critical healthcare challenges facing Florida,” Gardiner said in a memo to state senators. “I look forward to the opportunity to again make the case for the Senate’s free-market solution to coverage expansion.”

Crisafulli said in a statement that “with the progress that has been made” that he was “confident” legislators would pass a budget and that he was “optimistic that we will be able to provide significant tax relief.”

State Sen. Tom Lee, the Senate budget chief who was involved in the negotiations, said that reaching this first step showed that the “lines of communication seem to be open again.”

The regular legislative session slammed to a halt in late April after House members abruptly adjourned early due to a stalemate with the Senate over whether to expand Medicaid.

Dozens of bills dealing with everything from environmental spending to reforms in the state’s scandal-plagued prison system crashed as a result of the impasse. Senators lashed out at House members and Senate Democrats filed a lawsuit over the House actions. The state Supreme Court ruled that the House violated the Constitution, but said there was no “beneficial result” in forcing House members to return.

The divide between the two chambers was sparked by the likely loss of more than $1 billion in federal aid to hospitals that is  set to expire this summer. Hospitals are predicting severe cutbacks if the money is lost.

But federal officials have told Florida that it wants the state to consider expanding Medicaid insurance as part of the agreement to extend the hospital funds. But both House leaders and Scott are opposed and Scott has sued the federal government over the issue.

The agreement over the special session anticipates a robust discussion on health care that not only includes Medicaid expansion but healthcare changes pushed by the House that would affect doctors, nurses and hospital operations. The agreement also calls for implementing an amendment passed by voters that requires the state to earmark hundreds of millions of dollars for conservation programs.

Lee cautioned that there’s no guarantee any of the proposals will pass.

“There’s been no deal cut ensuring passage of anything,” Lee said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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