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Senate’s FHIX 2.0 proposal advances in the House — for now

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After an hours-long procession of skeptical questions from House Republicans, state Rep. Mia Jones led the Senate’s so-called “FHIX 2.0” bill — SB 2A, a bill to expand health coverage to Florida’s more than 800,000 uninsured via private plans largely funded by the federal government — to a procedural milestone, as the bill was rolled over for a 3rd reading, in legis-speak.

“Today’s debate made it clear that there are still a lot of questions among members — some legitimate, some simply ideological — but the one thing that was very clear is if we don’t do anything, then we’re going to be back next session trying to tackle the same questions. I don’t know how you continue to fill those voids,” Jones said, referring to the substantial projected Low Income Pool-related budget gap.

The move means the bill can be considered for final approval, which will occur tomorrow before the full House. The Senate passed the bill yesterday by a vote of 33-3, but the prognosis for the measure’s passage in the House is bleak.

Both state Rep. Mark Pafford, the leader of the Democratic caucus, which supports the FHIX proposal — and Jones, the Democrats’ Leader Pro Tempore, were resigned on Thursday afternoon that despite Speaker Steve Crisafulli‘s pledge that he would not pressure members of the GOP caucus to oppose the measure, the “Yea” column is likely to fall well short of a majority.

Both Pafford and Jones estimated the number of Republicans that may break away with their ravenously anti-FHIX cohort at around 20. That possibly rosy projection would put the bill’s supporters at somewhere in the low 50s, short of the required majority.

The foremost upshot of today’s movement may be that it takes the House another step toward being able to work on a budget.

The House and Senate budget proposals were some $4 billion apart when Crisafulli abruptly moved to adjourn Sine Die back on April 28, three days before the formal end of Session, leaving the Senate to toil in Tallahassee alone, many bills dying along the way.

Senate budget chief Tom Lee told reporters yesterday that he and his House counterpart Richard Corcoran have begun informal discussions over how to bring the two measures together in order to pass a unified General Appropriations Act for the governor’s consideration per their constitutional obligation to do so.

Lee predicted “there will be a pruning” of member-introduced budget items, setting an ominous tone ahead of the talks.

Senate President Andy Gardiner said in remarks Wednesday he expects budget conference to begin late Friday or Saturday.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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