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Tales from Tallahassee: Dwight Dudley is a speck of blue in a sea of red

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It’s not easy being a Democrat in the Florida Legislature.

Most major initiatives get blocked by a sea of red and bills typically opposed by those few lawmakers on the left breeze right by despite vehement protest.

That’s where state Rep. Dwight Dudley’s at right now a little more than half way through this year’s legislative session.

To him, the biggest issue facing Democrats in the House this year, and even Republicans in the Senate, is Medicaid expansion and Low Income Pool funding.

The two are separate issues, but this year they are entwined. Florida receives LIP funding each year from the federal government to cover costs associated with uncompensated care – people who go to the hospital without insurance, but don’t pay for the visit.

That federal funding is set to evaporate. It makes up about $1 billion that will be lost.

Expanding Medicaid would soften that blow by putting 800,000 low-income Floridians into a health insurance plan. Once covered, those individuals would no longer be contributing to uncompensated care.

The Senate has crafted a plan to expand Medicaid and address the potential cost of losing LIP funding, but the House refuses to accept it.

“We’ve seen a display of hubris, of foolish pride, of machismo, that I don’t think we’ve seen so strongly demonstrated as ever before,” Dudley said. “I’ve heard some extraordinary numbers on how much they will lose a year and it is astronomical. We are looking at the floor dropping out. There’s a lot of uncompensated care.”

The business community, including the traditionally conservative Chamber of Commerce, has come out in favor of the Senate’s plan. Supporters have tried appealing to that side of the House by pointing out the blow hospitals will take if LIP evaporates and more Floridians aren’t insured.

But 80 House Republicans stand in the way.

The Federal government is expected to make a determination regarding LIP funding soon. Florida could retain some of the funding in that decision, but it’s unlikely funding levels will remain where they have been.

“I do have some dents in my hand from this process,” Dudley said. “Despite my frustration, I still have hope.”

Some of those dents in his hands come also from the legislature’s apparent flip-flop on what Dudley calls the “Utility Tax.” Utility companies like Duke Energy, the biggest culprit, are allowed, thanks to the handiwork of the Florida Public Service Commission, to charge advanced nuclear cost recovery fees.

They’re still charging ratepayers $3.2 billion for one broken power plant in Citrus County and one nonexistent and never-will-exist plant in Levy County.

Dudley has called for the “tax” to be repealed for years.

He was joined last year by Republicans sauntering down a fairly competitive campaign trail, but their shared concerns went belly up nearly the moment ballots were cast.

“There’s always an excuse, there’s always a justification, there’s always it’s the wrong time, it’s the wrong technology so they can burn every last crumb of coal every last drop of oil … It’s baloney,” Dudley said. “It’s like they never said they want to repeal the utility tax.”

The Republican-controlled House rejected his plan to do what only four months ago many said they supported.

But instead of ramming his head into the wall and ceding the issue to his conservative comrades, Dudley’s just going to side skirt them.

“I think we can work around the Legislature; the obstructionists,” Dudley said.

He met with a constitutional lawyer Friday in an attempt to fine tooth plans for a constitutional amendment – one that would outlaw advanced nuclear cost recovery fees.

He’s even created a 501c4 to go with it. Fundraising hasn’t started yet, but Dudley says it will.

But those two issues aren’t the only ones Dudley’s had to scoff at from his tiny bench of Democrats.

There’s the transgender bathroom bill. He doesn’t like that much.

Another, the gay adoption bill, Dudley sees as a direct attack on the LGBT community, and unconstitutional to boot.

“I’ve talked with numerous, excellent Republican lawyers and they’ve said straight away, this thing is dead on arrival,” he said.

Despite the fact that there are probably some dents in Dudley’s walls to go with the dents in his hands – figuratively speaking – he’s glad he’s up there in Tallahassee fighting the good fight on behalf of other Democrats.

“I know that if I weren’t here, it would be worse,” he said.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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