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The day that was at the Florida Capitol — April 1

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This day at the state Capitol things began to happen. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson was in the House and Senate warning lawmakers that Washington wasn’t bluffing about ending a federal reimbursement program for safety-net hospitals. Nelson met with both Senate President Andy Gardiner and Speaker Steve Crisafulli. Concerning the Low Income Pool question. Nelson said, “The day of reckoning is here.” Read more here.

Washington plans to end the Low Income Program in June, opening a big hole in next year’s budget. The Senate has a plan to cover the gap. The House has expressed no interest in it, saying it wants to give Gov. Rick Scott room to negotiate a new deal.

Today as the Senate was about to adjourn Gardiner could be seen talking to an aide who told him Washington had suspended LIP negotiations for two weeks.  The story is here. 

“We have been pretty consistent that this $2 billion hole is a liability on trying to get a budget properly passed,” said Gardiner. “We have one requirement when we come up here and that’s to pass a balanced budget. And if the answer is $2.2 billion is going out of the budget then everyone needs to understand the impact of that and at least from our standpoint we are looking at all options to address that.”

The Senate plan is to create a Florida Health Insurance Exchange Program to replace LIP money with Medicaid money by expanding coverage.

“It’s really difficult for us to talk about creating another program knowing that Washington can’t take care of one it committed to originally,” said Crisafulli about the House’s opposition to expanding Medicaid coverage.

The LIP/Medicaid dispute makes up most of the $4.2 billion difference between the Senate’s $80.4 billion spending plan and the House’s $76.2 bottom line. The question is how big of a difference is it?

“Four point-two billion dollars is a big number but we know where the number lies so, it’s a matter of policy approaches and the conversation will be had in the coming weeks,” said Crisafulli after the House spent the day working on its spending plan.

“I think $4.2 billion is not insurmountable. It is easily surmountable. It’s largely federal dollars and somebody basically saying we want to expand healthcare,” said House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford. “I like to be an optimist and I can’t imagine that there not being 22 members of the majority willing to make the lives of their voters better.“

Want to know how much a billion is? It’s a thousand million. Having a hard time visualizing it? OK, think of it this way. A packet of one hundred $100 bills amounting to $10,000 is less than a half-inch thick and will fit in your pocket. One million dollars, 100 packets of $10,000, will fit in a standard grocery bag. The House and Senate are separated by 4,200 grocery bags filled with $100 bills.

The Senate plan creates the Florida Health Insurance Exchange Program, which would deliver 2,800 grocery bags filled with Medicaid $100 bills to replace money lost by the end of LIP.

Wednesday morning South Florida congresswoman and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz rallied Senate Democrats to continue the “good fight” for Medicaid expansion and the environment. That story is here.

The Florida Senate found a little more money for the Florida Forever land–buying program. It was not the $740 million Amendment 1 supporters wanted, or the $300 million state Sen. Thad Altman proposed. The Senate added $35 million in its budget proposal. There is more here.

State Sen. Jeremy Ring’s crackdown on over-zealous youth sport coaches continues to gain traction. Ring wants a season-long suspension for any coach of children younger than 12 ejected from a game. And, he would crack down on abusive officials as well. The proposal has cleared two Senate committees and has a House sponsor as well. More on the story is here.

Both the House and Senate are expected to pass their respective budgets Thursday and then lawmakers will leave town for the Easter weekend.

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