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Trump administration comes to the rescue as Senate approves its budget

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The Trump administration’s pledge of $1.5 million to pay hospitals for charity care came as the Senate — which was counting on the money — debated its budget plan for 2017-18.

Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala announced the development Wednesday on the Senate floor, saying Gov. Rick Scott had delivered the news during a telephone call.

“Thank you very much for that news from the governor,” Senate President Joe Negron said. “It will be taken into consideration as we continue to work on our budget.”

Scott confirmed the news via a press release.

“I appreciate their quick turnaround and commitment to working with Florida to provide additional flexibility for how these funds can be used more efficiently, including allowing money to follow each patient,” Scott said.

“This will provide better healthcare for the individuals intended to be served with this funding.”

The Senate budget includes $607 million in the Low Income Pool for charity patients — money the feds now have agreed to supply.

“I’m really hopeful and optimistic that Plan A will work out,” HHS subcommittee chair Anitere Flores said earlier in the debate.

The House wasn’t counting on the money.

The Senate proceeded to approve SB 2500, its $82.3 billion Appropriations Act, on a vote of 39-0.

The measure advances Negron priorities including the environment, education, and pay raises for state workers, especially corrections officers.

“If you look around the country, if you see vibrant, sustainable economic development and high paying jobs, you almost always see a higher education presence,” Negron said in a prepared statement following the vote.

“The Senate budget reflects our commitment to elevate that environment here in Florida, while at the same time setting aside a more than $3 billion rainy day fund,” he said.

“A dedicated and qualified state workforce is critical to our economy,” Latvia said.

“For far too long, our state employees have gone without an increase in their pay. Our budget provides an across the board pay increase for state employees, with meaningful pay increases in areas where we have had trouble with employee retention.”

The Senate accepted amendments funding member projects and technical revisions, but a series of amendments failed on voice votes.

Senators accepted a compromise that would return nearly $570,000 of the $1.3 million the bill would have stripped from Orlando State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s budget over her refusal to seek the death penalty in any case.

Latvala had worked out the deal with Randolph Bracy because of concerns the original figure would hobble a new anti-human trafficking program.

Democratic leader Oscar Braynon offered an amendment to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which survived GOP efforts in Washington to kill it off. He said 800,000 Floridians would benefit. “These people still are suffering and don’t have health insurance,” he said.

The Senate tried to expand the program last year but the House and Gov. Rick Scott refused.

Flores said the political climate isn’t right.

“We have really litigated this issue,” she said. “But at this point, and in this time … I would have to recommend that we vote against this amendment.”

An amendment by Kevin Rader would have steered $100 million to substance abuse rehabilitation programs, contingent on passage of additional cigarette taxes. He cited an opioid addiction epidemic that killed 529 people in Palm Beach County alone last year.

“We have to put money into the actual treatment,” detox beds, and short-term recovery, Rader said.

Latvala said he sympathized but that Rader’s amendment violated Senate rules by threatening to through the budget out of balance.

“Every now and then, you just don’t have enough (money) to go around,” Latvala said.

At Latvala’s urging, Rader withdrew his amendment.

Amendments providing $1 million each for a port and airport project included in Negron’s Lake Okeechobee plan sailed to approval.

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

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