Happytown: 2013 Legislative session draws to anticlimactic end 

State legislature fails to come up with plan for Medicaid expansion but at least it killed the parent-trigger bill

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86 BILLION

ESTIMATED NUMBER OF NEURONS IN THE AVERAGE HUMAN BRAIN

160

NUMBER OF ELECTED FLORIDA LEGISLATORS IN TALLAHASSEE, FILING 1,898 INDIVIDUAL BILLS IN THE 2013 LEGISLATIVE SESSION

0

APPROXIMATE NUMBER OF NEURONS UTILIZED DURING THE TWO MONTHS OF SESSION, WHICH INCLUDED THE REJECTION OF $51 BILLION FROM THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO INSURE MORE THAN 1 MILLION OF THE STATE’S MOST NEEDY

 

“THE LEGISLATURE’S REFUSAL SO FAR IS AN ASTOUNDING ACT OF PARTISAN PARALYSIS, PARTICULARLY WHEN ONE CONSIDERS THAT THE PUBLIC IS PAYING TAXES FOR [MEDICAID EXPANSION] FUNDS, WHICH WOULD GO TO OTHER STATES.”
– LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF FLORIDA PRESIDENT DEIRDRE MACNAB IN A MAY 1 ORLANDO SENTINEL OP-ED
Sources: The Guardian, Orlando Sentinel, myfloridahouse.gov, flsenate.gov

 

THE BITTER END

Even before the ceremonious “sine die” dropping of the filthy handkerchief closing out the 2013 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee on May 3, the hubris headache of intellectual exhaustion was already in full effect. Any attempts at grandstanding by leadership, specifically House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, as a means of tying a friendship bow around two months of brat-fighting, would be rendered inaudible by the various injustices and gross idiocies that preceded them. Remember late last year when all of the talk was about a new, more ethical, more bipartisan legislature that the electorate could believe in? Well, talk – however expensive it might have been for the lobbyists and other special interests pulling the strings – once again proved to be cheap.

At least most of the time.

As cynical as we’re inclined to be about the Florida legislative process and those seemingly inept puppets who operate it, there were some overarching positives to be gleaned from this year’s Game of Moans. As everyone we spoke to at the beginning of session predicted, the gray-templed Senate proved to be somehow more respectably moderate in its demeanor than the slap-happy House of Representatives, even going so far as to take the lead on the abstract idea of the legislature policing itself via an ethics reform package. Under the new law, which was signed on May 1 by Gov. Rick Scott, the previously powerless Commission on Ethics will be given broader authority to investigate claims of ethical misconduct and to actually collect the fines it prescribes to wayward legislators. Lawmakers, in turn, will be prohibited from hopping out of office and into powerful lobbying positions (like former House Speaker Dean Cannon just did) for two whole years. It’s like Jim Greer never happened! The Senate should also be thanked for narrowly killing the corporate-funded parent-trigger bill for the second year in a row, slowing the seemingly inevitable buyout of public education for just a hair longer.

The House, meanwhile, pushed its dubious campaign finance reform agenda into law, thereby increasing contribution caps for state races up from $500 to $3,000 (up to $1,000 for local races) and eliminating one kind of slush fund (Committees of Continuous Existence) in favor of allowing the same thing to happen under a different name. That confusing bit of logic, presented under the guise of greater transparency, will likely devalue the worth of small contributions while providing the moneyed elite even greater sway in the political ascension pantomime.

Oh, and on the last day of session, the House pulled off a hat-trick of sorts, passing something that resembled election reform, but failed to repeal all of the voter-suppression iniquities presented by HB 1355 two years ago. The Democratic Party issued a statement on Friday calling the measure “a half-hearted attempt by the GOP at ‘reform’ [that] only hurts the process.” Or, helps their re-election.

But the real legacy of the 2013 legislature will likely be the schism created by the Affordable Care Act. The Senate locked arms to fight in favor of a health care compromise that would allow the state to accept the $51 billion offered for Medicaid expansion under the ACA, forcing the House – which had proffered its own state-paid idea of reform that would help virtually nobody – into a tizzy of shame-faced buffoonery and automated voices. House Democrats, anxious to call the Republicans on their bluff, forced a procedural move last week that resulted in a full day of bills being read in their entirety by a machine called “Mary.” In the end, there would be no compromise, and a special session to deal with the issue – which must be resolved by January if we’re to get any federal money – loomed as a near certainty.

“As you know, there’s still time left in session. … We’ll see what happens,” Gov. Scott told reporters on May 2 when there was literally just one day left in session. “As you know, I’ve said yes to making sure we take care of the uninsured and Legislature said no.”

As we know, that sounds more like a talking point for a re-election campaign than it does a call to arms, but we’ll have to see.

Finally, as if there were any further evidence required to show us that the Florida Legislature is a hypocrisy hothouse littered with corporate cash, the blatant attack on democracy – specifically, democracy in Orange County – in the form of local government pre-emption bills in both houses took care of that nagging itch. Lobbied by the chambers of commerce, Disney and Darden, the House and Senate finally approved a bill that will likely dismiss 50,000 signatures collected locally in favor of an earned sick-time measure – the same measure that currently has Orange County leaders wiping egg off their faces in court. So, at least to us, all of that talk about ethics and self-sufficiency and transparency doesn’t mean a whole lot in the context of a government that respects none of the above. It’s just another hankie dropping in the wind.

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