Adam L. Silverman
My father used to say that "no one's life, liberty, or property was safe when the Florida legislature was in session." Well we are all delivered from evil because yesterday Florida's House of Representatives abruptly ended its session early rather than have to actually negotiate with the state Senate. (h/t Zandar at Balloon Juice) And for those of you not living here in Florida - both chambers have solid Republican majorities and have had them for years. So what's the fight over? How to keep Federal Medicaid dollars flowing into the state of Florida. The House wants to vote to keep the current revenue stream going for another year, which really is NOT possible as that portion of the Federal program is going away - including the post ACA grandfatherings. The Senate wants to adopt a Florida modified Medicaid program, using the waiver flexibility from the ACA, to ensure that 1) the money keeps coming, 2) they can tweak it enough to tell everyone they're not taking Obamacare money, 3) they don't piss off all the health care providers in the state who will have a huge source of revenue dry up, so that 4) they can all keep their jobs as legislators.
This is going to be interesting. But not for the usual suspects reasons. Sure, it pits one GOP majority legislative chamber against the other. And it will be fun watching Governor Scott twist in the wind as he tries to figure out which side he should back based on what's in it for him/who appears to be winning - right now its the Florida House. Rather what's going to be interesting is what is not going to get done. The only thing the Florida legislature is legally required to do is pass a budget.
A little context on Florida politics is in order to help us make sense of this mess. The state GOP was able to convince a number of minority members of the state legislature to go along with a redistricting plan that would increase minority representation. The resulting redistricting plan actually cracked a number of districts open, then bleached them out, by packing minorities into a few majority-minority state districts. This led to the eventual GOP takeover of the legislature. It is important to note that Florida functions as a one party state: whichever party is in power gets the majority of funding from lobbyists, special interests, etc. This allows for further consolidation of gains and their expansion as the other party winds up impoverished. Since the GOP takeover of the state legislature two things have happened. The first is they consolidated their gains and padded their majority in each chamber. These gains include those made by creative redistricting and gerrymandering. At one point the Speaker of the State House, Tom Feeney, had a Federal Congressional District created for him to run on as part of a deal to pass a piece of legislation. The safest of safe districts. The second major effect is the inability to actually pass anything unless it’s in the budget. Sure they’ve been able to pass bills naming a state pie, sandwich, dance, and bird – this last one was touch and go as Florida’s premier lobbyist, Marion Hammer aka the Gun Granny, inserted herself into the bird issue - twice (1999 and 2009). Almost everything of importance, however, winds up crammed into the budget, which becomes a huge omnibus bill. Almost no one knows what’s in it, nor what they’ve voted on, until the various local newspapers go through it and start asking Florida’s legislators about what they voted for four to six weeks later. The outcome of this temper tantrum may be that Florida’s legislators are actually breaking the law by not passing a budget. I’m not sure what the upshot of that might be, but they have till June 30th to get a budget passed or something happens, though I'm not sure anyone knows what exactly that something is.