News from Tallahassee for 4/19/15

Special session expectations growing posted on 4/17/15

by bill cotterell | Tallahassee Democrat

When the first session under Republican rule ended, House Speaker Daniel Webster and Senate President Toni Jennings sat at a tiny table in the Capitol rotunda and Gov. Lawton Chiles poured orange juice for their toast to a new political era.

It wasn’t that everybody agreed with the two Orland Republicans presiding over the Legislature. It was that Webster and Jennings agreed work days would end at 6 p.m. and sessions would end on time.

And since that all-smiles celebration of 1997, lawmakers have pretty much finished their sessions on time. Long gone are the days of Democratic dominance when “sine die” meant convening at 7 a.m. and working past midnight as legislative “trains” of big issues were strung together – often including hand-written amendments that were literally run between House and Senate and voted upon unread by most members.

One session, with the June 30 end of the fiscal year looming, agencies made up lists of “non-essential state employees” who could be furloughed if the session ended without a budget. Technically, it did, although Chiles accepted a deal in the wee hours and everybody came to work the next day.

Late in a session, when somebody offered a bill or amendment that was sure to upset delicate deals worked out by all sides, Senate President Verle Pope of St. Augustine would warn, “I want y’all to come to our watermelon-cutting on the Capitol lawn, come Fourth of July” – because they were probably going to be in town all summer. But somehow, things got worked out and, except for some all-nighters or weekend work, sessions ran little more than the constitutionally allotted 60 days.

There are always dire predictions of overtime at this time of year, as each side uses the clock to force overtime. But this year, with the House and Senate $4 billion apart on the budget and Gov. Rick Scott planning to sue the federal government over health-care funding, it appears less likely every day that the Republicans can keep their record of business-like efficiency.

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Freshman House members push back against Eisnaugle 'coup' reports posted on 4/9/15

by Gray Rohrer | Orlando Sentinel

TALLAHASSEE – Republican members of the most recent class of lawmakers elected to the House are pushing back hard on reports in blogs that members are attempting to overthrow Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando, as House Speaker for 2020-2022.

“I would say that we have reconfirmed a majority of our class and they have emphatically said that they’re in full support of Eric as our leader,” said Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, a top Eisnaugle supporter.

The East Orlando Post blog first reported the “coup” against Eisnaugle, quoting an anonymous member of the freshman crop of House Republicans saying that members of the group were frustrated with his leadership, especially over his inability to deliver votes on a bill to strike the state’s ban on gay adoption.

“Eric has problems with our class. If the vote was today, he would not have a majority of the freshman class supporting him. He was eager to talk and work with us while he was running for speaker, but since he got it there is a noticeable disconnect,” the anonymous representative is quoted in the blog.

But Eisnaugle supporters are denying members pledge cards are moving. Plakon specifically denied the gay adoption story.

“The first time I read about that thing was I read it on a blog. That vote is, if anything else - on whether or not homosexuals should adopt - is a vote of conscience. Rep. Eisnaugle would never whip a vote like that or deliver a bloc of votes on something like that. So that story is patently false and ridiculous,” Plakon said.

The East Orlando Post and Saintpetersblog, which also wrote about the coup attempt, mentioned Reps. Jay Fant of Jacksonville, Shawn Harrison of Tampa and Blaise Ingolgia of Spring Hill as possible picks to unseat Eisnaugle.

Ingoglia is chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

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Florida Senate holds firm on health care despite standoff posted on 4/8/15

by GARY FINEOUT | AP

FL Surgeon General Dr. Jon ArmstrongTALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- A growing standoff about health care is creating a divide between the Republican-controlled Florida Senate and Gov. Rick Scott.

A Senate panel Tuesday refused to confirm a top appointee of the Scott administration after he would not answer questions about whether he supported the Senate plan to expand health care coverage to 800,000 Floridians.

The move came a day after Scott said he could no longer support expanding Medicaid because of doubts about the federal government's promise to pay for it.

The repeated refusal by state Surgeon General John Armstrong to answer several questions about the proposal, which is linked to President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, frustrated both Republican and Democratic senators.

The move to delay a vote on Armstrong's confirmation is just another sign of how the disagreement on health care is rippling through this year's session. The House and Senate budgets are $4 billion apart because of the disagreement and there are no clear signs that legislators can bridge the gap between now and the scheduled session end date of May 1.

Senators say they are pushing the expansion proposal because of the expected loss of more than $1 billion in federal aid that now flows to the state's hospitals to pay to treat the poor and uninsured. They say they cannot vote for a budget that would result in large cuts to hospitals.

"We're not retreating from our position. We're comfortable with what we put together," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.

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Bousquet: The odd dance between Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature posted on 4/7/15

by Steve Bousquet | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

For the past four years, Gov. Rick Scott and the state Legislature have engaged in an odd little dance that reveals much about their relationship.

Or lack thereof.

Every year, Republican lawmakers set aside $2.5 million to be split among 11 regional planning councils (more on them in a moment). Every year the Republican governor vetoes the money without much of an explanation other than (in 2012) a lack of "performance measurements."

The councils are obscure and the money is a pittance in an $80 billion budget. But no issue better illustrates the brittle communication between Scott and the Legislature that makes simple compromise look so awkward.

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Gov. Scott's criticism of online voter registration angers counties posted on 4/2/15

by Steve Bousquet | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

Gov. Rick Scott's administration is quietly trying to scuttle legislation that would allow people to register to vote online in Florida, a stance that county election supervisors call "perplexing," "inaccurate" and "erroneous."

No one from Scott's administration has publicly opposed the idea. The administration's behind-the-scenes opposition has opened a new rift between Scott's office and county supervisors and stirred new speculation that the Republican governor may not want to expand the pool of voters as he explores a possible U.S. Senate bid in 2018.

Florida would become the 25th state with an online voter registration program under a bill (SB 228) sponsored by Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. The idea has broad bipartisan support as well as the backing of AARP, League of Women Voters and Disability Rights of Florida, and it unanimously passed a Senate committee Thursday. Election supervisors across the state, including those in Miami-Dade and Broward, have long supported the idea as another way to increase voter participation in elections.

But a staff report by Scott's Division of Elections refers to the bill as a "mandate (that) presents potential risks and challenges" at a time when the state's voter registration and driver license databases are both undergoing extensive changes. Florida relies on driver license information to verify voters' identities.

The report says: "Malicious cyber-attacks and non-malicious malfunctions could potentially wreak havoc on an online voter registration system" and online registrations "could potentially increase the chances of votes being cast by someone other than the people actually registered to vote."

Not true, two Republican election supervisors insisted Thursday. Escambia County's David Stafford and Pasco's Brian Corley said the risk of voter fraud would be reduced with online voter registration.

"Their analysis is inaccurate at best," Corley said. "I'm a little perplexed at their erroneous facts."

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