News from Tallahassee for 4/18/15

Florida governor threatens to sue feds over health-care fight posted on 4/17/15

by john kennedy | Palm Beach Post

FL Gov rick scottTALLAHASSEE — With Florida lawmakers deadlocked over health care, Gov. Rick Scott threatened to sue the Obama administration Thursday if the federal government fails to continue providing special funding for Florida hospitals treating the poor.

The future of the state’s $2 billion low income pool (LIP) — in doubt since last year — became murkier this week when federal Medicaid officials said that funding could depend on whether Scott and the state House embrace a Senate plan to expand health coverage for low-income Floridians.

Scott said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ linking of LIP and health-insurance expansion violates a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that bars the White House from forcing states to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

“Not only does President Obama’s end to LIP funding in Florida violate the law by crossing the line into a coercion tactic for Obamacare, it also threatens poor families’ access to the safety-net health care services they need,” Scott said in a statement.

Scott’s warning underscored a deteriorating situation at the state Capitol.

A legislative standoff over the Senate’s Florida Health Insurance Exchange (FHIX) proposal has stalled negotiations on a state budget for the coming year. It is likely to force lawmakers to either extend the 2015 session beyond its scheduled May 1 close or to convene a special session later this spring or early summer in order to complete the budget.

Reaction to Scott’s lawsuit warning broke along predictable lines.

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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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Abortion Waiting Period Bill Continues Moving In Florida Senate posted on 4/17/15

by Sascha Cordner | WFSU

A bill that would require a woman to wait 24 hours before getting an abortion has passed another hurdle in the Senate, despite continued opposition.

During Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, close to 40 people came out to support or oppose the controversial abortion measure by Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami).

“SB 724 requires that the information that is currently to be presented by a physician to a pregnant woman in order to obtain informed consent from the pregnant woman before performing an abortion must be presented while in the same room as a woman and at least 24 hours prior to the procedure,” said Flores, during the bill's second committee hearing.

Brooke Hines, who’s against the measure, recalled when she and her soon-to-be husband—both from poor backgrounds—found out she was pregnant at 21 and didn’t have enough to support a child.

“In the form of housing, financial help, health care? I didn’t have health insurance and child care, when you get right down to it because how are you going to stay in college if you don’t have any access to child care,” stated Hines.

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Lawmakers likely to end session without deal on health care posted on 4/16/15

by GARY FINEOUT AND KELLI KENNEDY | AP

FL Capitol RotundaTALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Saying that "sand is running out of the hourglass," the Republican leaders of the Florida Legislature said Wednesday that it appears they will end their annual session on May 1 without reaching a deal on health care and a new state budget.

The House and Senate are $4 billion apart in rival budgets and the leaders of the two chambers remain at an impasse over how to bridge the gap, which stems from a deep divide over whether to accept billions in federal aid to expand Medicaid. Medicaid expansion is linked to the federal health care overhaul pushed by President Barack Obama and is opposed by House Republicans.

"We're not willing to move away from our stated position," said a defiant House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican.

Top Republicans acknowledged that they will probably have to hold a special session to pass a budget. Part of the problem is that while the session ends on May 1, the state constitution requires that the budget be finished and on legislators desk 72 hours in advance.

The acknowledgement that time is short for the regular session came during yet another day of finger-pointing between the House, Senate, the administration of Gov. Rick Scott and the federal government.

Florida is in danger of losing more than $1 billion in federal hospital funding - a loss that state senators say would result in devastating cuts to hospitals, including hospitals that serve children. Federal officials say they want Florida to consider expanding its Medicaid program to 800,000 Floridians as part of any deal to keep the hospital money intact.

On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and five GOP federal lawmakers sent federal health officials a letter asking them to release the funding that helps hospitals care for low-income patients.

The letter states that federal officials "should not destabilize, eliminate or hold these programs hostage to an expansion decision" and should treat Florida no differently from California, a state that expanded Medicaid and was also granted federal hospital funds.

State health officials also chimed in. In a letter Wednesday to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, they warned that a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision said states could not be coerced into expanding Medicaid.

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Senate committee approves abortion waiting period posted on 4/16/15

by bill cotterell | Tallahassee Democrat

Women seeking abortions would have to wait 24 hours after their doctors inform them about fetal development and possible medical effects of the procedure, under a bill approved Wednesday in a party-line vote of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Two women — one supporting the bill, the other opposed — told of having abortions. Opponents unsuccessfully argued that the mostly male Legislature should not impose restrictions on women with crisis pregnancies, while some women witnesses urged the committee to pass the bill.

“An abortion is a major medical procedure that only women have to deal with,” Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said of her bill. “I think that particularly as women, it would be incumbent on us to protect and ensure that women have all the information necessary prior to having this major medical procedure.”

Her bill (SB 724) would amend the existing “voluntary and informed consent” requirements to include a meeting between doctors and patients. Doctors would have to inform women of the probable state of gestation, as well as the nature and risks of the procedure. The discussion could be waived in emergencies.

“You think that women need protection from themselves, that we’re feeble minded, that we’re not intelligent human beings who can make in decisions for ourselves,” Barbara DeVane, representing the state chapter of the National Organization for Women, told the committee. “We do not need lawmakers — especially men — telling us how to make decisions that affect our lives.”

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