TALLAHASSEE -- Floridas smooth-running legislative session hit a rough patch Tuesday as House Democrats demanded that every bill be read in full to protest the stalemate on healthcare reform.
The maneuver angered Republicans, threatened to endanger Democratic bills and slowed progress on a session that had been barreling ahead of schedule.
Its unfortunate that we have had to take such unusual action today, but my Democratic colleagues and I believe that a drastic situation requires drastic tactics, House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston of Plantation said in a statement.
Democrats invoked the rarely used rule to call attention to the Houses resistance to accept any federal money for health insurance expansion and to demand that the House allow another vote on a Senate bill that uses $51 billion in federal money over 10 years to provide healthcare coverage to poor Floridians.
House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, responded by plugging in a computerized auto reader to recite the bills in full, but he would not commit to taking up the Senate plan. The House had previously rejected the Senate bill on a mostly party-line vote, but Democrats believe Republicans were pressured into voting against the measure.
Our thought is we spent five hours on it, not really sure we need to do it again, Weatherford said at the end of the day. But we understand that the job of the minority is to ask questions and we know that this issue is important to them. We have a difference of opinion.
Earlier in the day, the Senate voted 38-1 to adopt its healthcare proposal. The plan, which has been endorsed by Gov. Rick Scott, hospitals and business groups, would cover an estimated one million uninsured.
House Republicans continue to support a scaled-back approach that rejects federal dollars and uses up to $300 million in state funding to provide basic coverage to 130,000 Floridians.
Both plans are essentially now tied to the same bill, HB 7169.
The architect of the House proposal, Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, said he doesnt see the logic of bringing up the Senate plan again.
We had almost an entire day of debate on the issue and we had a vote, he said. Nobody understands what theyre asking for. They want a do-over?
Rather than require staff to read each of the bills in person, the House used a computerized auto-reader named Mary, whose soporific voice was put on fast-forward. House staff quickly made sure the device had its own Twitter handle: @HouseAutoReader. Within an hour, it had 240 followers.
Weatherford also responded by postponing discussion on several bills supported by Democrats. He plowed ahead with two other bills that were priorities of Republicans, including a 15-page medical malpractice bill that would limit the liability of doctors and hospitals. That bill is a priority of Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.
The Democrats move came on a rough day for Weatherford and House leaders. In addition to rejecting the Houses healthcare plan, the Senate rejected two other House priorities: a bill to close the traditional pension system to new employees and a bill to give parents the ability to take over failing schools, called parent trigger.
Until then, legislators had succeeded in pushing through top priorities on ethics, campaign finance and school graduation. They even reached an early agreement on the states $74.5 billion budget, which opened the door to lawmakers ending the 60-day session earlier than scheduled on Friday.