As tantrums go, this was historic. Some of the toughest kindergarteners in the state could only hoist their juice boxes and toast our state reps in admiration.
In the snit of all snits, Speaker Steve Crisafulli shut down the Florida House of Representatives on Tuesday. The 60-day legislative session, at least on the House side, lurched to a stop after Day 57. Senate President Andy Gardiner warned Crisafulli on Wednesday that he and his fellow reps were flouting the state Constitution — not that Crisafulli cared.
Crisafulli’s mighty pique was all about Medicaid expansion and the temerity of the Florida Senate to adopt a budget including federal money that would provide healthcare for 850,000 low-income Floridians — and also keep our public hospitals from tumbling into insolvency.
Apparently, the Merritt Island real estate broker (best known for his hunting junkets to the King Ranch in Texas) regards denying healthcare to the working poor as a bedrock principle, beyond compromise.
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But his unexpected decision to abandon Tallahassee early had the subsidiary effect of sabotaging other notable legislation, some of which seemed downright crucial.
So after a year of state prison scandals, with reports of guards torturing and killing inmates in shabbily run, under-manned institutions, the Senate’s well-thought-out package of prison reforms (including the establishment of a sorely needed oversight commission) won’t happen.
The House won’t get around to the bill that the Senate passed to expand education opportunities for developmentally disabled students. Those kids, well, they’re just collateral damage in the Legislature’s internecine Republican-versus-Republican feud.
A major water policy bill was left to wither on the vine. So was a bill that would allow certain patients, including children with epilepsy, access to low-dose medical marijuana. Greyhound racing — dog-killing enterprises of fading popularity — won’t be decoupled from the adjoining casinos. So much for expanding enterprise zones for reforming the film incentive program or that new stadium-funding formula. And to hell with the voter-approved Land Acquisition Trust Fund.
But while the failure to provide healthcare for low-income Floridians, reform for a medieval prison system and education opportunities for disabled kids might amount to legislative malpractice, in some ways it’s a relief to see the House ideologues go off early.
Teachers, at least not this year, won’t be sent into public schools packing heat. Gunslingers won’t be allowed on college campuses. High school coaches won’t be able to poach star jocks from other school districts. We won’t need to hear any more about Miami Rep. Frank Artiles’ nasty bill regulating which public bathrooms might be available to transgender men and women.
There’s another perverse pleasure in watching the reps go off in a childish huff. Sure, we taxpayers might wonder just what we got for the $29,200 a year we pay legislators (plus $6,450 for meals and lodging during their fun time in Tallahassee). But imagine how shortchanged the town’s lobbying corps must feel. My Herald colleague Mary Ellen Klas reported that 1,826 lobbyists — 10 for every legislator — were roaming the Capitol halls this session, ginning up legislation.
In just the first quarter last year, Tallahassee’s lobbyists took in $30 million. It’ll probably be more this year. And surely their 3,559 paying clients want more for their money than “Sorry. Maybe next year.”
Yet, big spenders like the gambling corporations got zilch. The Seminoles didn’t get their compact renewed. The big boys out of Vegas and Malaysia won’t get a shot at destination casinos. All their lobbying money — not to mention campaign contributions — went for naught.
The rival gangs will be back in June to wrestle over the budget. That ought to be fun, although the Tallahassee Democrat reported that last year’s special session cost us about $70,000 a day, which makes for rather pricy entertainment.
That’s not to say that they accomplished nothing in the regular session that was supposed to end Friday. Despite major beer distributors spending $800,000 on lobbyists these last three years to tamp down upstart competition, both the Senate and the House finally legalized “growlers,” those 64-ounce take-away jugs that craft breweries and tap rooms argue are necessary to their business plans.
Perhaps the lawmakers relented on growlers as a way to offset their impasse on Medicaid expansion. Here you go, poor folks. Have a growler. In lieu of actual medical care, we’ll all just drink to your health.