The dysfunction continues.
On Tuesday, the leader of the Florida House got mad and shut down the legislative session with three days to go. On Wednesday, the Senate, mightily ticked off that the House left its lawmakers in the lurch and abandoned bills with substantive reforms — along with any sense of responsibility — fired back with a thinly veiled threat to sue the other chamber.
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli’s dereliction of duty during the 2015 session is nothing short of reckless. He claims that the House “concluded our business” because the House and the Senate had reached a stalemate over Medicaid expansion.
But add to Mr. Crisafulli’s irresponsible actions the fact that he’s dead wrong — there was plenty of public business to be done. But as a result of the adjournment there are scores of casualties littered across this battlefield, and South Florida, in particular, will bear much of the damage being done:
▪ Enterprise zones are gone, as are modified incentives to lure the film industry back to the state. Though there was Senate legislation regarding these important economic-development tools, House lawmakers sat on their hands and never passed similar legislation. The enterprise zone program, in which the state and localities team up to provide tax incentives to businesses that locate in and hire employees from distressed neighborhoods, is set to expire at the end of the year. Miami-Dade County, in particular, has reaped huge benefits with the initiative, from South Beach to Wynwood to Blue Lagoon. For some reason, increased taxes and revenue from now-vibrant communities failed to impress lawmakers.
▪ After months of horrifying stories in the Herald and other media about murderous, supervisor-sanctioned brutality within Florida’s prisons, solid reforms seemed on track until the chambers stopped talking to each other. This means that House and Senate differences will not be reconciled. Case closed.
▪ Ditto mental-health reforms. The Senate passed up a grand opportunity to be the more statesmanlike chamber by failing to pass comprehensive legislation that would have triggered a sea change in how mentally ill Floridians access treatment and are handled by the courts. The Senate and House versions were thisclose, yet lawmakers used House members’ absence as a (flimsy) excuse to inflict further pain on vulnerable mentally ill residents, their beleaguered families and the rest of us whose safety might be compromised because of a mentally ill person unable to get treatment. Lawmakers should be particularly ashamed of this failure.
In the midst of the face-off over Medicaid expansion, which House Speaker Crisafulli vehemently opposes, he blinked first and went home. Senate President Andy Gardiner, for his part, is threatening to go to court.
Wednesday, Mr. Gardiner declared in a letter to the speaker that he violated the state Constitution when he adjourned the House three days early. Mr. Crisafulli responded, basically: “Did not!”
Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon and a former Senate president, wants Mr. Gardiner to ask the Florida Supreme Court to issue a declaratory judgment on whether the Senate is right. That’s not a bad idea. This issue, indeed, needs clarification.
Florida’s Constitution lays out that if the two chambers can’t agree on adjournment, the governor serves as a mediator. But with Gov. Rick Scott missing in action from his role as the state’s executive, Sen. Gardiner likely will get a quicker response from the court.