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Florida Legislature At An Impasse Over Expanding Medicaid


In Florida, the question of whether to expand Medicaid has led to an impasse. The state's governor and Senate want to take the federal funds. But with just two days left in the legislative session, Republican leaders in the House are firmly against it. As NPR's Greg Allen reports, the deadlock has created a new celebrity in Tallahassee, the AutoReader.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: It's every understudy's dream. You stay ready and wait for your big break. For a modest piece of computer software, that moment came this week in Florida's House of Representatives. Democrats are upset that the Republican leadership has stonewalled their efforts to expand Medicaid. So they decided to bring some pressure. They invoked a rule requiring all bills be read aloud in their entirety. But Republican House Speaker Will Weatherford was ready.

REPRESENTATIVE WILL WEATHERFORD: And, members, we have an AutoReader. We had it in the closet just in case we ever had to actually read the bills. It may be a little bit faster than normal, but you should be able to hear the bill, and it will be read in full, according to the Constitution.

ALLEN: As surprising as the fact that Florida's House has an AutoReader is that she has a name: Mary. Not as techno-chic as Apple's Siri, but then Mary's been waiting to be called on since she was ordered by then-House speaker Marco Rubio in 2006. And was she ever ready.

MARY: The bill to be entitled an act relating to instructional materials for K-12 public education...

ALLEN: Not the most spellbinding material. House members fidgeted, talked, checked their smartphones but were ordered to stay in their seats. So it went yesterday and again today. Although by this morning, Mary's pace had picked up considerably.

MARY: The parent of an exceptional student evaluated and found eligible or ineligible shall be notified (unintelligible). Such evaluation and determination...

ALLEN: Indefatigable, relentless, even cheerful - all qualities that come to mind as Mary has carried out her appointed task. The AutoReader may be a machine, but still Democrat Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda couldn't help but be sympathetic.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE MICHELLE REHWINKEL VASILINDA: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I feel sorry for poor Mary reading all these bills.

ALLEN: By yesterday afternoon, the AutoReader was a bona fide star, at least in Tallahassee political circles. House staffers gave Mary her own Twitter account: FLHouseAutoReader. After taking more than 20 minutes for the first bill - a 14-pager - Mary tweeted: I'm just getting warmed up. By this morning when she'd picked up the pace, the AutoReader tweeted: Maybe I shouldn't have had that extra shot of espresso. By late morning, I have now read 1.2 million words. With more than 450 followers by this afternoon, Mary was clearly getting cocky.

Asked by one follower about how she liked being stuck in a closet for seven years, Mary replied: I appreciate my privacy. It allows me time to plot world domination - I mean, speed reading lessons. Tweets aside, in the House chamber, the AutoReader has quickly become just another staffer, but one that speaks very fast.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: ...Constitution. And I ask that Senate bill 1792 be read in full.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Read the bill.

MARY: A bill to be entitled an act relating to medical negligence actions, amending s. 456...

ALLEN: Despite the Democratic pressure, House Republicans don't plan another vote on a bill to expand Medicaid. Democrats are asking Florida's Republican governor to veto the budget and call the legislature back for a special session. The governor hasn't said what he plans to do. He may be waiting to hear from Mary. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.