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New Session to Tackle Budget, Health Care

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Florida Senate
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Florida’s top legislative leaders on Friday made their June special session official and came up with a long list of items they want to try to tackle during their 20-day return to the state Capitol.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner have agreed to pass a new state budget while at the same time debate legislation covering health care, Medicaid and even tax cuts and environmental policy.

This doesn’t mean that the two sides have reached an agreement on the same issues that caused their regular session to end abruptly. But Sen. Tom Lee, the Senate budget chief, said reaching this first step showed that the “lines of communication seem to be open again.”

The regular legislative session slammed to a halt in late April after House members abruptly adjourned early due to a stalemate with the Senate over whether to expand health care coverage to 800,000 Floridians. That session ended without a new state budget.

State government could be shut down if a new budget is not passed by June 30. Gov. Rick Scott has already been warning about the possible shutdown and this week ordered state agencies to come up with a list of the state’s most critical needs in case legislators had problems passing a new budget.

The divide between the two chambers was sparked by the likely loss of more than $1 billion in federal aid to hospitals that is to set to expire this summer. Hospitals are predicting severe cutbacks if the money is lost.

But federal officials have told Florida that it wants the state to expand Medicaid insurance as part of the agreement to extend the hospital funds. But both House leaders and Scott are opposed and Scott has sued the federal government over the issue.

The agreement over the special session anticipates that Medicaid expansion will once again be under consideration. But legislative leaders have also agreed to discuss other health care changes that would affect doctors, nurses and hospital operations. The agreement also states that tax cuts will be considered as well. The House passed nearly $700 million worth of tax cuts, but the bill was never be taken up by the Senate because of the health care standoff.

Lee cautioned that there’s no guarantee any of the proposals will pass.

“There’s been no deal cut ensuring passage of anything,” Lee said.