By Shawn Harrison
Well the 60-day 2013 State Legislative session is now in the history books, and there was some history made. Here are some of the highlights.
The session started off much brighter than in years past because of the state’s first budget surplus in many years. The 2013 budget was the largest in Florida’s history at $74.5 billion, and there are no new taxes or fees. The Republican budget for the first time in recent history also drew substantial support from Democrats.
Some of the budget highlights include an additional $1.5 billion for public K-12 schools, $600 million for protection of the state’s water bodies and environmentally sensitive lands, and $2.8 billion for the state’s reserves, an important factor in maintaining Florida’s AAA bond rating, which, coincidentally, is higher than the Federal government’s!
Election & Campaign Finance Reforms
The very first bill passed by the state House dealt with extending early voting opportunities for Florida’s citizens. Early voting was officially extended to 8 hours per day for 8 days prior to any election and individual supervisors of elections have the discretion to extend early voting to 168 hours with 14 days of 12 hours of voting.
Proposed constitutional amendments are now shortened to 75-word ballot statements. This was a major problem in 2012, as there were 11 proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot printed in their lengthy entirety, which undoubtedly led to longer vote times.
Campaign contribution limits also were raised from a current $500 maximum to $1,000 for state House and Senate candidates and $3,000 for state-wide candidates.
The biggest controversy of the 2013 session, and a whopper it is, was the failure to agree on a formula to accept $51 billion over the next 10 years from the Federal government for Medicaid expansion under “Obamacare.” This was a priority for Gov. Rick Scott, who was in favor of accepting the Federal Government’s money and insuring an additional one million Florida residents.
The Senate passed its own plan, which accepted the expansion dollars from the federal government, but put it into insurance exchanges instead of expanding Medicaid, even though the result would have essentially been the same. Florida’s House also passed its own plan, which turned down the federal Medicaid dollars and relied instead on state funds exclusively to fund a scaled-down version of low-income public healthcare.
The failure to enact a Medicaid plan means that Florida will lose the first year’s $5 billion in federal Medicaid expansion dollars unless Gov. Scott calls a special session to try to resolve this issue. This hotly contested clash of ideologies promises to carry over into the 2014 session and possibly the 2014 elections.
The good news for Florida in 2013 is that for the first time in a long while there was a budget surplus.
But, in the words of The Notorious B.I.G. (via Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford) “More Money, More Problems.”
Former Dist. 60 State Rep. Shawn Harrison now practices in the areas of commercial litigation, health care law and government relations at Shawn Harrison Associates (1010 N. Florida Ave.). For more info, call 337-6683 or visit ShawnHarrisonAssociates.com.