JUST THE STATS
Number of Floridians who have signed up for health insurance via the Affordable Care Act’s medical exchanges; second only to the number of people who have signed up in California – also double the number that signed up prior to March
Amount the Florida Senate voted to spend to expand a medical tourism initiative that would promote Florida as a destination for patients; the measure was supported by Visit Florida and the Florida Chamber
Amount that the state Legislature and governor continued to refuse to accept from the federal government during the just-ended legislative session in order to expand Medicaid to cover more than 700,000 people in the coverage gap
Throw in the towel
If you find yourself in one of those unlikely situations where a bedraggled gaggle of besuited middle-aged folks of a certain pedigree are tossing a handkerchief as some sort of symbolic gesture of finality and self-assurance, it’s probably best to run away, because you’re bound to catch the virus called the Florida Legislature. On May 2, your elected body of stuffed pockets lining stuffed shirts coughed out something like “Sine Die!” before dissipating back into district anonymity and admitting that they accomplished virtually nothing. “Tax breaks!” somebody coughed. “For businesses,” logic replied. And everything just trickled down.
But there was clearly more to this year’s relatively quiet two-month session – although, as most would admit, very little of it was deserving of the marquee treatment. In an election year, it’s all about nuance and smiles, the avoidance of the appearance of acrimony, the “nothing to see here” schtick, and that’s mostly what we got from both Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and hot chunk of smirking obstructionism House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, this year. There may have been insider rumblings of a rift between the two (well, there were, actually), but Weatherford would repeatedly put on his dude-bro face and say something like “It’s all good; it’s smooooth, man.” Just put the keg in the truck bed. We’re going fishing.
But while all that was happening, your rights were being thrown out the window like so many PBR cans in the Panhandle. The Legislature passed a “fetal homicide” bill, which will likely create an avenue for the “personhood” movement that makes unborn fetuses effectively more important than the mothers who carry them (men, naturally, cannot carry them so why should they care?). Meanwhile, there was no discussion of LGBT rights either in the workplace or through a statewide domestic partnership registry plan (the courts will just have to make gay marriage legal on their own, which is totally happening right now). Weatherford chest-bumped everyone to try to get his school “choice” voucher program through – basically bleeding public schools dry – while the Legislature approved a measly $50 million for maintenance projects for the state’s 67 school districts (charter schools, naturally, lobbied and received an additional $25 million). Equal pay for women? Nope. Regular people, in effect, got nothing, except the promise of reduced title and tag fees, something Republicans were responsible for increasing in the first place.
But in the state’s $77 billion budget, finally agreed to on Friday, were plenty of kickbacks for businesses, mostly via a $100 million “tax break” situation in which folks like AT&T, Home Depot and bail-bond underwriters would see millions in relief. Oh, and that sales-tax holiday for back-to-school is back for three days, mostly because, OMG, advertising.
In the niche issues – of which there were plenty – there were some bright spots. For one, the low-THC (“Charlotte’s Web”) strain of marijuana was approved, albeit without much clarity on vendors. That will be helpful when conservatives argue against this year’s Amendment 2 legalizing medical marijuana, because what, we already did it, guys! In-state tuition for college kids brought into the country by their “illegal” parents passed muster, because God, we need Hispanics. That weird textbook bill that would have allowed individual districts to choose their own study materials in order to avoid Muslims was stripped of its xenophobia in order to just allow public hearings when there are complaints; it passed. That growler thing, which turned from being a support mechanism for small craft-beer breweries into a coup for Big Beer, died in the House, apparently. Oh, and that zombie NRA gun law that would allow guns without permits in the case of a hurricane or zombie apocalypse ultimately failed, much to the chagrin of the National Rifle Association.
But guns, weed and beer do not (alone) a healthy state make, and the absolute refusal of the Legislature to take up the issue of Medicaid expansion in order to cover nearly a million working-poor residents (there was some late shadowboxing around the subject by Gaetz, but, you know, straw horses in election years) with $51 billion in federal money was unconscionable. Nothing happened except the sound of people dying in the Medicaid coverage gap. So, instead, we’ll invest millions in selling Florida as a place to come and get your medical fixing done like a tourist. In addition to beer and the sweet scent of last night’s kegger, Weatherford now has blood on his hands. Sine Die! Pass the hankies.