“Cooperation and collaboration between the chambers should not require a court order. My colleagues and I look forward to returning to Tallahassee in short order to complete the work we were elected to do.” – Senate President Andy Gardiner, D-Orlando
Last week, the Florida House of Representatives decided Tuesday was Friday and went home from session in Tallahassee three days early. Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, sent a bizarre message to House members when he dismissed them: "We didn't get everything we wanted, and we won't get everything we hoped for," he said, "but we have done all that we can do for this session."--
60: Number of days the state Legislature is officially in session
And so at 1:15 p.m., with plenty of things left on the table to consider, the House walked out on the job. They called it adjournment "sine die," but it pretty much looked like abandonment to us – particularly since they left a bunch of important issues with no resolution. For instance:
Funding for stadiums, including the Orlando City Soccer stadium: The House never bothered to make headway on the topic this session, and the last reference to it on the Senate's calendar was April 29. Consider it dead for this session.
$29,000: Approximate base salary for a member of the Florida House
Prison reform: Not happening this year because the House wanted to make changes to the Senate's reform package, but the Senate rejected them. Rather than work through it, the House walked out.
Special needs programs: Bills were presented to help people with special needs get into college and get access to jobs, but the House left without voting on them. This looks like a big F-you to Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, since these were his special projects. But since he's now apparently Crisafulli's nemesis, the House spitefully left those issues – and those Floridians – in the dust.--
3: Number of days early the House decided to end its session this year, because it wasn’t getting its way
Medical marijuana: The House left town without taking action on this matter. So once again, the state has no plan to get low-THC cannabis products to people who need them, such as kids suffering from severe epilepsy.
Ride-sharing: This issue was also still in limbo when the House skipped out.
Medicaid expansion: And here's where things get really infuriating. Right about the time when the Senate was just getting warmed up, trying to find an acceptable way to expand and reform Medicaid so the state can make sure it doesn't lose federal funding it needs to make budget, the House threw in the towel. Because the House doesn't want to expand Medicaid, nor does it want the Senate to present a reasonable solution that would make it feasible in Florida. Crisafulli basically said as much in an op-ed published recently in the Tampa Bay Times, in which he said the Senate had "partnered with" the Obama administration "to demand Medicaid expansion."
What looks like some kind of Obama administration collusion to Crisafulli looks like an attempt to head off potentially huge problems to us. Because if the state does not find some way to plug in the $1.3 billion funding gap that's going to be left open when the Low Income Pool program expires in June (and which the Scott administration stubbornly and foolhardily included in its budget, despite knowing that the program would expire this year), not only will we have continued to leave hundreds of thousands of Floridians with no access to healthcare – we'll also see reductions in funding in other areas to make up for that money missing from the budget. Which, it seems, is preferable to sticking around Tallahassee for a few more days to hammer out a plan, which could possibly mean having to compromise. When you're playing by Crisafulli's rules, if you can't get your way, take your ball and go home.
And just when you think things can't get any more childish than that, there's this: Last week, 13 Senate Democrats filed a suit against the House to force its members back into session. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton, sent a message out on Twitter about the suit, stating that it "reads like it was researched and drafted by Sen. Joyner and spell-checked by Sen. Bullard," referring to two African-American members of the Senate's Democratic caucus, Sen. Arthenia Joyner and Sen. Dwight Bullard. People immediately called foul for the tweet's racial overtones.
"His words are the kind I have fought against my entire life," Joyner said in a statement released on May 1, "the relic of days through which I lived and hope never to live through again."
For the record, the state Supreme Court sided with the Senate Democrats and declared the House walkout unconstitutional. But it also said there wasn't much to be done about it – since session was practically over by the time the court made the ruling, it didn't see much point in forcing the House to return. So it didn't.
Another odd little tidbit about the House's walkout: According to the Tampa Bay Times, nobody in the House thought about what would happen to the pages who work as messengers for legislators during session. About a dozen pages, all high-school and middle-school kids, were left high and dry when the legislators adjourned without giving them a second thought.
"I know you thought you'd be here all week," the Tampa Bay Times quoted a House staffer as telling the students. "But you need to call your parents and have them come pick you up."