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Politics

Florida Democrats Torpedo 2013 Session's Bipartisan Spirit, Hold Election Reform Hostage

April 29, 2013 - 6:00pm

As Florida House Democrats wrapped up day one of their quasi-filibuster, the reaction among the Republican leadership was less one of anger than it was of disappointment that the minority party would shatter the spirit of bipartisan friendliness that had characterized the session up till now.

And the League of Women Voters of Florida (LWVF) usually a reliable Democratic constituency is begging legislators not to let a key election reform bill fall victim to the minority party's partisanship.

A lot of us are just shocked. We don't understand it, we really don't, Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, chairman of the House Select Committee on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), told Sunshine State News Tuesday evening. Basically, what [House Democrats] want is a do-over on a bill that we gave them an entire day [last week] to debate: everyone got to speak their mind, everyone got to vote, we voted it up, and now they want to do this tactic that is completely bewildering.

Corcoran was referring to House Democrats' initiation of a rare procedural move which requires at the insistence of at least one-third of House membership that bills under consideration be read aloud, in full, before they are debated or voted on.

The procedure, the closest thing the Florida House has to a filibuster, is expected to slow House business significantly, since bills can run to dozens or even hundreds of pages. House Democratic leader Perry Thurston launched the attack to protest his colleagues' vote last week against Florida adopting Obamacare's optional Medicaid expansion provisions.

Medicaid expansion is expected to cost Florida over $4 billion over the next nine years.

Given the amount of floor debate, given the fairness and attention and transparency that the speaker has given to this issue from day one, since he was elected, and from the committee process on the floor, am I surprised and disappointed? Definitely, Rep. Travis Cummings, R-Orange Park, one of the principal sponsors of the House alternative to Medicaid expansion, told SSN.

The House spent a full five hours last week debating HB 7169 (Florida Health Choices Program), before voting overwhelmingly, albeit along party lines, to approve it.

Cummings, a freshman, said several veteran staffers told him it was one of the lengthiest floor debates in recent state legislative history.

For their part, neither Thurston nor any other House Democrat is disparaging the tone or tenor of Weatherford's leadership or the process that led to the crafting and passage of the House plan. Thurston has all but conceded that hismaneuveramounts to a partisan pout that his party has not gotten its way on one of its pet causes.

By purposefully slowing deliberations at this critical juncture, I and other House Democratic Caucus members seek to bring greater public attention to our desire for legislative passage of the health coverage expansion plan that the Florida Senate approved earlier today, Thurston said in a statement justifying his employment of what even he admitted was an extraordinary stall tactic. Its unfortunate that we have had to take such unusual action today, but my Democratic colleagues and I believe that a drastic situation requires drastic tactics.

Neither Corcoran nor Cummings seemed very worried that the Democrats' move would amount to anything more than a temporary inconvenience.

The budget's pretty much done. It's the last and only thing we have to do, and it's squared away, Corcoran explained. I'm perfectly fine with everything else dying, and just getting done with the budget.

The Florida Legislature is constitutionally required to pass a balanced budget every session.

The LWVF, meanwhile, is very worried that one of its, and Weatherford's, key priorities might not see the light of day.

The eyes of the world are upon you this week and the League of Women Voters of Florida looks forward to watching you rise to the occasion by overseeing the House vote on HB 7013 -- a historic election reform package that will go a long way toward ensuring that all eligible Floridians are able to exercise their constitutional right to vote, League president Deidre Macnab wrote in an open letter to Weatherford.

HB 7013 would substantially increase the the hours and days allowed for early voting, impose word limits on ballot summaries for Legislature-proposed constitutional amendments, and allow voters to correct absentee ballots that contain missing signatures.Interestingly enough, Macnab did not address the letter to Thurston, the very legislator who is placing the bill's future in jeopardy.

Cummings warned that the greatest casualty to come out of the latest turn of events would be the relative goodwill that had been prevailing in the Legislature before today.

If you don't want to go with the democratic process, and instead you plant your feet in the ground, and say 'We don't want to talk about anything other than Medicaid expansion,' you're going to tarnish a lot of the good will that's been going around, he explained. Sooner or later [the Democrats] are going to have to evaluate whether this is really about fighting for Floridians, or about being difficult and not taking the loss on Medicaid expansion well.

Reach Eric Giunta at egiunta@sunshinestatenews.com or at (954) 235-9116.

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