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Legislators pay less for health insurance and vote to keep it that way

Members of the Senate’s Budget Committee rejected an amendment that would have increased their health insurance premiums six-fold to match the rates most rank-and-file state workers already pay.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, tried to tack the health insurance issue onto SB 2084, legislation relating to the state’s Department of Management Services. Under Negron’s amendment, legislators’ health insurance premiums would rise from $30 to $180 a month for families on the standard plan and from $15 to $50 for individuals.

“I can see no rationale whatsoever why we as legislators get treated five to six times better than 27,000 of our coworkers,” Negron said during debate.

However, he faced opposition from both Democrats and Republicans alike, including Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, and Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Ft. Lauderdale who all spoke against the amendment.

Bogdanoff said the salary and benefit cuts lawmakers have approved over recent years amount to “political statements” that curry favor with voters while setting bad policy. These cuts have the negative effect of making elected office unfeasible for people who aren’t wealthy, retired or financially supported by a loved one, she said.

When it came time to vote for the amendment, the voice vote of “yay” in favor of the amendment “no” voting against resulted in what sounded like a close vote. Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales and chair of the committee, made the judgment call that there were more senators voting “no,” so the amendment failed.

Normally, on a contentious amendment a senator will request a roll call vote so that it is clear how many votes are on each side and how every member voted. However, no one requested a roll call vote for Negron's amendment (although Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, appeared like she came close to doing so).

SB 2084 was then approved, minus the controversial amendment.