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Florida legislative leaders outline joint priorities for 2015

Following a tradition established by their predecessors, Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli on Wednesday outlined their list of joint priorities for the upcoming legislative session.

Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, was quick to note that he and Gardiner, R-Orlando, are "good friends" who represent the same region.

"We're going to be working very closely on the issues that are not only important to those around the state, but to those [who] elected us," he said.

There were no real surprises on their joint agenda.

The first point: tax cuts.

"It is our belief that the dollar is better with the taxpayer than with government," said Gardiner, noting the two chambers would be fine-tuning the details in the coming weeks.

The leaders also spoke about the need to provide a "road map" for individuals with disabilities. They hope to expand the Personal Learning Scholarship Account program, and oversee the creation of new collegiate programs for students with special needs.

Water is also high on their list of priorities.

"We must take a long-term and comprehensive approach to addressing the water issues that are before us," Criasfulli said. "The question is: Where do we start? That will be something we talk about moving forward."

Crisafulli said he and Gardiner would also work to address growing concerns about testing in Florida’s schools.

"I've come out very strongly asking for accountability," Crisafulli said. "We have to recognize that we produce remarkable results from that accountability, so I don't think we can completely back down. But I have a message to the parents, teachers and those in the classrooms: We hear you."

One topic that didn't make the cut: Medicaid expansion.

After the formal presentation, Gardiner said the Senate was interested in discussing the issue, particularly because Florida stands to lose an estimated $1.3 billion in funding to help hospitals treat poor and uninsured patients.

He pointed to Indiana, which recently won approval from the federal government to use a state-specific Medicaid expansion plan.

"But we are also realists and we realize that we need a partner in this," Gardiner said.

Crisafulli said the House was not planning to do anything on Medicaid expansion.

But the house speaker left the door open. "I am a never-say-never kind of guy," he said.

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