Senate President Andy Gardiner conceded Thursday that the House will not be returning to complete the work of the regular session and offered to reconvene in a special budget session June 1 to 20 to focus exclusively on the budget and all "similar bills" that were left incomplete this week when the House abruptly left town.
Gardiner noted that "while the Senate maintains its belief that the House’s adjournment sine die clearly violates both the spirit and letter of our constitutional principles, the House has clearly indicated it has no intention of reconvening."
His proposed agenda for the special session would include only the budget, starting with the Senate's appropriations bill that includes the Florida Health Insurance Exchange program as a replacement for the phasing out of the Low Income Pool.
In an interview early Thursday, Gardiner also said he hoped that House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and he could agree to the dates and scope of the special session, rather than having Gov. Rick Scott call them in before they have reached agreement.
“I do think it would be helpful and productive for the speaker and me to be on the same page,'' Gardiner told The Florida Channel. "There’s nothing worse than the governor to call us back and the chambers come in and there’s still no agreement on the big picture of the budget.
“What would not be productive is a rush to judgment and say we’re coming back immediately, because it doesn’t resolve anything. You still don’t have answers on CMS. You still don’t have answers on how we resolve this issue on the uninsured.”
Meanwhile, despite Gardiner's concession that the session was over, Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, and 12 other members of the Senate Democratic Caucus used the day off to walk to the Florida Supreme Court to file a Writ of Mandamus, asking the court to deliver an expedited ruling on whether the House violated the state Constitution when it unilaterally adjourned.
Gardiner told The Florida Channel that while the Senate had no plans to sue this week it wanted to ask the court to weigh in because "for future presiding officers, there really needs to be some clarity...once that becomes the new norm that is really bad for the process."
Gardiner's letter to Crisafulli said the budget call should include:
That the Legislature is convened for the sole and exclusive purpose of considering the following:
a. Legislation similar to Senate Bill 2500, the General Appropriations bill filed during the 2015 Regular Session, including any House amendments thereon;
b. Legislation similar to Senate Bill 2502, the Appropriations Implementing bill filed during the 2015 Regular Session, including any House amendments thereon;
c. Legislation similar to any bill filed during the 2015 Regular Session upon which a Conference Committee had been requested by either chamber and such request had been acceded to by the other house on or before May 1, 2015.
Here's the text of the letter:
The Honorable Steve Crisafulli, Speaker
Florida House of Representatives
420 The Capitol
402 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1300
Thank you for your prompt response to the Senate’s request that the House of Representatives reconvene to continue the exchange of legislative work product contemplated by our constitution.
While the Senate maintains its belief that the House’s adjournment sine die clearly violates both the spirit and letter of our constitutional principles, the House has clearly indicated it has no intention of reconvening prior to the scheduled expiration of the 2015 Regular Session at 11:59 p.m. on May 1. For this reason, I have enclosed a draft call for a special session of the Florida Legislature to begin on June 1, 2015, and to conclude on June 20, 2015.
The Senate hopes to complete our budget work as soon as possible. Given the stark differences between the House and Senate approaches to health care funding and coverage, we believe clear guidance from the federal government is crucial regarding funding for services to the uninsured which hospitals across our state are legally required to provide regardless of compensation. Beginning our special session on June 1 will provide additional time to receive a response from the federal government and we can conclude with ample time for Governor Scott to review the budget prior to June 30.
While a federal response would clearly be most beneficial to the furtherance of negotiations, I believe it is prudent to continue to account for the potential of a complete elimination of Low Income Pool funding. In fact, the Senate Budget, unanimously passed nearly a month ago, left unallocated sufficient recurring general revenue dedicated to health care contingencies.
For the last three years our chambers have had, and continue to maintain, significant policy differences relating to health care coverage for uninsured Floridians. Last Friday, the House indicated a willingness to move from your initial offer of $200 million closer to the Senate position. As indicated in our response to House Offer #2 last Friday, the Senate remains open to reviewing a spreadsheet offer that reflects this position at your earliest convenience.
Again, given the severity of these issues, I believe an agreement to begin a special session on June 1 will provide the Legislature the maximum flexibility to complete our work on the 2015-16 General Appropriations Act in an efficient and transparent manner. With an initial agreement on a call for special session, we can then begin to discuss a specific schedule that would allow us to inform our respective chambers of when their presence in Tallahassee will be required. I look forward to your response to this important and time sensitive matter.
Cc: The Honorable Rick Scott, Governor