This blog has moved.

Please visit our new page here

« House tweaks online voter registration bill; Senate likes change | Main | Medical marijuana campaign relaunches after Florida House ends lawmaking session »

House adjourns session early saying impasse is insurmountable

After weeks of impasse over the state budget and Medicaid expansion, the Florida House unilaterally ended the annual legislative session Tuesday, more than three days early, saying the differences were impossible to resolve. Full story here. 

“Never before has a budget come to a total standstill over policy differences between these two chambers,’’ said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, as he unilaterally gaveled the 60-day legislative session to a close on Tuesday at 1:15 p.m.

"No. We didn't get everything we wanted and we won't get everything that we hoped but we have all that we can do for this session,'' he told House members, some of whom greeted his decision with applause. "I do not see a need to keep you here waiting around, away from your families, away from your businesses until the Senate decides they are ready to negotiate."

As he spoke, the Senate continued debating its bills, left to finish only those pieces of legislation both chambers have agreed upon.

The presiding officers of each chamber must now agree to come back in special session in order to complete the state budget, the only bill they are required to pass each year, by the June 30 deadline or Gov. Rick Scott could bring them together. 

Crisafulli said the House will return after "a recess and a clean slate" when the Senate was ready to negotiate their budget differences. He quoted Senate budget chief Tom Lee who had concluded Monday that "There's no possible hope for getting it accomplished at this time."

The House's early ending means that much major legislation is dead, including the House's $690 million package of tax cuts, Crisafulli's top priority to rewrite water policy in Florida, and a Public Service Commission reform package that includes $600 million in refunds to customers of Duke Energy, many of them in the Tampa Bay area. 

House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford questioned the decision to quit early, but said it will squarely focus attention on whether the state should expand Medicaid before the budget must be complete by June 30. 
"If I'm the Senate and I'm watching the House and it abruptly quits, that's kinda like the child in the sandbox took their toy away,'' said Pafford, of West Palm Beach. "I don't know if it's a thoughtful reaction to what's going on." 
Stunned lobbyists who filled the lobby between the House and Senate chambers said that although there have been times when one chamber has ended earlier than the other, they could not recall another time when one side left with more than three days left in the session.

"I've never seen this one before. Not on a Tuesday," said Ron Book, who has lobbied the Legislature since the 1980s. 

Crisafulli thanked his members, said he was proud of their accomplishments -- passing prison reform, tax cuts, a comprehensive water policy, reducing education testing, reforming local pensions, encouraging adoptions, and "yes, working on the issue that is personal to the Senate president, reforming ways to give persons with disabilities education and job training."

Crisafulli said he respected that the House and Senate have differences of opinion on expanding Medicaid and LIP funding.

"Also, recognizing this is a process based on two equal legislative partners the House made a genuine and legitimate offer -- several offers,'' Crisafulli told the House, his voice faltering. "However, the Senate agrees to assert their demand that we agree to expand Medicaid."

He said the Senate never attempted to bring the issue up before session and never warned them "they would hold the budget hostage." He noted the Senate has not voted on a bill to expand Medicaid "but he never told me it would be a pre-requisite for our budget negotiations."  

Crisafulli said he vowed he would never ask the House "to vote for something I wouldn't vote for myself," and that is why he hasn't brought the issue up for a full vote on the floor. "I will not force anyone to expand Medicaid."

He noted that "with more time and more information" the Senate will be in a better position to accomplish budget negotiations. 

As House members scrambled to clear their desks, Crisafulli met with reporters to explain the House decision.

He criticized the Senate for doing too little work and said he asked his staff to calculate how much time both chambers spent in floor votes this session and that the Senate was on the floor about half as often as the House.

"We've done a lot of work in this chamber. We sent somewhere in the neighborhood of 275 to 280 bills over to the Senate. And there are a lot of bills sitting there that are House bills, so at this point it's important for us to go back and reset. We look forward to coming back and negotiating a budget," he said.

The surprise shutdown is sure to increase tensions between the House and Senate and make it much more difficult, at least in the short term, to create a framework for a special session to consider a budget.

"The Florida Senate has been recalcitrant," said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, whose father, Don, is a senator. "The Florida Senate has to accept the reality that this House will not expand Medicaid." 

Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, said the House reaction "seemed like a temper tantrum." 

"I don't think any of us thought we would come to agreement but Friday but why would the speaker send us home when there is a lot of policy work left to be done,'' he said. 

Earlier in the day, Sen. Jeff Brandes had a recommendation for the opening music to accompany the session Tuesday: Carrie Underwood's "Jesus, Take The Wheel." It got 18 retweets.

After the House adjourned, he was perplexed. 
"I don't understand the dynamic between the House and Senate that caused this, but obviously a rift has occurred,'' he said. ""I think we need to work to rebuild trust between the chambers. This is a relationship issue as much as it is a policy issue."
Staff writers Steve Bousquet, Michael Van Sickler, Kathleen McGrory and Michael Auslen contributed to this report.